We all do it, even if unintentionally.
And history matters. History is our foundation, our source of lessons, our identity — at least in part.
When we rewrite history, we typically become the heroes in our own stories. It’s the other guy who did us wrong. Our missteps, our actions, and our reactions all grow less toxic in the process of we recalling them.
And the most egregious incidents?
Generally, they are the fault of someone else or circumstances beyond our control.
Revisionist history is natural, to some degree. But here’s the thing about living with the past: Tweaking it in memory is one thing; trying to block it out entirely — especially when we’ve been terribly hurt — simply doesn’t work. And maybe it’s a bad idea, besides.
On Keeping Busy
At the holidays, I’m usually very busy – not only with preparations, but because I don’t get traditional days off as I don’t work a traditional job. So I’m juggling juggling juggling right up until the very last moment, then hoping I won’t be so pooped that I can’t enjoy the family time that the holidays are supposed to be about.
One of the advantages of being so busy is that you don’t dwell on emotions. And there are times that is a major plus. But then, when you let your guard down, those emotions may come rushing back. And that can mean a mix of feelings you’d rather avoid.
So you put on the positive face, in moderation at least, and you power your way through.
There were evenings during the holidays when one of my sons would laugh a certain way and the other would delight us with his humor. For just a few moments, it was like hearing echoes of their father and I couldn’t help but flash back to years ago when they were little, we were a family of four, and I still believed that we were “happy.”
While I make an effort to use ornaments purchased since my divorce, that doesn’t mean I don’t dig through older trinkets and decorations that invoke memories of a less complicated and more innocent time. As pre-holiday commotion permits little reflective time in my household, it is weeks later, putting everything away, that I am more apt to pause and remember.
Cue those echoes.
January is also an excellent month for tidying files, throwing out old magazines, and the seemingly endless task of dealing with overstuffed drawers. And in those drawers are life’s (emotional) archaeological strata.
In sorting through my children’s report cards and drawings and certificates of different types, hoping to place them in labeled folders, I came across a beautiful photograph of the four of us. Most of these pictures were boxed up and tucked away long ago, but there we were — my apple-cheeked little boys sitting at a large table, and flanked by two smiling adults — a youthful version of myself, and ditto on the ex.
Sadly, the sense of loss is greater than if it were “only” the marriage that has been lost. In my divorce, not only did friends choose sides, but so did family — and not the typical ‘his for him’ and ‘hers for her.’
On the contrary. What little family I had was easily swayed by my ex’s charms. I found myself quite alone in fighting my battles, and rebuilding a life after.
I was reading about the grieving process not so long ago. We Americans are brainwashed to believe that we move through stages of grief and then, miraculously, we are somehow ‘done.’ This dovetails neatly with what I think of as the myth of “moving on” after divorce.
As for those oft-cited stages of grief, we are to step through and then – finito, kaput, the end – when it comes to the tears, the regrets, and the deep sense of sorrow.
That interpretation doesn’t jibe with the periodic triggering of memories, much less the complexity of human emotions. The article I read suggests a more realistic process of reliving waves of grief at various points. This is consistent with my own experience of loss, be it the passing of a loved one, the decimation of dreams and beliefs following divorce, or alienation from those family members — a wrenching, visceral betrayal I cannot quite articulate.
Sometimes I think I fight myself too hard, trying not to relive or even think about a painful past. Then I remind myself: We cannot undo history.
Nor can we pretend that a spouse stopped loving us, or that he did everything possible to inflict pain. And we cannot blot out the words or deeds of a parent or sibling or friends who joined the fray — though they may have been convinced they were doing no real harm.
We cannot avoid facts. We can only accept them. That includes what went right (as we know it), what went wrong (as we know it); how we choose to look ahead — recognizing our past part of our present, and doing so without living in denial.
I tell myself that I shouldn’t try to hide the flaring of momentary anger when I come across something related to my divorce. Nor should I deny that it exists; denial of feelings is both unhealthy and pointless. Likewise, I cannot negate the truth of those four oh-so-young faces in a long ago photograph: a grinning man, a smiling woman, and two apple-cheeked little boys.