I moved ten times in my 20s, a pretty obvious sign of an unsettled decade. With each relocation to a new address, I left things behind, feeling they were unnecessary and unwanted. I also left people behind.
But I packed up the memories.
Each new haven promised stability, youthful adventure, a fresh start, and a place to really begin living. However, it often prompted another move, spurred on by discontent and the angst of a young, deluded girl.
A girl whose life had recently been set off-kilter by her father’s suicide.
It’s understandable how and why a trauma of that magnitude would interfere with the healthy development of a mature personality. Most importantly, my transition into adulthood.
The fear, pain, and insecurity would travel along with me everywhere I went.
I packed up and carried their heavy burden with me, ill-prepared to deal with their consequences at the moment.
But now, nearly five decades later, it occurs to me how, although I seldom relive the emotions of that early life, it still surfaces. And the box containing the sharp sting of abandonment and betrayal falls open, spilling its contents all over my mind—usually on the anniversary of my father’s death.
I suppose it’s expected, but I often wonder if there’s any way to be set free.
I’ve been pondering the possibility for a few weeks and wondering how I’d go about tucking away those events and their related emotions to stop reliving them. Or if that’s what I should be doing at all.
We all have events, moments, relationships, and times in our lives that are long gone but never fully. We hold onto them with the tips of our fingers, so they don’t slip away forever. They defined us in the past, impacting us so profoundly; changing how we saw the world around us and ourselves. Our reaction in the moment affected the path we took through them. And for that reason, they hold value.
Even the most unfortunate and tragic of our life’s events matter.
They shaped us and taught us lessons about how we fit in the world; and how we navigate through misfortune and unhealthy relationships in our future.
Many of the moments that stand out, refusing to be set aside, must be celebrated—for the sense of accomplishment and success they carry. For in these times, we felt strong and competent. The moments when we owned our life and knew our purpose. Nobody would want to let them go. Instead, we hang onto them so we can feel that sensation of self-worth just one more time.
But even those magical moments can hold us back. They cloud our vision of what’s next to come and the inner work ahead of us. Sometimes they don’t let us fully actualize who we are now, not just an older version of that younger self.
Then, there are the loves, mostly the loves lost. As women, I think we treasure these more than any other. For love, which we give and, to a great extent, that we receive, burrows the deepest into our core. The love remains forever, partly in the form of sorrow and the longing we can easily recall, but also for the self-satisfaction of ever having been that important to another human being.
Love has a unique way of making us real, giving us a glimpse of our value, making up for our inadequacies, unlike anything else. But when it breaks, we break with it—into small fragments of our former self. Often, it leads to reinvention: a renewal and reconstruction. But only if we possess the resilience to put ourselves back together in a different combination that is stronger and more self-reliant. But regardless of how, love changes us most of all.
All the joys, pains, bumps, and bruises of life, and the times we were completely destroyed or were catapulted into a new version of ourselves, tag along as uninvited guests. They accompany us as we venture through what we did to arrive here.
The boxes containing my past, for better or worse, are not meant to be shut away after all.
As part of my preparation for what comes next, they are to be dragged out into the light and examined clearly, carefully—allowing each memory to be experienced once more, intentionally, at a safe distance. And if necessary, ceremoniously inventoried, labeled, in big, bold letters, “My Past,” and left there with gratitude for what they turned me into.
A woman who is whole, settled within herself, and prepared for the next step of her own evolution.