I was sitting at this very fast-Thai-food restaurant in Sydney airport in 2007 when my daughter was only 3, and I had just arrived in Australia for the first time. It was early morning back then but my sense of time was messed up. I was hungry, and I had Thai food. My daughter was sitting next to me on the red chair with her toys and a bowl of plain noodles in front of her.
As I pictured my now-almost-8 year old daughter sitting there in diapers, I felt a little sting. It felt like yesterday, and here I was with a second-grader and her new and more mature opinions.
I mention this episode because it reminded me of a question we often get about the Breakup Cleanse. The question is “Why do I have to revisit the past?”. The question refers to the step of the Cleanse where we ask you to have dinner at a restaurant that bring up intense memories of your ex.
It may seem meaningless to revisit the past that literally. However, this step is one of the most important ones in the Cleanse.
One way to retrain your brain to think less about your ex is to overexpose it to stimuli that are likely to activate the connection between memories and emotions. One aim of the Cleanse is to break this connection.
If you just let the neurons in that network fire randomly, the network could strengthen. So, whenever something reminds you of the event in question, you feel intense emotions.
If, on the other hand, you force the activation, you are weakening the network, because you are there to face your own emotions head-on, reflect on them and manipulate them.
Clients who have completed the Cleanse often say that they were surprised that their negative emotions were less intense than they thought they would be when they were sitting at the restaurant where they used to sit with their ex–but now all by themselves.
What they realize is not that the memories about their ex are about to disappear but rather that they are what they are, memories, slowly getting detached from the intense emotions that used to surround them.