We’ve all had the experience of having to deal with negative thoughts - often about ourselves - that swirl around inside our heads until they become whirlpools of self-doubt. Mine usually come around whenever I dwell too much on the non-acceptance directed at me by relatives and in-laws over the years. Be it the memory of a single incident or the sum feeling of years of incidents, it sometimes pops up and can instantly deflate me. These are the easiest for me to handle: recollections I quickly recognize for what they are and can release.
Other memories, more cunning than those easily brushed aside, stream in, a series of small cellophane memories of old home movies that play in my head. I think I manage to push them aside, but they somehow manage to link together as many continuous frames of old dramas and before I know it, I have a mess of stuff to edit away, to leave on the cutting room floor. And, if I’m not very, very careful, all the “stuff” can spiral me downward into a full-blown depression.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address reactions to painful, old memories.
Many of us realize we can’t control the events of our lives in every, single case. We try to stay away from situations that might create new and less-than-desirable memories. We know sometimes new situations simply present themselves, distasteful and unavoidable. For me, I remind myself that I can only own my reactions to events like these. Events that suddenly present themselves are generally easier for me to deal with; I try to stay in the moment, picture my boundary wall or protective bubble, and leave as early as possible. Usually, although not always, this keeps too much of other people’s yuck from sticking to me. (My wall and bubble are non-stick, by the way.)
However, old memories don’t allow us the opportunity to just walk away. They’ve already happened and we can’t change them. But that’s just where our power to deal with them lies: realizing we can’t change the past or do anything differently to modify the event itself. I can’t go back, no matter how much I might want to do just that, nor can I change anyone’s opinion of me in the context of biological family and family-by-marriage. And a while back - when I paused long enough to really consider their natures and their own family dynamics - that AHA! of realizing their opinions of me don’t mean jack to me was and still is liberating.
I spent so many years selling myself out by morphing into their vision of what a good Anne should be and of trying to fit in; I don’t waste any more of my life at it. So many years filled with constantly changing rules and expectations - and trying to meet them - found me self-injuring as my life-force seeped from me. My dreams disappeared along with parts of my soul during those years. Inviting those parts back, welcoming their return, and honoring them were hard-fought and hard-won.
No more self-sacrifice on altars of deception, on dogma that says “Unless you are blood, you will never be enough. Unless you willingly close your eyes and keep drinking from our toxic well of lies and self-deceit, we will never accept you.”
It was time to begin worshipping at a different altar, one of trees and sky, sun and moon, all of creation. An altar that didn’t require deception and self-deception, only love and wonder and awe and gratefulness.
My dogma - honesty, curiosity, inclusivity - celebrates, it doesn’t denigrate.
When our thoughts veer toward destructive, let’s focus on the instructive as much as we can. When others’ wounded-ness triggers our own in such a way that we begin to rate our worth according to others’ standards, it’s time to stop. And not just stop but come to a screeching stop.
I stop. Sit. Remind myself what’s happening. Clear out the remnants of gunk and junk, get back on my own path, worship at my own altar according to my own dogma.
In this season of shortening days and lengthening darkness, I hope you create beautiful altars unique to you and write your own dogma according to your own truth.