I Thought I Was Over This

By Sam Jolman | June 23, 2013

“People tend to think of recollections as fading over time, but memories grow like manuscripts being revised. In remembering, we add and fill in—and the more often you remember something, the more you change it, by committing to memory your own imaginative acts of recall.” Joshua Rothman, New Yorker article

“Every time you remember something, you change its meaning.”  Louis Cozzolino

I ruin a lot of peoples lives.  At least you’d think I do with how often I hear people say “I thought I was over this.”  Or even “I already dealt with that.”  Be it a divorce, a break up, an addiction, the after effects of living with an angry father, whatever.  Its always some sort of hurt or disappointment of the past.  And its usually something they never intended to talk about.

A guy just this morning said to me, “I was doing well until I came in here.” I kinda winced and said, “I didn’t mean to be a wrecking ball to your day”  And its true.  Rarely am I the one to even bring up the messy topic.  I never make people talk.  Most of the time we sort of find ourselves there.  Okay, yeah, I ask the questions that get things moving.  But I don’t kick in doors.

And in these moments I feel so bad.  Like a really cumbersome house guest who just knocked over a plant full of dirt or spilled red wine on that oh so pretty new carpet.   What they really came in to talk about was nothing even remotely close to this.

But there it is, the messy topic.  The one they were over.  And there’s no going back when the red wine is seeping into carpet.  The mess is made.  So now what?

Most people lean back in the couch and sigh really big.  And I know that feeling.  Its that sense of slipping backwards. That all that change you thought you had was a mirage. Its the fear of being stuck forever.  Usually what follows the sigh is, “When will I ever be over this?…I’ll be stuck forever… I’m never going to change.”

I say it too.  The other night, as my wife and I sat as the audience to my son’s bath time water and bubbles show, she asked me how I was doing.  And she asked in a way that said she really wanted to know and had the time and space to let me share.  As you may know, that doesn’t always happen with a busy life and kids.  Even in marriage.  I took her up on it as I had not been doing all that well.

I told her that I felt like a teenager lately.  She asked if something had triggered that old feeling.  She was right though I hadn’t thought about it.  As it all started to unfold, I recognized something in the last day had taken me back to an event in high school and triggered a ton of old feelings.

When this all clicked, the first thing out of my mouth was, “I thought I was over that.”  And then I sighed.  And I felt that feeling we all feel.  Of being back in it, of regressing, of feeling like I must be stuck.  And when will I ever really change.  I tried to catch myself from slipping into this pit as I do with my clients at times.  But it never works.

The truth is that this is just how change happens. All change is cyclical.  It always circles back.  You probably really did change last time. But we are always making deeper passes at things, going deeper on the stuff of our lives.

Could you ride a bike the first time you got on it?  Or did you ace that chemistry exam in college just on the boring first lecture alone?  What have you ever mastered the first time you tried it?  Nothing.  You tried and tried and tried again.

The same is true of your heart.  You’re not going to get all the implications the first time you face something in your life.  You can’t.  Things take reflection and playing out and revisiting. We’re always making deeper passes at things in our lives.  God brings things up again to offer us more healing.

And really, what would it mean to be over your story anyway?  You will always have your story. The facts will always be the facts. You don’t “get over” your story magically somehow by shoving it into the past and trying to forget about it.  We can’t change the past as they say.  And the saying is right.  You cannot take away what happened to you.

Before you fall on the floor in a fit of despair, hear me out.  Though you can’t change the facts, you can change their meaning.  You can deal with and heal from, even grow stronger through the events of your life.

In other words, your divorce doesn’t have to always make you feel like the discarded woman.  The fact that your father called you a wimp doesn’t mean you have to keep sabotaging your life when it gets scary. The plot of your story or of certain events can be altered significantly by your participation in facing the facts of your life.

Literally, from a brain science perspective, every time you remember something, you change the meaning of that event.  New neural pathways are created.  Certain parts of the memory are strengthened.  Other details suddenly are seen from a different perspective.  And the next time you think about it, the memory will be different.  What this means is that you will never really remember your story in the same way twice.

