“I buried my feelings.”

I had someone speak those words to me once… or twice… or several times.

I never understood how digging a grave for living, breathing emotions was possible. How does one bury feelings that are so strong, you can feel them running through every fiber of your being? And if you do bury feelings that come in the form of love, tenderness, sorrow, passion, pain, or joy, will they ultimately rise to the surface and come back to haunt you? The same question can be asked for those who hold onto the past. Will that form of self-inflicted torture continue to torment you?

Ghosts. Sometimes, they’re memories. The kind we don’t want to let go of. Often, they’re people. The ones who should be left in the past. But if we don’t let go of those people and memories that once occupied our hearts, do we get in the way of our own happiness?

I had a conversation with a woman the other day about this exact human condition. This woman seemed to have it all – beautiful children, a solid relationship, a lovely home, and many other things on a checklist that people often covet. But for the past year, she was having unwanted dreams. These dreams were vivid, almost real. She was dreaming about someone from her past. This someone was once very important to her, for he owned a large piece of her heart.

They met unexpectedly at a charity function long ago. It was “crush at first sight,” as she described it. Theirs was a fast love affair. His career took him all over the country. But as often as possible, he wanted her by his side. They traveled to great cities, occupied the finest hotels, and drank fine wines. But some of their favorite moments together were simple excursions, like going to a place they referred to as “Bambi Park.” It was an unmarked park they once found in the middle of nowhere. They filled up a large, brown paper bag with sandwiches, snacks, and cheap wine. And then spent the afternoon laughing, telling stories, and stealing kisses in the summer breeze. They were in love. It was passionate, and at times, intense. But they both believed that it would last forever. At least that’s how she recalls it.

The relationship ended years ago, but her dreams reminded her that the feelings she once buried were still very much alive. And when she awoke from these dreams, she often longed to have that man from her past by her side. But he wasn’t. A different man was. A good man. And she loved him too. She couldn’t control her dreams, but they seemed to be controlling her emotions. And they were resurrecting old ghosts that she tried to lay to rest many years ago. And now, every time she woke up, she wanted to go back to sleep. Back to her dreams. Back to the ghosts that once made her happy. Ghosts, for reasons that are private to her, she needed to bury.

“Dreams can be real assholes that way,” she said to me. “They take you from heaven to reality with one awaken breath.”

I asked her if she ever planned to look up her past? Go back in time? Work out unfinished business? She said no. She said that she didn’t want to look weak. And I could see in her eyes that the reasons she buried those ghosts were still very painful for her. “I have a new life now,” she said. “A good life, a happy life.” She smiled slightly before she spoke her next words. And I could see that she was digging into her memory bank. “I loved him. It’s possible that I always will. Those were special times. But they ended for a reason. I’m not sure when my dreams will stop. But I know my reality. And I want to live this life that I’m in now – not a life where I’m holding onto an old story that already has its ending.”

And so I asked her, how do people bury their feelings? She said, “They put them in a place where no one can find them. Out of sight. And mostly out of mind. But sometimes they resurface with a simple trigger – like a song, an old letter, or a favorite bottle of wine. And no one needs to know. It’s just a private secret between you, your mind, your heart, and your memories.”

Every story has an ending. It may not always end the way you hoped, or planned. But what’s wrong with remembering the parts of the story that brought you pleasure? Nothing. Nothing at all. As long as you give yourself the chance to script a new story. A better story. The kind you don’t have to bury.