A city becomes a whole lot smaller after you’ve lived in it for a while.

I felt the beginnings of this process in Manhattan and D.C., but I didn’t live in either of those places for as long as I have lived in Chicago.

I think cities begin to feel smaller as you develop a clutch of places that you go. Your clutch becomes 90% of your world, even though it’s only a small subset of the city. You default to this clutch of places for doing work, relaxing, and meeting people. A lot of the places lie on your route to work or near your house.

This becomes a problem when something sad happens at one of those places. Because now you’ve attached that bad memory to that place. Which you pass on the way to work. Every day. Ugh.

For a while, you feel silly for having let a favorite spot become a daily sad reminder.

But you don’t have to feel silly. It made perfect sense for you to choose a convenient place to conduct your activities — it’s not like you knew it would turn out badly.

You know that getting over it takes time. It’s time you spend crossing the street to avoid the location, then looking at it anyway as you pass by. Your heart rate elevates every time you approach that place for a while. It can be a painful while.

I’ve learned that I can significantly reduce that while by overwriting the bad memories with other memories. In other words, I’ll purposely return to that place and do stuff there that I enjoy. Even if things keep falling to shit, somehow several bad memories is less painful than just one. It becomes a sort of pathetic-hilarious pall over the place. Also, once there is more than one event, I don’t have one particular event to fixate upon anymore. The more memories there are, good or bad, the more they blend together.

Knowing how to overwrite bad memories makes it easier to heal without completely closing yourself off. Which is critical.

Our whole lives, when we get hurt, we default to closing ourselves off. We default to “protecting” ourselves by not exposing ourselves any longer to the things that we think have hurt us in the past. We put up masks. We shy away from things. We “let go of things” (a phrase most people use when what they’re really doing is holding on tighter to some protective measure they’re taking because of scars from the past).

Maybe, sometimes, we want to do the opposite: open ourselves up, give more chances where, based on our limited and traumatic experiences, chances are least deserved. Maybe pushing ourselves back into the fray can give us the positive reinforcement that we were looking for the first time we went in there — before we got hurt. We did that because we saw potential for something exciting to happen. Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean that that potential isn’t still there.

And I think that practicing it makes us more capable of resilience for things we can’t control.

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