Over the last week or so I have had lots of memories resurface, partly because of getting back in touch with people I had once lost contact with and partly because it was my first wedding anniversary. Also the advent of facebook ‘on this day’ makes it hard to escape memories, even if you wanted to!
What it has made me think about though is how the mind deals with memories, especially at different times in our lives; sad times, happy times, stressful times, content times and so on.
Memories largely fall into two camps, good and bad. But there are subtle nuances within those camps. True and false, for example. Nostalgic, romanticised, memories that are not memories at all but are memories we wish we had and are events subtly altered. Then at certain times in our lives it can be hard to remember how bad things were, when all we want to do is remember the good. Often that can lead to remembering minor things as being more significant than they truly were because we want to cling on to something good. I am not a neuroscientist but I suspect that this has something to do with the brain protecting its host, a variation on the fight or flight mechanism, ensuring that the nasties are kept out for a spell, so that they don’t destroy us.
Our wedding anniversary is a fantastic and accurate memory. It has been great reliving some of the times we had over that weekend with our amazing and awesome family and friends and the fun we had. It has also allowed for some reflection on how this year compares to previous years, when we were married to other people and those marriages were far from happy.
My previous marriage was not a total disaster in lots of ways, we had some good times and I will always a number of very happy memories, but after all this time, I can see them for what they are, a small number of good times in the midst of a lot of things that were much less fun. When we first split up, those memories made me feel sad and guilty, but I realised that I could not stay in a situation because of memories, or rather because I was seeing those memories through the eyes of nostalgia. Now I look back on those good time with fondness, but not nostalgically. They are memories of experiences. My ex husband took a different approach when we split up, he recalled things, lists about his wife, his house, his pets, it was more about possessions and lifestyle, not memories.
My husband’s previous marriage was different; when they split up he could not recall a single happy time, and still can’t. What he struggled with for a long time was allowing himself to remember how awful it was, all of the time because he didn’t want to remember that he had been manipulated into an abusive relationship and certainly didn’t want to think about the horrific experiences he had. Why would you? He had to however, because as part of both the divorce hearings and the harassment hearings he had to relive each and every moment. His view now, looking back, is that this was not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes him appreciate our relationship, and realise that what he had was not normal, despite constantly being manipulated to think it was, but more than that, it has made him understand that what happened to him was not his fault and he has been able to find his way back to being his authentic self.
For both of us it has been freeing. We have learned to be ourselves, together and separately, and to like who we are. We can be honest with each other and ourselves and that is immensely freeing. We respect one another, enjoy each other’s company, have the same long term view of our life but also the freedom to be our own individual selves. Decisions are made together, whereas in the past our partners made decisions without any thought as to the consequences and we were expected to bail them out. what we have is a partnership and it has taken a long time, and a whole shitload of crap to get here.
It is strange the way we misinterpret our pasts, be it deliberate or not. A friend of mine said to me that they had spent quite a long time learning to be happy with themselves after the end of one relationship and before the start of another. I however remember this very differently and remember watching a beautiful person struggle with self esteem and being alone and being taken advantage of. Now I know no one wants to admit they have been taken advantage of, that was one thing that took my husband time to come to terms with, but convincing yourself that you made self aware decisions because you were confident and knew exactly who you were, when in fact that might not be the case, serves only to wrap the cloak of pretence around yourself even further, and the only person who loses out is you. I speak from experience.
I also get that often memories are sneaky, because what we think we remember about a loved one is actually not real. What we ‘remember’ is the picture in our head of what it was supposed to be like. The idea of being in love, the idea of how we thought the relationship would pan out. We trick ourselves into remembering things differently, or remembering things that might seem romantic to the outside world, to convince ourselves that our relationships were not that bad, were not a waste, that we were loved and we did love. Our memories become tainted with some Hollywood romance version of love, but relationships are not a whirlwind of romance, one fight, a reconciliation and a happy ending, spanning a few months in 90 minutes of soundbites. Relationships are not about listing habits we find cute, or constant declarations of earth shattering love. For me, I always find grand gestures suspicious, but maybe that’s just me! And when relationships come to an end, if what we are left with is a bunch of bad memories, incomplete memories, false memories or memories which are not about experiences together, then I think that we need to try to be honest with ourselves about what that relationship truly was for us.
What my husband found out in his relationship was that when the control began to stop being as effective, such as lovebombing* and gaslighting** and isolation***, and so much more, things escalated towards violence, the last resort of a cowardly bully. Frankly a relationship is not a relationship at all if violence is involved and certainly someone who loves you is not violent towards you, regardless of how they might attempt to justify it. That’s when he walked away and I am so glad he did, because the only future he had was one where it continued to escalate and who knows where that might have ended up.
I understand the reasons for misremembering, when I left an abusive relationship many years ago I was what I thought was heartbroken. Looking back I was not heartbroken because the relationship was over, I had been controlled and isolated and abused and I was heartbroken because I had let a relationship dictate who I was and who I was not. I believed all the things I had been told about myself, and had spent the entire relationship never being good enough, but that was the whole point. If I was made to feel not good enough then my ‘partner’ could make himself feel better. It is a very weak person that can only feel better about themselves by making others feel bad about themselves. That’s why I have taken a long time learning to love myself, and am still learning, and because of that I know that my husband truly loves me for exactly who I am.