An absentee is someone who is no longer here, who no longer exists, someone who is not present… in the present. We all miss someone who is absent (a curious expression, “is absent”, i.e., someone who has taken the place of absence, they exist despite not being present, they are a memory). That someone may be far away (in another country, for example), may have died, or may simply have chosen to stop being part of our lives (the most painful form of absence? So, what happens when we are the ones who cease to be part of our lives?).

Whatever the reason, the absence of someone we value emotionally is always a painful experience… and everything that is emotional is also seen on a physical level.

The emotional apparatus and all its dynamics exist essentially for the purpose of protecting us. This is why the place of absence is usually filled by something or someone who theoretically (but only in theory) can replace what we have lost. And the main substitution mechanism are memories (mental act through which the past is reproduced). Although, in certain situations, memories can be painful, they are less painful than the feeling of total absence, the void, the space that has to be filled (which usually makes us feel lost and confused… filled with this void).

It is through this beacon of the past, and the way we use it as a compass that our personal story is built (is it a story, or is it a Book of Tales written down with the ink of memories?)

Through this story and the characters and adventures it comprises, we build our present (or is it the present that is built through our readings of reality?); in this construction process, new memories are woven, in a never ending process which gradually leads to what is normally called “The Story of Our Life”. Are we supposed to remember our memories? Indeed, we are… otherwise our story will resemble a bumpy patchwork blanket.

Nevertheless, there are those who insist… ” I want to forget about the past”; “I don’t even want to remember it”… (it is impossible to forget something that you want to forget, and which is therefore always remembered…).

I propose that you do the following exercise: Imagine that you suddenly forget about everything which has been emotionally painful …  you cannot do this?… This happens because when you try to forget about something, it ends up hurting even more! Indeed, what numbs emotional pain is the act of not trying to forget… of integrating it… of accepting it!

This said, there are those who channel the effort (those who put in the effort, thus wasting the necessary energy to continue the “journey” ), making several attempts to rub out the past … if you enjoy reading, get your favourite book and rip out all the pages you did not like to read… by doing this you will ruin your favourite book… similarly, if you could forget important episodes in your life (pleasant or painful), you would be ruining what should be your favourite book: The Story of your Life (there is only one copy of this book, it is unique and irreplaceable… you cannot make a copy of it).

When you desperately try to forget episodes from the past, you end up feeling incomplete, because the lessons you have learned and the experiences you have lived are devalued… Thus, increasing the likelihood of making the same mistakes… time and time again… “I don’t know how I got into this mess again”…; “It seems I have forgotten about everything I have lived in the past…”; “It feels like I haven’t learned anything… ”; “My story seems to be an endless cycle”…

Your past has led you here… to this present… to this moment when you are reading these words (because you have decided to do so). A small detour would have been enough and right now you would be in a different place, with other people, doing other things… a simple detour in the past would have been enough so that now, for example, you might not have in your life the people you value the most … it hurts a lot to see the people we value being ripped out of our lives!

Sometimes we say with satisfaction “I am very proud of being who I am”, without realising that this inevitably and consequently means being very proud of who we have been. So, when we try to forget the past (just because at certain times it was / or is painful, we end up making detours, taking shortcuts that lead us to places which may be… more painful. Or we may simply end up taking several risks or even end up getting lost on the way.

Perhaps the greatest risk of all is this: what if the Story of our Life lacks its main character? What if the greatest absence from your life is indeed yourself?

What if one day you look back, almost as if you are seeing yourself in the mirror and have to question yourself… Who is this Absentee and how did they get here?

Rolando Andrade, Clinical Psychologist/Psychotherapist/Sports Psychologist

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