I bought a little blue leather-bound photo album at a flea market many years ago. It’s full of someone else’s memories, captured in the black and white of the 1930s. And it offers an imaginative, somewhat eerie experience as you flip through it and wonder at what these memories might have meant to their owner (who is probably long gone).
The first image in the album (above) is of a train wreck…
So what of your own memories? Especially the hard ones. The literal and metaphorical ‘train wrecks’ you might carry within you somewhere.
Where do you actually keep them?
In your head?
In your heart?
In an internal box with the lid locked-down tight?
Are there any memories that you’d rather not have? Any too painful to look at for long? Ones you might give away or ‘erase’ if you could.
Well, it turns out this idea is being looked into by researchers. Even though the way memory itself actually works is still a bit of an enigma, and the research is only in early stages, it seems that if we fiddle with particular proteins in the brain, a memory can potentially be “eliminated.” Stopped in its tracks.
(Perhaps not quite in the all-encompassing way that was portrayed in the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But maybe in a way that single ‘bad’ memories might be dissolved before they take root).
Is that something you’d be interested in?
Which memories might you prefer to live without?
What do you imagine a life without these would look like?
And who would you be without them?
It’s interesting to ponder just how much our sense of self might be tied up in the bonds of experience and memory. Even the painful stuff. And whether it’s possible to ‘erase’ one without the other…
Perhaps the body already has its own way of temporarily ‘erasing’ the most damaging memories in some cases. Some people report having “traumatic amnesia” or “recovered memories” which return to them later, sometimes many years after a traumatic event (and there’s a rich debate about whether this is possible. You can read more about it in this literature review on traumatic amnesia).
One school of thought suggests that if recovered memories exist, then maybe they surface again when it feels ‘safe’ enough. That maybe the body/brain helps carry the load of these experiences subconsciously, until you’re feeling strong enough or safe enough to remember them and hold them in your conscious mind again. Safe enough to return to them and to know that you’ve lived through this event.
In that little blue photo album, the train wreck features in the first couple of images. After that, flow pages and pages of other experiences and adventures in exotic places. And then the enigmatic face of a particular woman keeps appearing, suggesting that our photographer might have found a fellow traveller to journey with.
Perhaps it can also be this way with life.
All things – train wrecks, adventure and relationships – all in the one album together… all given their own space… and the pages ahead yet to be filled with the richness of new memories in the making.
(I wonder what kinds of memories you’ll add to your album today…).
Photos: unknown; Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.