What Does Your Bag Look Like?
Many people who experience trauma spend their lives suffering from the memories of events and situations that caused it. Even as adults, we never entirely forget or seemingly never reconcile ourselves to past events. We drag them along with us even when times are happy.
I have a trick that I use to deal with events in my life that still cause me anxiety, pain, sadness, and even nightmares. I call it my “Memory Bag.” Essentially it helps me understand and contextualize trauma and painful events. It allows me to store these painful experiences in a safe place and consciously deal with them when I need or want to.
This is different from Compartmentalizing, a defense mechanism where someone sometimes suppresses their thoughts and emotions, often unconsciously. This can make people unavailable emotionally, walling themselves off from friends or family. 1. It is also not disassociation, which allows you to set aside behavior that does not align with your responsibilities to yourself and those around you. 2.
My Memory Bag is not a physical object; it is the place in my mind I store events that trouble me. But for me, it is a real thing. I put stuff in there so that I don’t have to constantly think about them. And from time to time, when I find myself agonizing over something in my past, I open my bag and pull out a specific event that is bothering me.
I literally imagine pulling it out of my bag and placing it in front of me. I stare at it. I describe it to myself. I look for things that I remember anew, things I have hidden from myself that I suddenly realize were part of that traumatic or upsetting event. I take my time with it and try to stare at it until my mind gets bored of it. It is almost like I am putting it in the sun to degrade over time so that it can sort of dry up.
Then I put it back in my bag. I carry on with my day. I have acknowledged it, but I have also drained a bit of its power over me until I need to take it out again.
The other day I was discussing this with a friend. And they asked me something I had never thought of. “What does your bag look like?”
Surprisingly I had never thought of the importance of how I imagined my bag looked like. Yet, very quickly, I could come up with a physical description of it. My bag was kind of old. It was made of brown leather. It showed signs of wear but was not uncomfortable to carry. I think, in retrospect, that this bag was something from my youth, a bag I might have owned. It was familiar. It protected me.
Everyone deals with trauma differently. However, the long-term mental health implications are often quite substantial. Anxiety, agony, stress, and depression are all real things that result from trauma.
The “Memory Bag” technique should be used to accept and slowly understand traumatic events – not to use it to hide things from yourself and others. The goal is to come to terms with and reconcile past events and everything about them that bothers you – to help you go forward with your imperfect life and understand that you can control your own thoughts and the painful repercussions of trauma.
So, my question is: Do you have a bag?
If so, what does it look like?