Ready for a bonfire of the memories?

For survivors of domestic abuse, recalling the good times can be just as damaging as the traumatic flash-backs. So, perhaps it’s time for a positive purge.

Photo by click

Photo by click

After I left my abuser, even everyday things could trigger an avalanche of painful memories. A photo of him kissing my pregnant belly was the (false) promise of a happy little family. A faded t-shirt discovered at the back of the wardrobe brought back that great day out. A hand-written note of apology triggered the fear of a rage-filled rant.

It felt like my own feelings were tripping me up, as I was mercilessly assaulted by memories.

Recalling the good times can be destructive

The mementos that remind us of happy times can be hardest to let go. It is human nature to want to remember the good things, and erase the bad from our minds. Our instinct tells us that this is less traumatic, maybe even more healthy. But when we are fresh out of domestic abuse – this is downright dangerous. Allowing ourselves this skewed and untrue version of reality strengthens doubt and regret. It can motivate us to re-kindle a destructive relationship.

The emotional ties to our abuser are arguably the most important to sever if we are to successfully heal. So, is it time to build your own bonfire of the memories?

De-cluttering for the determined

Let’s start by de-cluttering! If you have children, you may want to keep a few items for their sake. If they are old enough  – ask them what they want to keep, and give them a shoebox in which they can store the trinkets themselves, so you don’t have to.

If they are too young, pick out a few bits and pieces – such as photos of him and any sentimental jewelry – and store them safely away in a box marked DO NOT OPEN, until the kids are old enough to receive them.

That done, everything else is disposable. Gather together photos, ticket stubs, that pair of old socks, the half-empty bottle of aftershave, the vase in which you placed his first bunch of flowers, and that pair of ‘I’m sorry’ earrings.

Photo by patapat

Photo by patapat

Be good to yourself

Items with any value – such as gold jewelry, CDs etc – can be sold. You can use the money to treat yourself and the kids, so buy something beautiful with the cash. Something he’d never let you buy, or which reminds you that life is too precious to be wasted on a soul-sucking loser.

Burn, baby

Other things will make a great bonfire of the vanities. If you wish, you could make it something of a ceremony (though you need only dance around the firepit if you want to!) As you consign each item to the flames, draw up the memory that it holds, and burn them both. Watch the smoke rise and dissipate into the air, never to be seen again.


“Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you’ll find an edge to cut you.” Mark Lawrence

Dwelling on positive memories can be dehabilitating if they prevent us from healing. If the things around you are becoming obstacles in your recovery from abuse, it’s time to ditch them.

* This post is adapted from my Twelve Days of Christmas Series, posted in December.

Have you escaped domestic abuse? What did you do to prevent yourself falling into the bear-trap of grief and longing?

ALSO SEE: Other ideas for recovery post-abuse, in Staying out of an abusive relationship: An essential To Do List

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14

15 responses to “Ready for a bonfire of the memories?

  1. “Allowing ourselves this skewed and untrue version of reality strengthens doubt and regret. It can motivate us to re-kindle a destructive relationship.”
    This has happened to me more times than I care to admit. But you are absolutely right. It’s like a drug addict finding a bottle of pills.
    Burn them, and never look back.
    Great post Triple S.


    • Thank you Teela, and for sharing a great analogy. I’ve been there too, which is how I learned to be brutal with the wistful memories.

      Right now, the traumatic memories are much more useful because they further shore up my determination to be free.


  2. Yes fire is good! Funny when I read this because at my retreat we had a similar “purging” of dreams lost…very painful but very liberating as well in the grieving process. Great post!


  3. I’m new to accepting that I was abused, and this a powerful post for me to read. It’s certainly true for me also that when something triggers of the memory of something that seemed happy it brings down an avalanche of memories. It’s really hard and there is so much of him still surrounding me in so many objects he gifted me with. It’s made me think about it that cause and effect of difficulty a bit more, thanks for sharing. It has been so liberating, though hard and not good in another way, to find stories from people that also have stories I can really relate to. I don’t feel so guilty or alone anymore. Happy to have found your blog. X


    • Hi Surviving and welcome. I’m glad you found something of relevance to you in this post. Nobody should have to go through what you did, and I’m sorry you felt alone and guilty. Unfortunately, that’s something pretty much all abuse survivors can relate to.

      Checking out your blog, I can see that you are working toward recovery. It’s a difficult process of course, where we have to address the small things (like the stuff that surrounds us) as well as the big issues.

      I’m sure the supportive community of bloggers here on WordPress will help you on your journey, as they helped me (and still do!). Take care x


  4. This is one of my favorite postings. I had never thought about this, but we can fool ourselves by clinging to “good” memories- which carry such a false message. So much in abuse is built on lies and untruths. We only deceive ourselves by clinging to something that was unreal in many ways.


    • I’m really glad you like the post Kimberly.

      It is so tempting to dwell on the good times rather than the bad, but when we are ‘in recovery’ it is ultimately damaging because it feeds our bond with the abuser. When we have this skewed ‘memory’ we think that maybe the relationship wasn’t so bad after all.

      I hope there will come a time when I can share some of the happy memories with my child – but it isn’t right for me just now.


  5. I love your blog. It helps me through this tough time. Its been 8 months since I left my abuser and it has been the hardest journey for me, along with raising my three kids by myself. I thought once I found the courage to walk away the black cloud would dissipate and disappear. What I have encountered was a mind full of memories and my committee constantly reminding me of his presence. its bad enough that my sons are spitting images of their father. I even started to rationalize that the abuse wasn’t as severe as I had made it out to be. I ignored the restraining order and I went as far as communicating even spending the weekend with him and our kids…as if we were one big happy family. All that did was open the wound up more. It was if I threw salt on the already painful wound. He gave me the classic “I’ve changed” story I so desperately want to believe. It’s easier to believe the lie than it is the real truth. What I realized this last week is nothing has changed. I am driving myself mad trying to overcome this hurdle, this mental road block. Maybe I should try to burn all relevant physical items. I will try this and hope it helps! Thank you again for your blog. It has been a source of support in more ways than you can imagine. Thank you!!


    • Hi there, and thank you for taking time to comment. I’m so pleased my blog has been able to help you. It makes me feel so much better that all I’ve been through can be used to help others.

      I understand how hard this is, and you are certainly not alone in feeling the way you do. I too thought that once I got out I’d just sail off into the sunset with my child and all the problems he caused would dissipate.

      It’s only now that I realise that escaping was just the start, and I needed to be proactive if I wanted to really improve my situation. I bounced back to him more times than I care to admit, and the only thing that made sure my last attempt was indeed my last was No Contact. Hellishly difficult, but it does work and the pain lessens with each passing day.

      I hope that things are getting easier for you. You are doing the right thing for you and your children. Be safe, be happy – and take care.


  6. Oh, this is so hard! Even the worst abuser has good deeds, good memories associated with him. I am finally starting to be able to remember good things about my ex without it hurting.


    • Hi ideationms, and thank you for commenting! I’m glad you’re at the point where you can remember the good times without pain – I can only imagine how much work it took to get there. Hope that I can too, one day.


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