is the opposite of forget
I listened to a podcast recently about the right to be forgotten. In it they talk about people who have done things they regret or feel ashamed of that end up in the newspaper and when people Google them it comes up and has ruined their lives in various ways.
So these people write to the newspaper and ask that the stories be taken down. Years have gone by, they have paid the price, it wasn’t that big of a deal, they don’t want to continue being haunted by a stupid mistake they made in college 25 years ago.
Soberbia is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
What is the right to be forgotten? And why do we need it? During this podcast I waited for the topic of ownership to come up and it didn’t. I can’t stop thinking about this: that with ownership we relieve ourselves of the need to be forgotten.
A lot of the work I’ve done in therapy this past year has been about shame. And, to be honest, a lot of the reason I still haven’t gone to AA meetings or done any group recovery work again revolves around uncertainty and ownership. What do I want to own about my life, exactly? It’s easy to say I was reckless and careless when I was drunk now, but if confronted with a headline would I want it to disappear? Would it feel unfair, an unfair representation of current me that has to carry the burden of my past? And if I could erase my past, would I?
God, yes. I think. I might? When I imagine some of the things I’ve done, decisions I’ve made- the things that make me cringe inside 35, 25, or 5 years later- (because yes, I have been sober and still made bad decisions) I do wish they would go away. I have made some terrible choices and I am not proud of them. I wouldn’t change who I am, but I would change knowing some of how I got here. There are things in my memory that make me want to run far far away from them, to lose them in the maze and never go back again. They are shitty things I’ve done, but there’s also a lot of shitty things that were done to me- and some of those things weren’t my fault and I didn’t realize that until recently. So, maybe I wouldn’t erase them, because I wouldn’t have gotten what I have from them if they were gone.
I think beyond shame there is ownership. That when I can see the things that have happened and say they have happened I get beyond needing to hide and I become free. I think if I can own the things done, it takes the power away, and I don’t need to forget. Ownership sucks the power out of shame in a way that erasure never could. The faint lines of memory never quite leave, so instead I leave them intact, and then when I find them they don’t surprise me anymore, they are bold uncovered fact. They are more easily forgotten because they don’t suddenly appear, they just ARE. A regular part of the landscape instead of a shadowy line that trips me.
We are so uncharitable to ourselves and over a lifetime that builds a lack of trust, a lack of willingness to take ownership because if you’re judged as bad or wrong you certainly don’t want that stain on you. Ownership permanent marks you for good and for good. There is not need to hide because you have already been found.
I own the fact that I have alcohol use disorder, I’m an alcoholic, I can’t drink. I also own the fact that when I drank I made bad decisions and I was careless and reckless and I hurt people. I hurt myself. People hurt me. I own those things. I don’t have to make excuses for them because I cannot change the past. I can try to repair the damage done by not trying to hide it. It hurts me if I shirk that responsibility to myself.
I have to tell myself the truth. This is hard. Owning up to the fact that who I was and what I did hurt other people is hard. That I was hurt is harder. It’s almost unpalatable for me, fingers in the ears la la la, but I’m working on it. Minimizing any effect doesn’t heal anyone. Luckily I never did anything that made headlines, but there were the headlines in my life and in my parents lives, my friends lives, my husbands life, my children’s lives. I can’t delete those things.
And maybe I don’t want to.
I’m a beginner at ownership- it’s a new place and I am not familiar with how it all works here. My tendency has been to make everything my fault, it was all me or because of me, there, hands brushed off and we can move on. Ownership is not fault, or blame- I’m not sure what it is to me yet. I do know it can be shared and there are acknowledgements that can be made and there’s truth. I feel like I’m on the second breath of blowing up the balloon- the one where it’s taking a shape and you’re not quite sure how much there is left to go.