I loved my mum’s charm bracelet when I was a kid. It was silver and heavy, crammed with charms from each of the cities in Europe she and dad visited on their honeymoon. Each one was different. There were tiny little buildings, landmarks and national symbols. I don’t remember her ever wearing it, but I’d pull it out and she could tell me which country each charm was from. I imagine it triggered memories of the cluttered souvenir shop where each trinket was thoughtfully selected as a memento of the visit.
Charm bracelets today tend to be branded items, uniform in design, more of a fashion piece. Their origins, however, reside in being a keeper of memories. They have been worn for centuries, tokens added as cherished records of places, people, and events holding special meaning to the wearer.
Recently I was reminded of that bracelet and I thought about how memories of our past can either serve us, or cripple us.
I imagined the charm bracelet like a prisoner’s leg irons. Shackled to an ankle like a ball and chain, restricting movement, and making escape impossible. It spoke to me of an unhealed past. It was a weighty burden, rendering the wearer unable to move beyond what happened, or what they’d done. I’m not suggesting we ignore our past, but it is our choice to stay in those places of hurt, or partner with the slow and uncomfortable work of healing. If left unhealed, past events, trauma and failure, and the lies we believe about ourselves as a result, can weigh us down and hinder any progress. They become obstacles in our way, chains that keep us stuck, and fears that keep us small. We may as well be dragging them around like a ball and chain.
Then I saw the charm bracelet worn lightly on the wrist, as intended – a record of memories and significant events that have shaped us. The journey from burden to bracelet is no picnic, but the destination is healing and wholeness. Freedom. Memories can be something we glance at and remember, recall without the recoil. What happened to you may have left a scar, but healed scars have a way of becoming powerful stories, places of overcoming in our own lives. They flow with strength and empathy, they are places from where we can help others.
Maybe the past is a ‘no-go’ zone in your family. But not talking about something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The shame of a secret brings its own additional weight. Only when things come into the light are they able to be examined and worked through and healed. Be aware not everyone is willing to go on this journey with you. But their willingness, or unwillingness, to support you is no impediment to your own healing. It’s a journey, and one on which some come with you, some you meet on the way, some walk a different path, and others stay stuck where they are and must be left behind. Each to their own.
I heard someone once say “if we’re not healing, we’re seeping”. I think that’s true. Those unhealed hurts and wounds might be buried deep, you might be EXPERT at keeping them under wraps, but don’t think for a minute they’re not leaking poison into your soul. Those over-reactions are a clue that something’s not right. Those areas where you are quick to take offence might just be an echo of an old bruise, freshly pushed.
Ready to make the leap towards healing? Here are a few suggestions, just from personal experience:
- Get some help – You don’t have to deal with it alone. It’s not a weakness to need help. You were created for connection, and safe connection is essential on this journey.
- Not all help is equal – It might be best to go neutral when you are looking for someone to talk to. Your family, and even good friends, might be too close to be what you need, and that’s ok. If you’re looking for a professional, a counsellor or therapist, be sure to get recommendations, and take your time to find the right fit.
- Be kind to yourself – This is actual work. It’ll take time and it’ll be uncomfortable and you might wonder if it’s worth it. It is.
- Get creative – when I first started counselling I developed a compulsion – to paint. Whether creative expression is routine for you, or you’ve convinced yourself you don’t have a creative bone in your body, it is a way to bypass your logical brain and connect with parts of you long suppressed. Process in a journal, use a paintbrush or smush a lump of clay. It doesn’t have to go on public display, it’s just good for the soul.
It’s not helpful to ignore our past, pretend it never happened, sweep it under the carpet. But neither is it meant to be a burden and barrier to hold us back.
“When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” Brene Brown