This Is How You Remember Your Pain Without Letting It Destroy You


As someone who writes, I’ve started to notice we all have a tendency to identify ourselves with our pain.

This isn’t really a bad thing, per se. We all have stories. We have been on top of mountains and we have been pulled into undercurrents, sucked into riptides. We all have perspectives of the beautiful and magical parts of life, as well as the sides that are dark and not as kind. We tell our stories because we know others who have been there. We tell them to remind ourselves of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. We tell them to ask for help, hoping someone will hold out their hands and not let go. And sometimes we tell them to set ourselves free.

I have started to wonder though where the line is for talking about our pain, and basking in it. Telling your story isn’t always fun. You sometimes have to go back and relive moments that you’d rather keep suppressed. The hurt, disappointment, and anger that you move past from can sometimes fuel your most creative work though, so you relive and you write and you hand it to the world saying, “Hey, this is what I have dealt with,” and hope that it connects with someone.

We write about our happy moments in addition to the painful ones, but we also know that misery loves company.

For me though, I’ve always had a hard time letting go. I have always been someone who is sentimental. I hold onto everything. Cards from my seventh birthday, art projects from fifth grade, journals from middle school. I attempt to throw them out but I never go through with it. I get so attached and I love to remember.

I tend to do that internally too.

My memory carries snapshots of smiles after a long night. Compliments from past loves. Quotes burned into my brain from people telling their own stories. Melodies from music that I listened to with friends who were passionate. Mental scrapbooks filled with memories that do me no good to remember so sharply, but I can’t seem to discard them.

It’s helpful when I’m telling my story.

It’s not helpful when I’m trying to move forward in my life.

When I’m making new friends when old ones leave. Finding new love and falling in love after being broken-hearted. When I try to take steps on a new path because that’s what we need to do, I know that I’m doing the right thing. I love the excitement of new, of fresh starts and clean slates; We aren’t pictures and we don’t stay in the same place forever. Yet I almost feel like remembering past things so vividly holds me back from truly embracing new things. I don’t know if it’s because past things have made me afraid of new. Or if I’m afraid of forgetting things in my past that I feel made me who I am.

Or if I’m just scared of letting go because I’ve always been so good at holding on.

Yet there is a point where you are no longer simply recalling your pain. Where instead of taking a stroll down memory lane, you start building a house there again. You start branding it on your skin and saying, “This is me and it’s all I’ll ever be.” The world starts viewing you through this one lens and you never grow.

Or you never convince the world you’ve grown.

So where is the balance? How do you use your past to your advantage, and not let it be your identity? How do you keep moving forward without cutting off everything that made you who you are today? If I’m honest, I’m still learning how to do just that.

I know that we can’t stop being vulnerable and being open about our pasts. I think if we choose to forget, we choose to also abandon the things we learn. We can’t let our pain be in vain and have to make the same mistakes when we don’t have to. Yet if we truly don’t want to live in that world, we have to be willing to stop holding onto memories so tightly that we can’t move forward. There is a difference between remembering and living in the past.

Because I think there is a reason we remember. So that when we finally do move forward we do bigger and better things than we ever thought we were capable of.