Memories and their impact on us

Determinism. According to Wikipedia “Determinism is the philosophical belief that all events are determined completely by previously existing causes”. I like to hate on Determinism. Why? Because I had a very good friend who used it to justify anything. And even though he denied it, it felt to me that he was not taking responsibility for anything. To this day I still remember. And I remember that I have chosen to not use Determinism to be able to do whatever I want. But I also know that our past and our circumstances have an incredible impact on us.

This is just one example. I will always associate Determinism with that friend. And I will always remember the conversations we had about how we hardly have any free will and how helpless and sad that made me feel. But it is not the only thing that I associate with Determinism. Because I have seen that point of view, I was able to make up my own mind. And Memories are a perfect example, for how our past is part of us, but not what defines us.

We have memories. Maybe we associate a song or a movie with a certain person or situation. And every time we get confronted with said song or movie we remember. But the thing is: if that memory pains us we can do something about it. We can reprogram our brains to associate the movie or song with something else. It is like we are overwriting the memory. It is called learning. And yes, we may never forget anything that once was correlated with that song or movie. But that is actually a good thing. This memory is part of us. And we learn something with everything we experience. But just because we do not forget, does not mean that we will always remember that certain person or situation with the particular song or movie. And it will definitely not make us loose ourselves, just because the song was played in the mall.

When we look into our past, we will find things that we consider mistakes. And there is no use in denying anything. Just because we wish something never happened, we cannot simply forget it. Those memories are part of who we are today. And coming to terms with those things means admitting our mistakes. Sometimes even regretting them. But we cannot dwell on them. Because our past does not define our future. Our past may be an explanation to certain things, but do not let it be an excuse. We must learn how to rewire our brains such that we do not suffer an emotional reaction every time we think of certain chapters of our past. (Don’t get me wrong, emotional reactions are nothing to be ashamed of. But there are certain times, when we’d rather not show them, because they would be plain inappropriate.)

We cannot deny our past. But we can decide how we react to it. We can decide what we take from it. We can decide how we want to live right now.

I do not know if some day I will not feel triggered every time I run across a craft-knife or a classical razor-blade. But I know that I have not cut in a month and that this is something I can be grateful for. Every time I see those blades I can remember the pain of this world. And I can be grateful that I have experienced some of it. Because it means that when I say “I understand, what you are feeling.” I am not lying. I know that my cutting has given me a totally different approach to addiction and I dare say I understand it better now. And if all it did, was teaching me how to be less judgemental, I am grateful.

I do not deny that I have the urge to take a blade and just run it over my skin, especially in the evenings. Especially when I am alone. But whether or not I do is not predetermined. Just because I have cut in the past, does not mean, that will do it again in the future.

A totally different aspect of memories is, that I believe it is, what ties us to people. Because if we could not remember, we would never get close to anyone. We would never learn to value or fear the people in our lives. And this is important to keep in mind, when we want to interact with people. When we wish to get close to someone. Sharing memories is probably one of the strongest bonds there is. And the friendships that can grow from those bonds is precious beyond words.

Forgetting someone we share a lot of emotional memories with… I do not think it is possible. We come across people in our lives, that we may wish to forget. But chances are we will never get them out of our heads. Because we do not simply forget memories. We can do the same as with anything: Reprogram. But we will never really forget. And I wish I could say I am okay with that. And some day I think I will be. Everyone who we across will teach us something. And we do not want to forget those lessons. The pain will fade with time. But the memory will stay. We will remember. And thinking about it is beautiful, because sharing memories with someone we may not engrave our names in their heart (huh this line is cheesy) but we will engrave the lesson that we taught them in their brain. Which is worth so much more.

All in all: we cannot forget our mistakes. We cannot forget people. But we can choose our future. We can choose to learn from the past. And to not make the same mistakes again. And this way even when we cannot get rid of the painful memories, we grow. We learn to understand the world and ourselves. And those memories will keep the lessons alive. This is forgetting is not even that desirable. We want the pain to fade. I get it. I really do. And it will fade. But there is no need for us to fight the memories. Fight our past selves. We just need to have the courage to accept who we were and who we are today. And then we can decide who we will be in the future.

The vision of who we shall be

I got lucky enough to know that my fear had a deadline. To know that at some point I would have an answer. And I got lucky enough to get the answer I had been hoping for and not the answer I had been so afraid of.

