Bury the past – put it in a box.


By David Joel Miller.

Wish you could get rid of your past?

“Wish I could bury my past, ” the client said. “I would like to put it in a box and bury it.” We talked a while about that client’s pain, the history of trauma. We spoke of things that should have been in childhood and weren’t and of things that had happened, that shouldn’t have. We talked about the burden of carrying around the pain and how hard it was to put the pain down. I thought about the topic after the client left. How might I help them to bury that pain?

We grieve for people when they die. Sometimes we miss them. Sometimes we only grieve for what should have been. We have a ceremony, often with a casket, there is a viewing, a graveside service and then we get a period of time to mourn. Friends and family support us in this process but eventually we start to move on. We remember the departed. We may think that we will see them again, but we shouldn’t stay stuck in the past. Life goes on. Why can’t we do that for the pain and the trauma of the past?

Why is it so hard to let go of the past?

Sometimes we tell substance abusers to write a letter to their drug of choice. Addicts get closer to their drug of choice than their family or their friends.  Friends come and go. Crystal Meth or Sherry wine, she is always there. It is easy to remember the good times. Remember the time we took them to a party? The time they made us think that we were charming or witty? We forget the times they took us to jails and hospitals.

We tell people in substance abuse recovery to write a goodbye letter to their drug of choice. They write a Dear John letter to their addiction. Tell the drug you have to say goodbye. Get that drug out of your life. Some people burn that letter. Others flush it away. We perform a ritual to signify an end, a divorce from the old addiction and a start of new relationships with yourself and with other humans.

What kind of ritual should we have to get rid of the pain and hurt? How does someone who was abused, molested or neglected, get an end to the hold that emotion holds over them?

There are cultures that have rituals for these sorts of things. Some religions have ceremonies to clean and rebirth. America has fewer rituals, more religions, less faith.

Would we really give up all the pain if that were a choice? Sometimes do we hold onto our suffering like some earned war wound, some badge of moral courage? What if instead of holding on to our suffering there was a simple ceremony we could perform? Would we do it? Would our friends support us in this?

When we get married there are often people to wish us well. When we get divorced there is a judge and a piece of paper. The paper says that thing we had hoped for has been dissolved. It has ceased to exist. Some people hide the change. Friends don’t give us a hug and wish us well on this new chapter in our journey.

How long do we need to hold on to the baggage we have accumulated? At the airport, they lose bags. We look for them for a while, file a claim and head for our destination. We can replace a shirt or shoes. Why is it so hard to let go of the life baggage of pain and sadness?

Imagine if you will, packing your bag, fill it with the pain, the hurt and the trauma you wish had never happened. Drop that bag off at the airport or the bus station and send it off. How do you feel now? Do you miss your baggage? Do you feel free? Are you glad your pain is behind you?

What if that pain could be buried? Would you hold a funeral for all the things that are still holding you back? Would you be willing to but your past pain and suffering in a box and bury it?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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One thought on “Bury the past – put it in a box.

  1. Pingback: Top blog posts for April 2012 | counselorssoapbox

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