I have an amazing memory. I remember details of appearance and setting, depth of emotion, and the impact and power of words exchanged. My long time girlfriends are both envious and terrified by this gift of mine. All I need is a small detail, a word, a picture in my head, and someone to say . . . Remember the time . . . Before anyone can stop me, I begin to rattle off who was there, what they wore and what was said. The recalling and reminiscing can make us laugh out loud, as I provide details of our shared experiences. Sometimes the memories are cringe worthy as my friends beg me to stop the retelling before I reveal an embarrassing detail that they can only vaguely recall. Still the laughter ensues because we are old friends and nothing is sacred, nothing we cannot accept about one another’s past, a benefit of long and trusted friendships. I think they tolerate my story telling because the most embarrassing stories are about me, and I never shy away from self-deprecation.
My good memory came in handy in so many ways. During my education, I easily memorized and retained information and had no trouble recalling historical facts, geometric theorems, and scientific formulas. In class I was quick to blurt out answers. An annoying habit that my teachers ignored. I was called teacher’s pet more than a few times. My parents relied my memory to help them with forgotten details. As a little girl, I loved when my parents needed a phone number, an important date, or item for a shopping list. I quickly and proudly offered the information without missing a beat. I felt pleased with myself. I had an important job. My dad would often shout to me from his den, “Christina, come here!” He would be watching television, usually an old movie or series. When I arrived he’d ask, “Who is this actor? Do you recognize that face? Do you know the year this movie was made?” I knew the answers because he taught me all about the movies. He called me the Crown Princess of Trivia because, as he always reminded me, my mother was the Queen. I loved sharing that quality with her. My memory has been an asset in my work as well. In business, I knew the names of every customer, details about their business and even their families. These connections built relationships which in turn built business. This is true today of the families at my school. I can quickly put names and faces of siblings and parents together, showing genuine interest, instilling a sense of community and building trust.
With a lifetime of experiences, choices, decisions, and milestone events, some memories have slipped away. Fortunately, those blurred and buried stories are restored by the collective memory of my family and friends. While I love the memories and sharing them, there was a downside, even a dark side, to my having a great memory. Sometimes I used my memory as weapon. During arguments with boyfriends, husbands and even my children, I had a nasty habit of digging up the past, rehashing old mistakes, holding on to pain, and then daring the recipient of my wrath to challenge my impeccable memory. Yuck . . . that always ended badly. Some things from the past are meant to stay there, forgiven and forgotten.
My memory certainly wasn’t selective. There were awful, ugly, and sad memories that I wished I could forget. . . . my former husband’s reaction when he learned of my affair, my children’s teary and gut wrenching response to their dad moving out of our home, my less than proud moments as a wife and mother, the betrayal of a friend, my mother slowing dying of cancer before my eyes, and my father’s heartbreak as he helplessly watched. Some sad memories are just part of life, meant to be endured by all of us. But then there are the terrible memories that I created, the ones that make me feel sick, the ones for which I take full responsibility, the ones I could have avoided. The regret can be overwhelming at times.
I knew this regret was eating away at me. In an effort to create and maintain my sanity and find peace of mind, I decided to attend regular private counseling sessions, participate in a 12 step program, and receive individual yoga therapy. I know it sounds like self-help on steroids, but together they provided me with a comprehensive plan to improve my noggin. The common thread among them was the daily use of affirmation and prayer. My therapist gave me a long list of affirmations, but suggested I read only two every day, I forgive myself for hurting myself and others, and I deserve to be loved by myself and others. Then there was The Serenity Prayer, the basis for all 12 step work, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And my yoga therapist created a Bhavana for me based my on personal goals for my mind, body and spirit, I am peaceful. I am present. I accept what is. I recite these at bedtime, when I wake up each morning, and during heightened anxiety brought on by worry, and thoughts of regret.
Easy, right? WRONG!!! In the early days of my practice I found myself searching my brain for the words, and then digging through my nightstand or my purse for hard copies because in anxious moments I could not recall ONE WORD. During Al-anon meetings, I stumbled over the words of the Serenity Prayer. Honestly, I think everyone on the planet can recite it from memory, and most people have no idea that it’s connected to 12 step programs. What was wrong with me? I was raised Catholic and could recite an entire mass from memory for God’s sake. But I could not remember these simple affirmations. What happened to my fantastic memory? I was feeling really discouraged. I even imagined that I might have early onset dementia. I needed to recall this information at will, several times a day, if I was going to change my thinking. I finally entered the affirmations on my iPhone so I wouldn’t have to tax my failing memory.
And then it came to me. I had an honest to goodness epiphany . . . I realized why I could not memorize these positive and powerful affirmations. . . . They were completely foreign to my brain! I didn’t speak to myself this way. . . I was harsh, and unforgiving. Every sad memory I created and later recalled was an opportunity to feel guilt and regret, a reminder that I didn’t deserve happiness. As for my Bhavana, my brain hadn’t been peaceful or present since the early seventies. My brain was much too busy regretting the past and fretting about the future. I spent a good amount time trying to control everything in my path. I was not one to accept what was. Oh no, if I anticipated and an outcome that I didn’t like, I was going to do everything in my power to change it. It’s no wonder I had trouble memorizing these simple prayers. My brain was resisting. My excellent memory had been contributing to my miserable state and I was a willing participant. I had to try harder.
It’s been quite a journey. i do know my affirmations by heart now. More importantly, I can close my eyes, concentrate on every word and its meaning and feel the weight of worry and regret lifted from my heart and mind. I still have many anxious moments, but when they sneak up on me, I’m prepared. I remind myself of all my good qualities, and I forgive myself. Most everyone forgave me a long time ago.
I do my very best to not look backward or forward, to enjoy and stay present in the moment. This is difficult for sure. But I practice every day. There are still many things I want in my life, for me, my family and my friends. I struggle knowing that I have absolutely no control over those outcomes. Accepting that reality is my greatest challenge. So . . . I look for the things I can control. When I search my memory for the most joyful moments of my life, the common factor is always love, pure and simple. Making memories filled with love . . . now that’s something I can do.