But now what? When we are lucky enough to get the chance to leave our fear behind. What do we do next? When our entire life had been evolving around that fear. (It does not have to be fear. It can really be anything you have been evolving around and now stopped.) How can we move on?

I think there are two crucial parts: One is looking back and figuring out what went wrong. And what went well. This is important, but I think it is quite self-explanatory. It allows us to deal with the emotions and not bury them inside us. But we do not want to live in the past. We shall not be devoured by regret. (In fact this could be the topic for a whole separate blog post.)

The other part is looking into the future. And sometimes, when we have been so caught up in something we need to actively create a vision of ourselves. But why would that be helpful? A vision allows us to measure our actions by. If something makes us more like the person we are in that vision, it is a productive action. But why do we need that?

Because we need a direction. Until this point we have been evolving around whatever it is we are leaving behind. Now it is time to evolve around something positive. Around the person we want to be. In my vision I never say: “I am not a self-harmer.” I say things like: “I am a strong, independent woman.” Such a positive vision, a vision of what we want to be rather than what we do not want to be, is very powerful, because it motivates us to go on. And it gives us somewhere to go. Somewhere we want to go. And every time we are able to take a step towards our vision, we will be able to love ourselves a bit more. Because we did something that made us better.

In the self-harm and self-hate context this is so important. Because we tend to be trapped in all that negativity. And I know I could not even have written this post last week. I think us hating ourselves… as sad as it is: It is part of who we are. And yes, we do have to fight it. But we cannot fight negativity with more negativity. We cannot fight the fact that we hate ourselves, by hating that we hate. That’s… recursive. So instead we need to find something about us, that we can love. And that is why we need a vision: because we want to be like the vision. And every time we get a little closer to who we want to be, we are allowed to be proud of ourselves. Love ourselves a bit more. Trust ourselves a bit more. Experience that we are actually not as much of a failure as we always like to make ourselves believe. And that I call taking control of our lives. Actively fueling our self-confidence instead of letting negativity destroy us.

But how can we create a vision? What inspires such a vision? There are many sources for that: People we admire. Ideologies. Quotes. And more mundane: Books, movies, series, music, pictures. I usually work with 4 categories:

  • Me and university
  • Me and my hobbies
  • Me and myself
  • Me and others

In each of these categories I determine what is important to me. I write it down and that is how my vision is born. Then I take one or two points in each category and figure out a way to actively improve that point. I make a plan. And most importantly: I try to ask myself on a regular basis: “Is this how the person in my vision would act?” or “Is this bringing me closer to the person I want to be?”. This is not entirely about accounting for the progress we make in becoming the vision, it is mostly about remembering that positive vision. Getting into the mindset of that vision. Because we can so easily forget, what we want to fight for. So reminding ourselves of it is always a good idea.

All that is Hell ends.

The sun is rising again. I am waking up from a nightmare. I’m getting out of the darkness. Leaving that hell behind me.

I am not going to lie. I cried. So much. Actually crying and the support of someone close to me was what helped me. And yes, the person who helped me… was not someone who actually understands what it means to self-harm. But she was able to take away my fear. Make me believe for the first time in days that everything is going to be alright. And I know this sounds so old. Sounds like a comforting lie. But now I am able to believe it again. My life does not magically become easy now. But I am not terrified of what will happen anymore.

And now… as I have left hell behind I realize that I wished for one special person to be there with me. I trusted that person. And that person was who made me feel so left alone. I am mad. My pain has turned into anger. Not just raging anger. But sad anger. Because it is not that I don’t understand. It is not that I accuse that person of what happened. I am just disappointed. So my understanding is not what I deny him now. But my trust. I do not hate. But I wish to protect myself.

I am strong. I can live through a great many things without needing a particular person. Because I have my family. And I have those friends who are doing everything in their power to help me. No matter how badly I need them. Those people will always be there. and that is why I trust them.

I once said, that trust violations are the only real way to hurt me. And I have been hurt. Deeply. But this is not the end. I can go on. I woke up from my nightmare. And I am stronger than I was before. Because I know my value. I know that I can do this. Without destroying myself. Without getting lost in a world of darkness.

The lesson is simple: Trust is important. It can lift you up. Or tear you down. There are people who deserve being trusted. Those are the people who will help you when you cannot see where to go. And then there those who you wish to trust, but if you do they will disappoint and hurt you. And for me… when I have been hurt enough, I stop trusting those people. Not because I hate them. Because the first person I have to protect is myself.