I like to learn new things. The process of discovering things for the first time, enjoying them, delving deeper, understanding and trying them out is fascinating and fun, whether it’s painting, dancing, reading or sword fighting.
Many moons ago, when I used to run educational courses for young people, I decided to spend a little time learning about the act of learning itself. The different styles of learning, tips and techniques for improving learning and ways of subtly changing old patterns and mindsets to make them different and, perhaps, better.
I was thinking about this while reading another of the Tinderella Anna blogs recently; if you’ve not yet then you really should. This post mentioned how at the start of her divorce she sometimes fell into the trap of being a bitter wife, needing to remind herself to get out of that rut.
This is something I can totally relate to, as can anyone who has or is going through the breakup of a serious relationship. I spent almost 20 years thinking similar thoughts and feeling similar emotions towards my ex-wife. When I thought of one thing it led to another, then another, then another, a domino effect that originally felt comforting, happy and reassuring.
Post-breakup, however, things are very different indeed. Every single one of those memories is now tinged with sadness. Sadness for what I had, sadness for the future I lost. And those are the best of emotions, reserved for those things I looked back on originally with happiness but which now are coloured with loss. There are now loads of memories which are of what happened. Memories of times when she was having an affair and I didn’t know. Of when I caught her. Of after discovery and the horrible confusion it caused. Of telling her to leave. Of coping as a single parent. Of all the pain she has caused me and continues to cause me.
I’ve realised that, for me, these are triggered in three ways. The first is directly by her. When I see her, speak with her, or hear others speaking about her. Hearing that she has bought a new sofa, or knowing that her and her boyfriend are at a party with what used to be our friends. It all triggers anger, which then leads down the path to more anger and pain.
The second is with the arrival of anniversaries, both good and bad. Birthdays, mothers days, weddings, proposals; with nearly 20 years of happiness there were so many things which make me think of her and remember better times.
Thirdly are intangible things which, for me, are intrinsically tied to her. I’ll never be able to see certain lilies without thinking of her, nor watch certain tv shows, eat certain foods or listen to certain songs. When you spend so long so deeply entwined in every way with someone you loved, you never realise how much a part of every single part of your life and your world they are until they’re gone.
I work with analogies, so visualise this mentally as pathways and dirt tracks. The first time you walk from one place to another there is no pathway to speak of, so you do the best you can and forge ahead. The next time you walk that route you take the same route roughly speaking; the grass is slightly bent over, it’s easier to navigate and you know it’s safe and gets you to where you want to go. The next time is even easier, and the next, and the next; until you realise that you don’t even think about it anymore. Regardless of whether or not it’s the best way from points A to B, it is the easiest way so you take it.
If that path proves troublesome, the only way of changing it is simply to change it. You know the troubles ahead and the point at which it becomes worse; you can see it coming. So as soon as you recognise it, strike a different path and take a different route. The first time will be hard, but it gets easier with repetition, until you can very easily see the dangerous route and can actively choose to take the better one.
Now that I can visualise that in my mind, I’m finding I can do the same with thought patterns. I’m massively oversimplifying things and probably jumbling them up horribly, but memories and decision paths are merely routes that neurons are taking in your brain. The more often certain synapsis fire in a certain order, the easier it is for them to fire the next time they need to. That’s why practice makes consistent (rather than perfect). The more you do it, the easier it is to replicate.
So if I can learn where my triggers are and foresee them, perhaps I can preemptively start down a different journey instead. If I know that my ex has her toyboy round while the kids aren’t there, instead of worrying about it and getting angry I can put a mental dam up around that and redirect my energies towards my kids, or those chores that need doing, or messaging that girl I’ve been messaging recently though I’m not sure about long-term yet but am happy to keep chatting with. When I hear a certain song I can try to associate it with another time doing fun things without her. If I know certain things trigger me I can go out of my way to avoid or prevent them from happening.
The definition of madness, according to some, is to do the same things and expect different results. If I’m going to overcome my anger and sadness then I’m going to need to make changes. Not Sandra D levels of changes, mind you, but changes. Whether it’s decorating my house, changing my music collection or forcing new memories to come to the fore, things need to change and to keep on changing.
I’m not that old a dog, but I’m determined to learn at least a few new tricks.