Monday, October 29, 2012

Haunting Memories

Acknowledge the Past While Embracing the Present

Learning to Cope and Continuing to Live

To some degree I am always struggling with demons of my past and painful memories. However recently these haunting memories have been exceptionally prominent and I am having difficulty allowing myself to acknowledge them while still managing to embrace the present and look toward the future. It seems as if one period- past, present, or future- always seems to overwhelm my mind and prevents me from looking at the entire picture. The haunting memories and feelings that plague me include loss of people, loss of time and experiences, traumatic experiences from treatment, a nagging nostalgia with respect to earlier times in my life, and regret for what might have been had I done things differently. 
Memories can't be simply erased-
Most recently it is one specific memory that continues to haunt me day and night. However the feelings of sadness and mourning that accompany this memory become extremely strong at night. My mind keeps turning to the death of a friend that occurred about 6 months ago. She was only 2 years older than me and she died in her sleep due to complications from her long term battle with anorexia nervosa. She was a kind, funny, and genuine person and the world and others would have benefited immensely if she had continued to live. I know that I was deeply touched and impacted by her. I can only imagine how much good, love, light, and life she could have brought to others. I strongly believe that it was not her time to go and get angry at G-d and the world when I think about her death. No one my age should be forced to deal with such a huge a loss but more importantly it is not fair that someone as young as she should have died in her sleep. Something should have been done. G-d should have stepped in and found a way to protect or save her. Maybe in some cruel way her death has helped other people by providing insight about the danger of eating disorders. Hopefully the tragedy has inspired other women who struggle to seek help or take action in helping themselves. I hope that the death of this one, beautiful girl has somehow saved the lives of many others but I can't be sure that this is true. 
National Eating Disorder Awareness
Her death has permanently changed me. It has altered my perspective regarding friendships, priorities, and the value of human life. No matter our age, gender, socioeconomic status, or race we are not invincible. We are all at risk every day. It is scary to think in this way but it is the truth. Because I know from experience that death is unpredictable I have started to refuse to let petty fights or situations bother me. I see no point in sustaining arguments with friends and loved ones if we truly care for them. The question I ask myself is: "Would I be saddened if this person suddenly became ill or died?" The answer is almost always "yes" and therefore I attempt to maintain my relationships and am almost always willing to forgive. My friend's death has shifted my personal priorities and I have turned my focus to finding happiness in my life. There is no point in living a life of misery or unhappiness. I truly believe that we have been put on this earth to find what makes us happy, no matter what it is, and pursue it. Money, beauty, thinness, popularity, success, material possessions, nothing matters if you are unhappy deep down. I have dreamt of and pursued many things that I thought would bring me happiness. But at the end of the day when I was at my thinnest I was also my most miserable. I have come home after a night out and thrown my Chanel bag on the floor, kicked off my Prada sandals, removed my Hermes bracelets, and sobbed the most painful sobs you can imagine. These material possessions did not protect me from feeling and expressing pain. I have learned a lot from my friend's death and I am thankful for these lessons but the memory of her continues to follow me even months after the fact. I have been obsessing over it. Rewatching the memorial video in her honor over and over again. Replaying situations I had with her repeatedly in my mind. (The time she cleaned up an Ensure I threw across the table. Laughing and bitching in the smoke shack during treatment. The night she painted my nails with little polka-dots during "Pamper Yourself" evening group.) I think of her and smile and then I cry. Sad thoughts regarding the loss continue to ruminate in my head. 
How can I pay honor to her and acknowledge her memory while embracing the future? How can I learn to cope and continue living my life? I find it hard not only because I miss her and am in disbelief that she is no longer on this earth but because the way her death has affected me plays a role in my interactions every day. I have a hard time having fun with peers and feeling as if I am understood because I have seen and been through things that they can't even imagine. I don't feel better than them for what I have seen and know. And I don't wish the memories that I possess upon anyone. But it is hard to relate to other people when I have seen what I have seen, experienced what I have experienced, and lost what I have lost. I have seen my adult friend basically bed ridden at around 80 lbs. I have had an ng tube forced up my nose. I have lost my college years, closeness with friends, and two friends to death. I have been through more things than I care to remember and I will spare you all the details. I know everyone in life has their own shit that they have to deal with but I can't help but envy my friends that have seemingly more normal lives than I do. I am sure they have problems and painful memories that are specific to them. And I am positive that you also have concerns and experiences from your past that haunt you on a day-to-day basis. We all have something but we need to learn to cope and continue living or else our time here is wasted. I have two quotes to share with you this morning pertaining to both memories as well as the past and continuing to live-
The first quote I'd like to introduce pertains to memory, its meaning, and its importance-

"Memory is a way of holding onto things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose."

- From The Wonder Years (1988-1993)

I chose this quote because it helps explain why we continue to carry around memories and experiences even though they are sometimes painful. My mind holds onto my friend and her death because I love her deeply and although she is physically gone she can stay alive in my memory. I can hear her voice in my mind. I can recall things she has said that made me laugh and a smile will come to my face. I can honor her by keeping her in my memory. And perhaps I feel that if I continue to hold onto her and that she continues to serve a purpose in my life as well as others than she did not die in vain. This quote also helps to uncover the reasons why I refuse to forget or let go of my experiences from treatment. I remember the good experiences- friends, therapists, support, laughter- and I remember the bad times- challenging meals, the pain of refeeding, the fear, the anguish, the discomfort of a feeding tube, the lack of control- because collectively the good and bad experiences have helped to make me who I am. They have helped me to create an identity, to formulate my opinions and personal outlook, to realize how strong I can be when faced with adversity. At the same time I don't want to lose these treatment memories because they evoke feelings of safety and of being cared for. These memories are the only connection I have to many good friends whom I may never see again. And they give me a sense of where I have been, how far I have come, and where I could end up again if I am not careful. Our memories can haunt us but we hold onto them for a reason. We don't forget because remembering serves a purpose for us. Our memories help to define us, allow us to relive pleasurable experiences, enable people's spirit to live on within us even after they have died, and contribute to who we are and how we behave in the present. The tricky thing is learning to acknowledge these memories without allowing them to hold us back or prevent us from living in the present and seeing the possibilities that the future holds. This sentiment helps lead me into my next quote which focuses on our past and our desires to escape it-

"The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what bad is in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it."

- Wendell Berry

Berry's words offer a valuable piece of advice. No matter how hard I try to forget or escape my past I cannot undo what has already been done. What has happened in our lives sticks with us despite lengths we may go to try and erase it. Like a scar our past leaves a mark. It reminds us where we have been and what happened to us. However, although we cannot truly escape our past we have the ability to show it who is in control. We have the power to tell it that it will not stop us from moving forward and living. This control lies in our power to create new memories, have new experiences, and add positively to our lives. In doing so we can acknowledge that the past exists and even hold on to aspects of it they we are not willing to let go but we are learning to cope and continuing to live. There is no way of erasing the past and I don't believe there is even truly a way of escaping it but we can make it less prominent by building new experiences in our present and future. Before I sign off I would just like to add one more thing and link these two quotes together. While memories having meaning and serve a useful purpose so does our past. The past and memory are closely linked. Our memories and past help to mold us, create who we are, influence our world view, and prepare us for things to come now and in the distant future. We can hold onto our memories and our past but neither need to define us or dictate the way in which we lives our lives. By learning to cope with the pain of haunting memories and our past experiences we allow ourselves to move forward and make room for great things to come!

Remember to embrace the present and continue to look toward the future,

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