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Letting go isn’t always easy.

A few years back, I interned in Costa Rica for the summer. I woke up that first morning in a bed that was not my own, in a hostel that was unfamiliar, and got ready for work. It felt like I had started a brand new life, and in a way, I had. I didn’t know anyone else in the country, but I knew some conversational Spanish. The weather was warm and sunny, about 70 degrees, and the hostel I lived in was next to a park, where kids and adults alike played soccer until sunset. In the mornings, I’d go for a run in that very same park, before sitting down to a breakfast of toast, juice, and coffee. Life outside of New York seemed much simpler.

The first time my coworkers took me out on the town, we went to a place where you could swipe a card and pour your own beer. I was none too skilled at this, and my mug was almost always full of foam. The second bar was more or less an Irish pub, and my coworkers ordered a round of “Grenadas.” They told me that I was in for a rough morning if I drank it, but it was Friday night, I was in a foreign country, and I figured, “Why not?” The drink wasn’t as potent as advertised, and despite what they’d said, I felt fine. After the pub, we went to a huge club.

Upon entering, we found a few friends on the dance floor. The music was loud and the bass was pulsating. The lights were multi-colored and flashed in no discernible pattern. I danced with no one in particular, and spent much of the night observing my surroundings. None of it seemed real, and I wondered if this was how my summer was going to go. There was so much happening, so many new experiences in one night, and I was anxious because of the language barrier, but enjoying myself nonetheless.

After another drink or two, something happened to me that had never happened before: my mind became a film projector. I may have looked normal to the untrained eye, but in my brain, the movie of my life was playing, and I couldn’t stop it. People were trying to get me moving and engaged, but all I could see were memories whether they were actual memories, or an amalgam of pictures and first-hand accounts I’d seen or heard from family members. I tried to push the pause button, to postpone this short film until a later date, but the movie rolled on with no signs of stopping. I was physically there in that club, but my mind was elsewhere, reliving it all.

—-

Since that night in Costa Rica, I haven’t experienced a similar episode. It was an isolated event, but that didn’t mean it didn’t frighten me. I lost control for that moment in time, and despite how open I am, I haven’t told most people about that night, at least until right now. I’m not ashamed of it, I just know that it was a strange happening that I haven’t been able to explain. I can also be very sensitive to how others see me when it comes to things like this. You don’t want those you care about to take you less seriously, or to look at you like you’re going crazy.

Years later, I went back to that strange night in my mind. I couldn’t help but recall that moment when the memories came unprovoked, even though I tried to stop them. I haven’t had another instance like this, but I come back to so many of these memories of my own free will, even the unpleasant ones. I didn’t know why I’d want to think about these experiences, why I’d want to revisit them in any way, shape, or form. Fortunately, my therapist was able to shine some light on the matter.

“These memories will stay with you until you don’t need them anymore.”

We discussed this topic more in our next session, and I told her that as much as it pains me to recall some of these things, they help to anchor me, to remind me who I am, where I came from, and why I am who I am today. They’re comforting, and I know that I will continue to draw on these memories, to keep coming back to them as long as I still feel like a soul in flux. The memories are painful, but they’re predictable. The reaffirm that I am still that same person who went through so much.

I wrap myself in these memories like they’re one collective quilt, and I have wrapped myself in this quilt for quite for years. I want to stay true to whom I’ve been, and to honor the memories and people I hold so dear. I also know that I want to take the next step in life, to become the person I want to be. I want to put these memories in their proper place. I don’t want to forget them, but at the very least I’d like to take some of the potency out of them. I don’t want them to have the control over me that they still do.

I don’t know what I’m so afraid of. After all, we can’t change what’s already occurred. What’s happened has happened, and short of time-travel, there’s no way to change that. The mistakes I’ve made haven’t buried me, and I’m free to be any person that I want to be, if I can only loosen my grip on everything that’s come before.

Despite all the traveling I’ve done and places that I’ve lived, I’ve never been able to leave myself behind. I felt like a brand new person when I woke up that first morning in Costa Rica, but the memories were there to remind me who I am, or at least who I was. I have to remember that the past is immutable. What’s done is done, and it becomes part of who we are for the rest of our lives. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our own personal narrative, that baggage just makes it more difficult.

One day, I’ll make peace with with it all, and that’ll be that. I can’t say for sure when that’ll happen, I just know that I’m actively working towards that end. I feel like I’m making progress each and every day. I’m not the kind of person who’s ever been able to make a quick change. I’ve always been stubborn, but if traveling has taught me anything, if moving to another city or country has taught me anything, it’s that the more you move around and experience new places and things, the easier it is to do it again. You realize that making these changes isn’t as frightening as you thought it would be, and each significant change will give you more confidence that you can handle the next one, and leave pieces of yourself behind in the process, at least the pieces you no longer need.

We’re forced to deal with so many things in life, so many external things, but until we address the person we see in the mirror, nothing will truly change. Only by making internal changes can we begin to improve our life. When we let go of the past, we open ourselves up to new experiences and more positive influences. Change can be frightening, but we have to remember that the chances are worth taking. The gamble is worth it if we become happier in the process, and if we don’t, there’s always something to learn. Thanks for reading.

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