The other day I went to Homegoods and I found some cool picture frames for my office. I realized I don’t have any updated framed photos of my kids, so it gave me an excuse to actually print out all those photos captured on my iPhone.
So I logged in to Shutterfly.com, which is something I haven’t done in about five years. I didn’t expect it, but Shutterfly has saved all of my photos from years ago. I scrolled through pictures that were from vacations long forgotten – Disneyworld, Greece, the sailing to trip to Block Island, random road trips – all from days when I was first married.
We looked so happy. We were that family unit of four, still intact, still a team. I had one child on my shoulders while my then-husband crutched the other in his arms, weaving through the massive crowds at Disneyworld, sweaty and exhausted. I became obsessed with every photo – staring at my children, analyzing myself in the picture, admittedly wondering, “Were things really that bad?”
And just like that, I became a bit sad.
Looking at the photos felt like longing over a loved one who has passed, wishing they would come back. Yet each of us is alive and kicking. No one has died, yet why did it feel that way?
But the truth was, I wasn’t happy in those photos. I remember being in Disney and encouraging my 4-year-old to ride the luge – that big round tube that spins and plunges into a massive wave at the end, leaving you soaked. He hated it – he cried and cried and was so mad at me for “forcing” him (like I said, I “encouraged” him, nothing more). I thought the whole thing was quite funny, actually.
That night my son came down with a horrible fever, and he clearly had a painful ear infection. At 3 am we scrambled for Motrin, and I realized I didn’t pack it. A 24-hour drugstore was just block away, which, I thought, was an easy solution.
But no, I had to endure the wrath of my husband, saying, “How the HELL could you forget the Motrin? It’s the ONE thing we always bring! I knew you shouldn’t have taken him on that ride! I knew it!”
I hardly barked back – knowing that logic would only fuel his anger. It was obvious my son already had an ear infection for days – you don’t just get an ear infection from getting cold and wet on a roller coaster. And packing for a trip with 2 toddlers running around puts you at high risk for forgetting something. Plus, if one of us just went to the drugstore, he would have his Motrin in 10 minutes. Which is exactly what happened, and my son was fine. But I was somewhat “punished” for two days after that – I got the ugly silent treatment or the curt responses.
Oh, but those pictures made us look like a happy family, right?
This is what I call “trigger amnesia.” All it takes is a photo, your wedding dress, your engagement ring, or that $2 memento you bought at the cheesy gift shop in the airport to send you back to a forgetful state, where things were “so great.”
And it’s so easy to slip into feeling massive loss, sadness, or depression when you are triggered. It puts you into a place of lack, making you feel like you don’t have what you used to have. When we are triggered, we are no longer mindful. We are drifting into the past, and we are trying to convince ourselves that the trauma never happened. It’s as if there is this unspoken rule that life would be so much better if we didn’t experience something traumatic or crappy. So we fantasize that perhaps it didn’t happen.
But guess what, it DID happen and you are a better person now because of it. That woman who was me in the photo – she wasn’t happy. She was silently suffering. She wasn’t in love. In fact, she would stare at the affectionate couples waiting in the long lines at Disney, wishing she was that person.
I now have everything that woman so desperately wanted. It didn’t happen overnight, but I am a better person now.
And so are you. Yes, you may be alone – and the road is tough. But you are so much stronger than that day you wore your wedding dress, or when you took that trip to the islands.
Be aware of those amnesia triggers. They aren’t real, so don’t pretend that you were better off back then. Instead, smile at whatever is that is triggering you – and express gratitude that they got you to where you are now. You can say, “Thank you for that memory.” If you must cry to release that energy, then do it. But don’t let it set you back for days – it’s not real, so don’t give it that power. Those triggers come without warning and like me, you may get sucked into them, but I was able to quickly snap out of it.
Center yourself back into present mindfulness – take pictures with your kids now. Enjoy your vacations now. The more mindful you are of now, you won’t long for these moments in a few years from now, when you find pictures from today.
Instead you’ll say, “Wow, that was fun, but look how much I’ve grown. Thank you for those memories.”