It does matter how you face your story.  In other words, if you stuff it back down when it comes to the surface or keep it to yourself, you’ll only strengthen the terribly painful meaning it already holds.  If instead you find someone who cares, who loves you, who will help you listen for and reinterpret its impact and meaning, then you’ll change.

Here’s an example:  My grandmother passed away when I was in college.  It was a deep loss for me and my whole family.  When she smiled, life just felt okay.  She prayed tirelessly on her knees. And I’ll never forget the bags and bags of popcorn she made us to fuel our summer adventures at her house. We all took it hard. But my grandpa took it the hardest of all.

Several years later, my grandfather took me and my newly wedded bride Amanda out to dinner in celebration. I can still remember him talking so sweetly about my grandmother that night.  And being moved to grief so quickly.  All of this while his new wife, my new grandmother, sat right next to him and put her arm around him as he grieved.  This happened on many, many occasions, whenever the being with him allowed for storytelling.

Some may say he needed to get over her, move on, stop crying all the time about her.  It had been years.  Years!  Why couldn’t he get over her?  Now if it was crippling him, taking away his life, I can understand the concern.  But it wasn’t.

The truth is he did move on.  He got remarried.  He lived his life and took vacations and remodeled his house and worked his job into his 80’s.  I don’t think his grief was a sign that he wasn’t getting over her.  I think its just that again what does it mean to get over a woman you’ve loved and lost?

And I’ll tell you that every time he remembered her, every time I saw him cry, I swear his heart got softer.  He became a better man with every tear.  And my view of married love grew even bigger in seeing his capacity to love his wife, my grandma.

So take a breath.

Wherever you’re stuck, wherever your heart is sighing in despair, God has more for you.  Yep. Right there. Will you accept this?  That God wants to heal more of you?  Will you accept that he is not taking away the nagging thing because its right where he wants to love you?  One of my counselors Lottie Hillard once told me, “Its a mercy that God lets us heal over time. If we had to grieve everything in our lives all at once, it’d probably kill us.”  I think she’s right.


  • Hope amongst the despair of an old story-He is good! Thanks Sam.

  • Wow, great post. I’ve been reflecting on this very dynamic recently (my own issue has been with recurrent anxiety) and this really helps me in significant ways. Surrendering to the cycle of grace that looks to take a deeper pass . . . .

  • Hey Sam. Stop listening in on my quiet times! (Just Kidding!) You are SO right on! …said the 58 yr. old, in a new season of life, and STILL having God reinterpret my memories, arrows, messages, vows, agreements and then telling me the truth. Thanks for this!

    • Ha! Mark, thanks for setting the bar of bravery by telling the truth. Its a relief to know I don’t have to have it figured out by 58. I respect you a lot.

  • I am oft times misunderstood as I have a deep caring and loving heart and I too, cry, for decades upon remembering appropriately, as your grandfather, losses in my life which causes my best friend discomfort and sometimes anger that,” I should move on”. I usually respond that I am truly blessed by God to have such a sensitivity to be able to love so much that I don’t have to hide or cover up what has made m the person I am today. Although I do feel sad about things in my life I do not dwell on it and although I do cry, I feel I am more healed than the person who cannot or will not let themselves think about what is a vital part to becoming the person Our Heavenly Father wants us to be! I have worked in the Medical Healthcare for 30 years and this” gift” has been a blessing because crying is good for the soul. I am very comfortable when a patient cries and sometimes I cry too! It is a release to a pressure cooker of emotions so I believe Its okay to cry appropriately and I wish more people knew this!! Crying as well as laughing is part of how w deal in trying times. You really said it better than I by saying time and maturity changes our perceptions and I think by feeling pain, makes us better equipped to help someone else that is the throes of that pit of despair to see time does heal but it will always be there, part of you. I was 24 years old when upon leaving my husband of 6 years because he was on drugs and wouldn’t stop and he took his life while he had me on the telephone I was shunned at the funeral as blame was put on me for leaving him.. Many did not know of his drug use and I gladly heaped all the guilt on me as feeling that I had let him down and it was my fault! I had a wonderful counselor who helped me so much and I surely was set to take my own life if not for her work with me. Thank you for sharing and affirming what I have known for a long time! Its okay to cry about loss but it is just as important to laugh and smile more! God Bless your work .

