I was walking around Chinatown the other day, poking my head into some stores and following my nose, when I stumbled across a sign written in Vietnamese advertising Banh Xeo. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of tasting Banh Xeo (highly recommended), it is basically a breakfast crepe filled with anything from shrimp to egg to pork. It was also something my ex and I had eaten a lot of while traveling throughout Southern Vietnam due to its widespread availability, deliciousness, and budget price tag. So of course after getting excited for a moment, I broke down in the middle of the sidewalk and started to cry.
There are lots of little things that send me over the edge these days. I like to pretend like I’m in control, but I’m starting to think that “control” is a trap. Control is moving to a different country to get out of a relationship. Control is diving into someone else without processing what happened. Control means ignoring things (or people) and hoping they’ll go away. It’s a band-aid and it isn’t real. And eventually, the reality is going to catch up and make me realize that while the situation and people may change, the lessons are gonna keep hitting me in the face until I finally learn them.
I’m beginning to realize there’s not much control that I actually have in this world– not over situations, memories and certainly not over feelings. And that fact scares the crap out of me.
But what if we could control our minds, feelings and situations at least the ones we remember? What if we could actually pick and choose which memories to keep and which ones to let go of? What if we could release ourselves from the painful past, things that hold us back or down?
So the other night, after a mini-meltdown about my life choices, I felt like I had enough. Enough of the rollercoaster of these pesky, complex memories. Enough of the random crying fits. Enough. Enough. I want them gone.
That’s right, I googled memory erasure.
Yep, like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And I saw that they’re actually doing research now on erasing certain traumatic memories for those who have acute stress, anxiety and mood disorders.
Now, of course, this is actually groundbreaking research and HUGE for people who have experienced serious trauma. But who among us hasn’t even considered this as a possibility for our own selfish uses?
Well, I have. And so for a hot second, I was like: “Gimme.”
I mean, think about it. It’s the fastest way to get over a relationship: to literally forget about it entirely. No more sadness. No more pain. No more seeking for closure. Just pure ignorant bliss.
But the moment passed and obviously I realize that this would be a pretty sad thing to inflict upon myself. I don’t think pouring white-out over my mind is going to make me any more blissful a person. It might make me less moody and certainly would help me be more functional (no more breakdowns in the middle of public areas), but it’s not going to make me a better human. And honestly, I’m trying to be the best human I can. That’s the whole point.
Ultimately, making a decision like that means stating in unequivocal terms “because of the pain I feel now, none of those experiences were even minutely beneficial.”
And that’s just not true. Just because something ends does not render it completely worthless. There is no such thing as a waste of time. All the experiences and all the complexities of these experiences get molded into the universe of Who I Am.
If I were to erase every painful memory, I’d end up with no memories at all. Memories aren’t just one way or another, they’re complex and sticky and tangential. Some of my most formative, mind-blowing, and life-altering experiences are housed within the context of painful breakups and friendships gone awry. These are experiences that I want to keep, not because they are “good” and not because they are “painful” and I like to torture myself. I want to keep them because they have fundamentally contributed to the way I see the world.
We like to say “oh that memory is good” and “oh that memory is bad.” But really, memories are like these little universes filled with lots of feelings– feelings that are complex, not monolithic. I can sit and have the most vivid memories about surfing in Bali or hiking in the Adirondacks with people I once loved. The feelings that are elicited are simultaneously giddy and golden, and also something along the lines of a limb being crushed. I can’t explain it much better than that; it just happens and maybe you feel that way too sometimes.
But the thing is, those memories of climbing that mountain and surfing those waves don’t belong to anyone else. They’re mine.
I used to have a theory that every experience, “good” or “bad” or totally “mundane”, left a little splash of color on our souls. And so when we die, the appearance of a life well lived would be like gazing into an art gallery.
I wouldn’t want to trade those vivid messy colors in for white noise. Not a chance.