A while ago I wrote about my search for lighthouses; how memories are lighthouses that show us where we are, where we’ve been, where we might want to go. And not necessarily in that order.
Well, as I admitted in that other post, I have a hard time recognizing my memories as lighthouses, try as I might. So, when something finally clicked for me about a memory, I decided that I had to share it.
I have noticed over the last couple years that my behavior and decisions in everyday life have changed automatically to avoid anxiety. And to avoid situations where I might create a flashback where I feel embarrassed, shameful, not worthy, etc. I don’t even notice it when I automatically turn down invitations or carefully choose what I’m going to where or start rehearsing what I’m going to say in a social situation anymore. Those are just things that come naturally.
I was trying to think of when I started doing these things, particularly avoiding situations that might lead to flashbacks. This is a difficult thing to do, because I only became aware of my motives recently, meaning that decisions to do so in the past were made subconsciously.
It might have started earlier, but I think it might’ve begun in college. Growing up in a rural area, I didn’t have as much luxury to choose who was available for me to spend time with or events that I would/would not go to. College opened those horizons, and gave me access to more people, places, and events than what I was used to. I’m not afraid of new things, you understand, but the thought that I’m going to make a fool of myself is always a concern of mine, no matter where I go. College made it easy for me to find situations where I was comfortable, where I felt I could be completely myself. And situations where I felt flashbacks forming the moment they happened.
I became more aware of my flashbacks as a real, intrusive thing when I was in college, too. So for me, it would make sense that that’s when this trend started. I found comfort in select friends and certain places. I focused on studies, too, graduating with multiple degrees in three years, which did its fair share in keeping me selective with who and what I was spending my time.
In graduate school, this trend got even worse, though. To the point where I could not connect or interact with most of my cohort because of how uncomfortable I was, and how often I would create flashback moments when I was with them. And I did create a lot of flashbacks in graduate school. Painful ones that I’m only just trying to sort through. (More on that another time, I’m sure.)
This is all useful information to me, of course, because it helps me understand the progression of my flashbacks and helps me recognize how greatly my behavior has changed because of it. But what about a specific point in time? Can I pick out an exact moment where my motives for turning down an invitation were purely because I didn’t want to create a flashback memory?
There’s a memory, niggling at the back of my mind. An image of a group of people in my first year of undergrad, more than I actually know and more than I’m comfortable or confident around. My brother and sister dorms, I think. They are creating an additional event to all the others that have been planned for us by the RA. They’re trying to get me to go along, and I pass. I pass to watch movies on my own in the dorm, to finish unpacking and settling my stuff for the year. I pass because I can’t be around them more that day, otherwise something bad will happen. I’ll make another bad memory.
I’m still exploring this lighthouse, trying to figure out what’s true about it and what isn’t. A lot of the details about it are still blurry. After all, what’s significant about an event that you never attended or planned on attending? Why would my mind hold on to those details? Still, this is a lighthouse, and, I think, an important one.