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.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Holly Winter