Recently, in a casual conversation, I asked a woman about her childhood and what she remembers about her mother. She said to me, “Abby, I have learned to compartmentalize my life and there are memories that I choose not to revisit.” At first, I felt ashamed for even having asked the question. The shame coming from my own thoughts of inadequacy, not from her. Abby, you should have known better. Why did you ask her that question and put her in that position?
After squelching my shame mongrels, because the truth is I didn’t really know she would respond that way, I simply accepted her answer. Initially hearing her response I saw the reasoning behind it, but then something happened. All of a sudden my armpits started to tingle, my stomach turned, and my breathing became shallow. My body was screaming a reverberating NO! Do not accept that at face value. I left the conversation, respecting her wishes, but my heart started to hurt for her.
It would seem that if you have gone through a traumatic event whether physical or emotional, the best thing to do would be to forget it. To tuck it neatly into a compartment that you no longer have to open and allow it to torment you. Trust me, this is no easy feat, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying. My own traumas have haunted me most of my life, and they still rear their ugly head from time to time no matter how much I try to push them back into the shadows.
Your traumas are gifts.
Compartmentalizing your life in this way is unhealthy for your mind, body, and spirit. Your traumas are gifts. Let me explain. Had I not experienced abuse, sexual assault, abandonment, and a lot of emotional trauma, I would not be who I am today nor doing the work that I do, and I enjoy my life. I realize this example is vague at best, but know that I choose to believe my traumas have built me, and I hoard them like shiny gold medals I pull out from time to time to remind myself of how strong and resilient I am because of them. I have put in the work to rewrite my life’s stories so I am the hero and not the victim. I don’t want to forget them, and I don’t want to wallow in them. I want them to simply remain the foundation upon which I stand steady and firm.
Furthermore, by compartmentalizing one area of your life, it goes without saying that it will shut off all of your emotions. When you shut down any area of your life, you don’t allow yourself to have any emotion. It is impossible to physically disconnect from a memory and connect in the present moment. There is no room for joy or anything else. If you have ever been on medication for depression you have an understanding of how this feels on a very real level. You are no longer depressed, but you no longer feel joy either. Life is indifferent.
So I say to you, if you are searching for joy in your life, face your past with courage. Stop compartmentalizing your life and open up and ask to see the gifts in all of it, not the suffering. What has happened to you are some of your best qualities, and it’s time to embrace them instead of reject them. Ask yourself this:
- Who have I become as a result of this traumatic experience?
- How has this experience affected my life in a positive way?
- How am I the hero of my story?
And every time you travel down that mental path of victimhood or shame or blame or anything else, simply say to yourself…
I did the best I could with what I had available at the time. I love and appreciate everything about me in this moment. I give myself permission to let go of the suffering and see the gifts in what has happened to me.