    • Melesa, so glad this spoke to some important parts of your story. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for your blessing on my work.

  • Sam, this is such a genuine explanation filled with hope. As I look back and see all the “this again?” Sighs I have exhaled into my despair, I realize that each time I had turned a corner and was seeing it again from a slightly different perspective. I used to hate those corners. But now I can see the twists and hairpin turns, some backtracking and crooked paths somehow still moved me forward. I am not who I was, and yet I know better who I am in this moment. Thank you for this wisdom and hope birthed out of **sighs**.”

    • This is so encouraging, just to hear your first hand account, Tess. Especially for me personally. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you, Sam. Love your heart (and your beautiful wife’s, too) to see people approach their stories with grace. Although no one has had the poor sense to tell me, “Get over it”, you’ve given me an excellent resource should anyone ever have the guts to say it to my face! Miss you guys.

    • Hi Lisa! Thanks for stopping by. Oh yeah… the dreaded “get over it line.” It never actually helps anyone get over something. Glad you’ve never been dealt that blow. Miss seeing you guys too. Say hi to Steve!

  • This is so orienting Sam. Thank you. You truly have a gift for telling it plainly.

  • Sam,

    The timing of your post is incredible. Just yesterday I was saying exactly what you quoted, “I already dealt with this; I thought I was over it.” A friend suggested I read your blog – so right on. Thank you! Glad to know I’m not the only one!!!

  • This was a really good thing for me to read, my only question is, how do you deal with things that aren’t going away? I mean it’s one thing to look back at problems and difficulties but what about the problems and difficulties your going through right now? My Father and I have a really rough relationship and it never fails that every time we get together we some how hurt each other… I have never felt like he loves me unconditionally and sometimes I don’t even think he likes me, yet still wants to do family things. If we don’t live up to what he’s expecting then it’s like his love is taken back… I am angry, so very angry and it’s hard to let go. What do I do? My father isn’t going to go away, and from what history has shown he isn’t going to change…. I don’t want him to go away, I just want him to love and care about me the way I see other Father’s love and care about their children, the way my father in law loves his family, the way my husband loves my children. That will probably never happen, so what do I do? I have not been a perfect daughter, at all… and I know I have hurt him. I have also apologized and admitted when I’ve been wrong (for the most part, I think). What do I do? How do I deal with this? How do I forgive him for so many things that I just know he’s going to do again? I can forgive him for everything that happened the last visit, but what about this next visit? It’s just going to be more pain and more things to forgive…. What do I do? How do I get to the point where I love him and forgive him?

    • Rachel, obviously my blog stirred a really deep on going struggle for you. And I guess in a sense its done its work. As I’m sure you already know, a few sentences from me in reply will not do justice to helping you walk through this struggle with your father.

      I would encourage you to find a therapist to help you walk out how best to love him, especially since he is a stubborn man, as you describe. Though he may never change, you can change. And when you change, the relationship will change… maybe not as you want, but certainly for the better.

      Do your heart a great favor and find someone to help interpret your story and care for you in the midst of your heartache.

  • This was so what I needed to hear! Thank you and wow! So glad I found this blog!

  • These are wise words. “Will you accept that he is not taking away the nagging thing because it is right where he wants to love you?” I needed to hear that today. Thank you.

  • This article speaks the truth, Every time you make another pass at remembering something, it makes you a better person. I am a 65 year-old woman living with my mother, who has been a source of deep irritation for me for as long as I can remember. However, in some ways, although the past is always in my face, it makes me a stronger person;if I don’t eventually become a basket case! Pray for me,

    • Let me state what you probably already know: God must have something for you to work through with your mom. Yes, may God keep making it clear before you go crazy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join my free Substack Newsletter

Join my free Substack Newsletter, 'The Heart of It.' A publication on sexual wholeness, trauma recovery, and the Christian story. I write to find the pulse of the human heart amidst it all.

Get the first chapter of my new book The Sex Talk You Never Got and my e-book Story Formed free for signing up.

sign up bonuses