If I am not going to grow old with my ex as I had once believed, then I won’t grow old with anything that reminds me of him.
This happens to me occasionally and I hate it.
I fall into bed but not into sleep; my brain is in overdrive. It keeps me awake. I begin remembering things my ex once said or did, even though some of it happened so long ago. Apparently, memories are stored forever in our brains and we can’t delete them. And it often feels like we can’t control them. But what we can do is overwrite them by making new memories.
Here are six ways that have worked for me:
1. Take holidays by yourself, or with friends, to those old favourite places you had once visited with your ex.
My ex loved to travel and over the years we had many holidays, some great and some awful. It’s harder to travel solo for some but for me, it was of deep importance. And not just to sightsee, but to revisit the places I had gone to with my ex so I would be able to create a new memory of it.
I invited a friend of many decades to come with me on one of these holidays, to a place I had loved when I went with my then-husband. We had a few negative experiences on that trip, but we also had some great ones, and best of all, she was a mellow and happy companion, unlike my touchy and critical ex.
Now when I remember the walks in that pristine rainforest, it is with my friend beside me, not my ex.
2. Get rid of possessions that trigger memories.
Little things like the Christmas tree ornaments for instance; these can be gifted to family members, or donated to charity. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and try something your ex would have hated. My first Christmas as a single, I ditched the traditional green tree and bought one in glittering white and silver, then decorated it in pink. My kids hated it and actually so did I, but I never went back to the traditional rigid way he liked to celebrate Christmas. I stripped his rituals out of my Christmas planning and created new ones.
The same applies to things like furniture or paintings. When my ex left he took a table and some chairs that I had in the sunroom. I missed the convenience of having them so I went to a furniture store and bought a smaller set. The saleswoman and I chatted and she told me that she had replaced all her furniture after her ex left. She said that on her birthday she had gone to work as usual then received a phone call from her angry ex. He said happy birthday, enjoy the present I left you in the house. And she went home to find that he had cleaned her out; all the furniture; everything was gone. After that first initial rush of anger, she phoned him back and thanked him. She told him he had done her a huge favour by taking everything that reminded her of him.
When I notice a spot on a wall where a favourite painting used to hang, I remember her story and I too am thankful that the painting, along with the memory of buying it with my ex, is no longer there to haunt me.
3. Change your eating habits.
My ex had always insisted we eat together at the dinner table every night, preferably a home cooked meal. While this is a great goal and I’m not criticising its benefits, it had lost its appeal to me and had become a chore I no longer wanted to perform. My sons were older and often not around for a meal and it suited all of us to eat together when convenient, but we eventually relaxed the rules and ate at times that suited us.
4. Change your wardrobe.
You don’t need to throw everything out and start again, but if you have certain memory triggering outfits, it’s time to get rid of them. Purging your closet of old things is one of the most therapeutic things I have done. And when I bought new items to replace them, I no longer had to wonder if my ex would comment on the colour or style, or even worse the price. It was exhilarating and liberating to be able to buy something and not have to immediately cut the price tag off and hide the item in the back of my closet so that my cheapskate husband wouldn’t berate me for spending too much on things he said I didn’t need.
5. Change your shopping habits.
My ex had certain big department stores that were his favourites. Over the years, I went along with the desire to shop big brand names. He disliked smaller boutique types stores and distrusted anything that wasn’t a “big brand”.
Shopping lost its appeal for a time after he moved out, and I started to order more and more from online websites. I didn’t have to go to the stores where many unhappy memories lingered; I could just research and order almost everything I wanted or needed online.
6. Clean out any of your ex’s possessions that left behind by him.
When my ex left, he took what he wanted but left a lot of his unwanted stuff behind. By this, I mean trinkets he had picked up on his travels, photo albums from before we met, clothing, DVD’s, etc. As much as I hated being the one who had to clean up after him, I reminded myself that this would be the last time ever. I boxed what I could and sent it to him. What was left such as the DVD collection and books I donated to charity. Even a small thing like an old photograph can be enough to trigger an unhappy memory and bring up regrets over what we had hoped would be a lifetime commitment. If it wasn’t important enough for him to take, I told myself it wasn’t important for me to care about. And out it went.
It took some time to overwrite the old memories, but it worked for me, and now I have arrived at the final and most important step: within the next year, I will be selling the house we bought together thirty years ago. The house in which we raised our sons and which of itself holds so many wonderful and painful memories.
I love this house but it reminds me every day that it is a family house and should be echoing with the noise and laughter of a family. I will be taking the proceeds and buying something smaller and more manageable but most importantly, something that is entirely of my choosing. Every space in it will be mine, every wall a fresh canvas, and every window looking onto something new.
It will be the final and most important memory overwrite I do, post-divorce, and the closer it gets the more excited I become. If I am not going to grow old with my ex as I had once believed, then I won’t grow old with anything that reminds me of him.