The Painting in the Back of the Closet

“I’m trying to figure out why I am the way I am. What in my past, in childhood, made me me.”

I wrote that this morning in my journal. And it’s not because I have the time (as the world remains shut down), though it certainly helps. It’s because I want to feel better. I want to heal the pain inside of me that seeps out without warning, in impetuous ways, hurting those around me, particularly those I love the most.

There’s something I’ve never verbalized. Not to others, not even to myself. I suppressed the memory for years. It appeared after nearly two decades in only flashes. This happened, then this. How did I see it? Who was there? Where were they in relation to me? That was all I knew. Until last week.

It began to eat away at me, gnawing for attention in the forefront of my mind. I HAPPENED, it screamed. And I couldn’t shut it up.

I mentioned it to my therapist, speaking only in riddles and metaphors. The actual words sat heavy on my tongue behind sealed lips. I likened it to a painting that hung in the back of my closet. It’s always been there, hiding behind a cumulative amount of hanging clothes. But now as I sift through them, sorting through old jackets and shirts, lightening my load, I can see that painting again.

But what I’ve learned is that it’s not enough to simply see it. Noting the width of the brush strokes and the color of the paint aren’t what will free me from its torment. It runs much deeper than that. I have to acknowledge how the painting made me feel – then, and how it makes me feel now.

“I figure if I think of it now and understand it,” I wrote this morning, “it can never hurt me again.”

Reliving old traumas and heartbreaks doesn’t mean you have to live in the closet with them. It means you have the power to accept that they’re in there, and that you don’t have to be. We can’t change our past, we can only change how we choose to remember it, and how we choose to live with its memory.

After I threw words onto the pages of my journal this morning, trying to justify why I’m suddenly relating my childhood to actions I’ve taken as an adult, I read the Words of Women newsletter, crafted wonderfully as always by Lauren Martin. And, courtesy, I suppose, of the Law of Attraction, she included a Joan Didion quote, one that simplified all that I’d been trying to say.

And so maybe that’s what I’m trying to do now, as I process recent traumas and try to discover their roots, I’m trying to be less afraid of life, and less afraid of how I feel.

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