A few days ago a colleague of mine asked for the name of the drug that killed Michael Jackson.
“Propofol” I answered.
“It makes you forget, dosen’t it?” And she went on to lament the fact that no such drug is available for regular use and wouldn’t it be nice to take a pill and just forget your bad memories?
She doesn’t know yet how important memories are—even the bad ones—especially the bad ones. She hasn’t yet moved beyond the pain she wants to forget.
I should tell her, erasing bad memories isn’t the answer. Accept the pain and put it in its proper place. I would tell her to imagine her brain as if it’s a closet that needs organizing. The bad memories can be categorized and filed and placed in a simple cardboard box out of her line of vision. They will always be there and one day she might even want to pull them forward, bring them back and reminiscence.
Our memories are as individual as our fingerprints. In any given situation, no one will have the same perceptions or remember events in exactly the same way. Memories are the history book of our own lives. Days are pages, months are chapters and a year can be an entire book, while our life experiences will grow to volumes.
I should tell her to feel the pain. Treat it like childbirth. Ride it like a wave and breathe, breathe until you move in rhythm with it. The pain will fade and you’ll be left—not with scars—but with a new sensitivity, a compassion and deeper understanding, and you may not even need to file the memory away, just let it be a part of you.
Being able to accept emotional discomfort is necessary. While no one wants to feel bad we all need coping skills. Coping skills allow a person to function during stressful events. Processing emotional pain means gaining wisdom.
I want to tell my colleague that being strong doesn’t mean not being affected by unfortunate events. It ‘s not about false bravado or nonchalance. She begins to cry softly at her desk. I want to tell her all of what I believe but I say nothing and just hold her tight in my arms for a few minutes.