Transitions: The Body Remembers

For the organizational reasons, I’ve decided to post previously written articles as blogs. This way they’ll appear on the side panel under their appropriate category.

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November 2009

Colorado Autumn

It’s autumn, the season that epitomizes transitions. The leaves are turning brown, then falling, revealing birds’ nests in the trees’ bare limbs. The sun’s golden light infuses everything, from the expanse of cottonwood to the wide swaths of green lawn to the creek’s babbling waters. The world is aglow with the interface of life and death, an exquisite beauty that inspires us to inhale deeply as we attempt to grasp on to the last warm days before the silence and cold of winter sets in. It’s an ineffable beauty, bittersweet in that we celebrate the richness and yet know its temporality. It’s the season of melancholy and memory, of family holidays and outdoor play, of bright orange pumpkins and amber fires.

As soon as the first autumn rays appeared, my body remembered.

It was as if it was last year at this time when my husband’s work took him out of state, leaving me, newly pregnant, and my four year old son behind. For two months, I battled the debilitating nausea that overtakes me during pregnancy while parenting my son and maintaining my work schedule. Without my husband’s support, it was almost too much to bear. We made it through, and I haven’t thought much about it since, but on the morning of the anniversary of his departure, I had a dream about that time and woke up nauseous. When I checked the date on my calendar, it turned out that my body had remembered his exact leaving day before my conscious mind had. And for the next two months, I was aware of a faint, shadow nausea that mimicked what I had experienced the year before. It was as if the combination of autumn and the one-year anniversary prodded me to process the challenge of that period in our lives.

My clients are often befuddled about why they would be remembering past significant events, especially transitions, during their engagement. The reason is that transitions trigger the memories of other transitions; loss touches off old loss; endings ignite the re-living of past endings. When we subscribe to the cultural propaganda that the wedding transition is supposed to be only a happy time, we attempt to push these memories and feelings of loss aside; there’s no room for loss in the busy schedule of the unconscious bride. But the conscious bride recognizes that the engagement is the time to process old losses and unfinished transitions. She learns that the wedding, alongside being a beautiful affirmation of two people’s commitment to one another, is one of the most significant transitions in a person’s life. And transitions, by definition, are a time of loss, uncertainty, and letting go – the autumn before the silence of winter and the rebirth of spring.

The same applies to every transition and time of loss in our lives. I recently worked with a man who was confused about why he would be remembering a traumatic event in his childhood while driving to the funeral of a lifelong friend. I explained to him that the death of a friend is not only a significant loss but is also a transition, and that as his mind slowed down during the long drive, the memories of past loss surfaced. My client had been subtly berating himself for “dwelling” in these old memories, thinking that he had healed them already. But the truth is that trauma heals in layers and spirals – it’s not a linear event where we work it through and then it’s done forever – and with each transition we’re offered an opportunity for a deeper layer of healing. This paradigm turned the man’s thinking on its head, and what had been a source of self-criticism flipped over into an opportunity for growth.

And therein lies the potency of transitions: they always provide an opportunity for growth. They’re times in our lives when we’re rendered more vulnerable and raw as we shed a layer of our familiar skin and open ourselves to a new stage of life and identity. When we shun the painful memories and avoid processing the unfinished transitions that emerge during an engagement (or pregnancy, autumn, buying a house, ending a relationship, attending a funeral, etc), we not only miss a chance at shedding that which no longer serves us but we actually carry it into the next stage. This clutters our ability to embrace the new stage with clarity and confidence. And when the next transition occurs, we find ourselves that much more weighted down by unshed pain and stuck memories.

So if you find yourself immersed in memories of your deceased grandmother or you awaken from a dream about an ex-boyfriend and realize it’s the date of your anniversary, take time to welcome in the memories and process the associated feelings. The more you allow them in, the more easily you will move through yourengagement and open to the possibility of marrying on clear, solid ground.

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Sheryl Paul, M.A., pioneered the field of bridal counseling in 1998.  She has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She’s regarded as the international expert on the wedding transition and has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally.

Comments >> Transitions: The Body Remembers

  • Leisha

    I couldn’t agree more. I should definitely welcome the memories of the past (even if they are painful) as they help me realize how much I have grown. A year ago I was in my first trimester and feeling anxious, sick and wanting the pregnancy to be over with already. Now that my little girl is close to five months old, I realize that all of that was temporary and certainly worth the experience. I notice, however, that nausea seems to overwhelm me a bit right now too. As I teach the same lessons to my classes that I was working on a year ago, they all remind me of that sickness I felt at the time. Even the smells that were so revolting to me a year ago are coming back to haunt me a bit now. I guess now I should smile when I think of those times as they eventually created the most special and precious gift of my life- my baby Chloe

  • Leisha – Thanks for sharing. It’s still surprising to me when the body remembers – it holds so much more than we’re consciously aware of. I’m approaching my baby’s first birthday and my body is remembering labor and the days and weeks leading up to it. Not the most pleasant memory but, as you said, worth it a thousand times over!

  • Natalie

    I just dug through your blog to find this article. The past few days, I’ve felt “off” and it took until I realized that my wedding anniversary is this week to make sense of why. 3 years ago at this time, I was a wreck. A friend of my husband is back in town who was a big part of our wedding… and who took my husband out 3 days prior to the wedding (which was fine in the grand scheme of things, but I was not real happy about it at the time). The thought of them doing something together, while I know it’s important for this friendship, had me feeling very out of sorts and I didn’t want to. Now I can’t help but laugh a little at the timing… to the day… 3 years later.

    Thank you for bringing this concept to light for not only me, but others. It really has helped me today. 🙂

  • You’re welcome, Natalie. Isn’t the subconscious amazing? Quite often I’ll be feeling out of sorts, then I’ll look at the date and realize that something important happened on that date x many years ago.

    What’s also amazing is that I just pulled out this blog for an article I’m writing on autumn. It’s literally sitting on one of my tabs as I write this : )