October 11, 2014

5 ways Amnesia Improved my Life.

Holly Winter Teaching a writing class in the Bahamas coldwinter@sprintmail.com[2]

When I was in college 30 years ago, I accepted an “aspirin” from a stranger which ended up being a makeshift “roofie.”

This pill erased more than one evening; every memory from the first 18 years of my life was gone.


I didn’t remember my family, couldn’t read, and wasn’t able to understand the meaning of basic things like a shower or shoelaces.

No amount of wishing, therapy, or creative visualization could connect me to my lost self; I tried everything.

Though the psychological strain of starting over was overwhelming, there were gifts, too.

1. Powerful Memories.

I have recovered one memory of myself as a child: I’m riding a bicycle with one hand on the handlebars and feeling independent and free. That’s all I have, this one memory. Trust me, one good memory is far better than none.

Loving this one memory led me to set a life goal: how many memories could I add to my memory bank?

I have a passion for creating memorable experiences. I don’t own a television and don’t want one. I’m too busy photographing old gold mines, learning to ride a bike, inventing healthy recipes, and writing about my adventures.

2. Better Teacher.

I know what it’s like to be the only person in a room who doesn’t know what an airplane is, or how to tell time, or why people hold hands. Learning to write was tough. I was the only adult around who had a hard time learning the names of colors.

Was I the only one who didn’t know my colors?

After over 20 years in the classroom, I have zero tolerance for anyone who makes fun of a student for asking a “dumb question” or for learning at a lower level. I will never tire of helping others gain the skills that everyone else already knows.

3. Forgotten History.

One of my mother’s friends told me that I confided in her, pre-amnesia, about a molestation that happened to me when I was a young teenager. Post-amnesia this friend let me know I could ask her about it any time.

I’ve never asked, and I never will. Why would I?

There have been a number of doctors and therapists who fear that this trauma is stuck inside of me somewhere. I don’t share their fears; I celebrate having a mind that’s literally wiped clean.

I refuse to worry about something I don’t remember. Amnesia’s ability to detach from the demons of my youth may be its greatest gift of all.

4. Stronger Friendships.

For years I yearned to connect to my former self. When I couldn’t, I wanted to connect to friends. Since all of my friends became strangers, I had to work on finding people who resonated with the new me.

These days I surround myself with amazing people who add fun and excitement to my life. Kindness is the number one attribute I look for in a friend. I also love to spend time with people who have exciting interests outside of work.

5. Healthier Love Life.

Having amnesia means I entered adulthood without any preconditioning. I was naïve of the issues connected to body image, sexuality, and being a woman. Though my mother taught me the basics, there were no lessons on shame, guilt, or awkwardness when it came to intimacy.

There are two ways to approach sexuality: open or closed. Having my prior conditioning erased permitted me to remain open.

As a spiritual practice, many people long to live in the present. This is easier for me; I’m a master at detaching from my past. “Letting go” helps me remember to breathe in where I am, who I am right now, and what I like.

Even the difficult times have lessons. Losing who I was taught me to ground myself in who I had become.

Curious. Trusting. Connected. Unsure. Excited. Open.

Though I may not know where I came from or who I used to be, where I am now…this is home.



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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Holly Winter

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