How to reclaim your memories after a break-up

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Reclaiming memories

After a break-up, it can be hard to escape all those happy memories that you made with your ex that are now tinged with sadness. But there’s nothing to stop you reclaiming them, as Charly Lester discovers

There’s no getting around it – break-ups suck. And the older you get and the more serious the relationship, the harder the recovery can feel. The longer the relationship, the more that person will have permeated every area of your life. During the relationship, that’s great – songs, restaurants, holidays, and even the silliest of things can form hundreds of memories, incredible memories that, after a break-up, can suddenly cause you immense pain.

Anyone who has watched the Disney film Inside Out will be familiar with the idea that a happy memory can instantly be turned into a sad one. In the cartoon, bright yellow happy memories are turned sad blue because something has changed. It’s an illustration of a very real feeling when you break-up – suddenly all of your best memories become tinged with sadness.

But what can you do about that feeling?

You have to reclaim those happy memories, and in doing so, reclaim all the places that remind you of those memories.

I split up with someone last year. We’d been living together and I had met him just weeks after I moved to London for the first time. As a result, almost every memory I had of the city I live in reminded me of him in some way. He had taught me short cuts, pointed out things that I had never noticed before, and introduced me to my favourite restaurants and parts of town.

The break-up came as a complete shock and just after we had returned from a holiday to California. On the holiday, we’d visited Yosemite National Park, but been unable to get permits to hike the park’s famous mountain Half Dome. At the time I’d been gutted – I’ve always loved mountain climbing, and Half Dome was the next on a long list of mountains that I’ve convinced myself to hike.

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Nine months later and I found myself in California for work. I had a week planned in LA and needed to fly home from San Francisco. But there were four days in the middle of the trip that were completely my own to plan…

Last time I had been in California, I had let my ex-boyfriend make all of the arrangements. He’d hired our car (a Mustang) but had not been able to get the convertible model we wanted. He’d booked our accommodation – a weird old motel in a small town near the National Park. And I’d let him do all the driving, scared that I wouldn’t be able to master driving an automatic car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

This time, I was in California alone. I found the perfect Mustang convertible car, and after a few days had mastered the American road system. I booked a series of hotels that I loved – elegant lodges and even a yurt overlooking Big Sur on the Californian coast. Yes, I might have preferred to be sharing the rooms with someone, but I loved them, and this was my adventure, my chance to reclaim California and Yosemite for my own.

I entered the lottery for a permit to climb the mountain, and this time, I was successful. I got up at 6am, drove into the National Park, and began an eight-hour, ten-mile round trip, which culminated in some of the steepest, scariest climbing I’ve ever done. At around midday I summited the mountain. ‘Wow, you did this on your own? You’re hardcore!’ one guy exclaimed.

And you know what I realised? I am hardcore! I climbed that mountain on my own and I reclaimed my memories of Yosemite. As I hiked, I remembered aspects of our previous visit – my ex complaining that he didn’t enjoy walking and getting upset with me because I was hiking faster than him. I remembered all the reasons our relationship hadn’t been perfect, and how sad he could make me feel at times. And most importantly, I realised that my memories of Yosemite would no longer just include my ex.

Getting over someone takes time. It’s baby steps. You have to let yourself reclaim every area of your life. You have to acknowledge the old memories, and then let yourself create new ones, without your ex in them.

The old memories will remain, and they will probably always carry a little tinge of sadness, but that tinge will get smaller and smaller. The sad blue veneer will fade away, and if you can’t change the ‘colour’ of the memory, you can always update it with a new, happier memory.


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