The 6 Month Shift

About 6 months ago the decision was made to end the relationship Rachel and I had been building. At the time it seemed to be about a lot of things that were really important, it had to be because we had given as much of ourselves to it and to each other as we could that walking away needed to feel more like running or escaping. I honestly don’t know if it would have ended in March if the issues hadn’t been so amplified to each of us.

Since then we have said very little to each other. The occasional e-mail to arrange an exchange of some of each others stuff that has been found, the border-line civil “hello” at GoodLife meetings and a phone call about RPM subbing. This is what I needed. I never asked Rachel if she wanted or needed to talk because I made the decision to look after me before engaging her or attempting to restore a friendship. It wasn’t easy because throughout all of it, Rachel remains bright, funny, articulate and can be very interesting to talk to. I’ve had a ton of athletic therapy questions and I trust her knowledge in this area more than anything else she knows. The relationship was over and gone was a vibrant resource and loyal mentor in the ways I had come to see her as one.

Gone too was my right to know about how she was doing in school and on her quest towards her second degree and athletic therapy certification and license. Not that these were my end goals, but a lot of the relationship had been shaped by our willingness to allow it to be shaped by these end goals. I hoped she had been successful but I didn’t ask.

The summer was what it was to me and my understanding of the world and when September started it was evident that I wasn’t feeling the same way about a lot of things in my life. With reference to Rachel and me, it was a relationship that didn’t work out and I realized that she hadn’t done anything wrong in it. She had done her best, as I had. The outcome had been sad for me because I had dreamed-up a future with her and that wasn’t going to happen. But the outcome was now also really beautiful. Due to my codependent tendencies, my personal development had stopped once I found myself in a relationship. My growth had begun again and if for no other reason that my life was improving because I had started to evolve my understanding of the world, this is a beautiful thing.

It took 6 months and some of these months were the lowest I’ve known in my 30’s.

Rachel called last week and we were both able to listen to each other in a way that hasn’t been possible for a long time. It was a call that I didn’t know I was waiting for until after I got off the phone. Life events are things again with us, they aren’t tools of emotional control. We understand and realize that we did the best we could during our time together, gave as much as we could and wanted the best for the other throughout all of it and still. It was the circumstances that made it impossible. It is very simple to see now that we’ve had the time to burn through the rage, anger, disappointment, etc….

I was smiling during most of the conversation. Rachel told me she graduated and passed the certification exam! She made it! She pushed through all of the challenges and was successful. She’s had some time to look at how she did it, the costs, the sacrifices, the life put on pause while she learned another modality. Her success here means a lot to me because I have wanted her to be successful since I met her. She has pushed forward with the single-minded determination to make her dream a reality. She ran herself into the ground to make it real.

I’m grateful that she called. I hadn’t been aware of how much of my mental functioning had been devoted to processing the open loop that things had become. Immediately I felt better, lighter and happy. The feeling grew quickly in the hours after the call as my brain began to reprocess the narrative memories that had been created to describe or justify what had happened. As the new information modified my past, mental processes just wound down then stopped and my emotional state returned to whatever normal means to me now. In a 5 minute conversation, a huge chunk of mental resources suddenly became available for something else. In the days following the conversation it became evident that my mind had been set free from the big piece of my past that I hadn’t fully accepted.

There is now, this is how things are. There is the future, this is how things can be, I can shape this. There is the past, it’s more stable now, and changes less; I’ve reconciled the dissonance between the physical and narrative memories so I don’t need to think about it anymore. Being able to focus more energy and effort on my present is going to be a lot of good in shaping my future.

Getting to here took 6 months and I’m glad it did!

Physical vs. Narrative Memories

I have a fairly good memory for events and things that happened. It comes in handy for stuff, like remembering programs, exercises, bike routes, etc… I remember these things well because they happened. My body traveled the bike route, I have witnessed people squatting correctly, I thought-up and wrote down the program. At a very simple level, a measurable amount of matter moved through the world allowing for the potential for physical memories to be created. These memories are static, nothing can be done to reverse them because we cannot go back in time. Normal people will not debate them as they are fact.

But I create other memories too, ones that are sort of based on reality, but not entirely. These memories are the result of my narration of what is or what has happened. Given that the voice in my head is there most of the time, it is easy to mistake what it says as fact vs. just being a subjective account of what happened or is happening. When it’s sunny outside and you hear yourself thinking “it’s sunny out” there isn’t an issue. The sensory input matches the narration. You KNOW that it is sunny out because you can see that it is sunny. But when the narration doesn’t match sensory input, you begin to tell a story that moves or keeps you away from reality.

An example, a new couple are watching TV. A fit attractive guy comes on the screen and the female says to her new boy friend “why can’t you look like that?” and laughs. The new boy friend gets angry and calls her a selfish and leaves. The relationship ends. Seemed crazy to hear but it’s really simple. The physical memory is clear, two people watch TV, one says something, the other says something else in anger and they stop making physical memories.

The narrative memories about the event are two completely different stories. The women made a joke, she didn’t consciously intend to make the guy feel anything negative, it was just an observation, possibly. His response was unreasonable. He got angry and there is no place for that in her life so she ended it. Her narrative is understandable and when she repeats it, it can be presented in a way that makes him seem like a complete knob.

His narrative is very different. He’s enjoying the evening with his new girl friend. He’s feeling comfortable and good for the first time in too long. In her he’s found someone who likes to exercise, cooks well, which are things he needs help with because he’s gotten kinda fat since his marriage failed a few years ago. Suddenly on the screen he sees something he wants to be like because he’s feeling like he deserves it. Life is coming together, he’s feeling good, he’s got a great girl friend who believes in him. He’s feeling better than life and out of her mouth he hears her say “I wish you looked like that” followed by a mocking laughter. He got angry, he called her names. He didn’t mean to, but why would she rip him from the happiness and remind him that he’s a failure, lost marriage, lost the house, shaky handle on reality and a fat disgusting piece of garbage? He’s better off with out her, better off without anyone. This shit isn’t worth it anymore.

I get both stories. He heard confirmation of his insecurities in her words and she wasn’t aware enough of his insecurities to NOT to say what she said. Their narrative stories are completely different although their physical memory is basically the same.

Since the narrative memories are not the same for both people, both are not accurate and given that they are fairly different from the physical memories, both need to change a little bit to reconcile these differences. And both SHOULD change to eliminate the dissonance between reality and perception. Experience, knowledge, counseling, time, evolution of thought or enlightenment are the things that will change narrative memories. Anything that provides more information can be applied to narrative memories and change them.

And your narrative memories SHOULD be adjusted repeatedly over time when new information becomes available.

The reprocessing of narrative memories tends to be the result of uncovering the cause of something that did not work, and the impact can be profound, changing an enemy into a friend when you realize their motives were not sinister. In the example above, the guy may realize that his girl friend wasn’t very aware of how sensitive he was and that he needs to fix himself before he gets into another relationship; words should not cause him to respond the way he did. She may realize just WHAT he heard vs. what she said. His response wasn’t appropriate but neither was what he heard. Sensitivity and caring are important in a relationship and when starting one you should find out what things make your new partner feel like crap and avoid saying and doing them.

You cannot change the past, but you can change the story you tell yourself about it. And you should change these narrative memories when you get new information. It’s an important part of putting the past away and learning from life.