Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child in my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too
Take my love, take it down
Climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection
in the snow-covered hills
Well, the landslide'll bring it down
The landslide'll bring it down
Last night the past smacked me right in the face. I was just standing, stone cold sober in a loud and messy bar, when it walked up to me and gave me a firm, hard slap in the face. It was one of those moments when everyone around me was exclaiming, "Oh, wow! What a small world!" and "So funny! I can't believe you two know each other!" while I stood there in shock. It was the first time I'd been to that bar since I'd stopped drinking. It was the first time in a long time that I'd even thought about that part of my past. And, I'll be honest with you, it hurt. I felt my chest tightening. I felt my lungs sucking in air as if I might stop breathing. I felt my heartbeat pick up speed and the skin on my face shading to that lovely shade of crimson (it's favorite shade when all eyes are on me). My palms were sweaty and my mind was chanting, "Run. Run. Run. Run." I forced a smile. I released a few awkward laughs. I said more than I should have, my words tumbling out before I had the chance to remind myself that they might have been the best things to tell a stranger. I clutched my keys in my sweaty palm, overly conscious that I was holding car keys while everyone around me held a glass or a bottle. I was in panic mode. Every bone in my body, every muscle in my mind, was telling me to run, to get the hell out of the bar and never come back.
Sounds dramatic, yes?
For me, it was. It was one of those OMG moments that makes you literally want to crawl into a hole and never come out. And this particular situation was just dripping with so many OMG moments that I was drenched by the time I left the bar. The part of my past that I'd run into was the part I'd wanted to escape. In fact, it was two-fold. Part of it related to the me in California and part of it related to the me in high school. I want to be neither of these people and I've come so, so far from who I was then. So why was it coming back to haunt me? Why was it this time -- this first time that I was back in an old hangout -- that I was faced with this situation? I am happy now, so why did this (or, rather, these) encounters make me so unhappy?
As I crawled into bed last night I pondered these questions. I wondered why I was so deeply disturbed my the situation. If I was so happy now, why was I letting the past get to me? I tossed and turned for a bit, unusually unsettled in my own bed. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why something that happened years and years and years ago could affect me so much right now. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to push my emotions away, but I didn't. I sat with them. I let them be what they were. I tried to be objective about them and remind myself that I feel this way right now and that's okay. It will pass, but ignoring it is not the way to make it go away (oddly enough). I was proud of myself. I could have asked for a drink at the bar to cut the tension in my nerves, but I didn't. I could have come home and indulged in a full-out crying session, raising my eyes to the ceiling and moaning, "Why me?!" but I didn't. I could have done at least a dozen self-destructive things (and, believe me, they all crossed my mind), but I didn't. I sat with the feelings. I accepted them. And then I made positive choices.
I walked the dog for longer than I usually would (which she loved).
I read a bit of a great book (The Geography of Bliss...so good.).
I made two phone calls to people who listened and who made it feel better.
I made better choices than I think I have in a long time. I chose not to embrace self-pity and indulgence in my negative emotions. I chose to do positive things, while still remembering to acknowledge my feelings. I was -- and still am -- very proud of myself. If I had the courage to write about the way I once was on this site, you would see that I have great reason to be so proud of these seemingly mundane decisions.
When I woke this morning, it took a full 30 minutes before I remembered what had happened last night. I was so caught up thinking about the new blog I'm working on, about celebrating a good friend's birthday, about positive things, that it took me awhile to recall the negative. This, I thought to myself, had to be a good sign. I had come a long, long way over the past few months. Only...after giving it some thought, I realized this shockingly upsetting fact: Last night I was very uncomfortable with who I was.
The whole time I was faced with meeting new people and running into the past (including some people from a decade before, when I was a totally different girl), I was thinking to myself: Do I look okay? Why did I choose to wear this outfit? God, I wish I'd showered before coming out. I wonder if I look different to them. What does this new guy think of me? I wonder what they remember about me. (At this point my mind flashed back to some of my stellar performances when I was staring in the role of The Drunkest Girl in the Room...let me just say, I should've been an award-winner...) This morning it dawned on me how many times I thought about the way I looked, about the words that were coming out of my mouth (oh god, I'd said too much!), about the impressions I was making vs. the impressions I had made in the past. I realized that, after all that I wrote yesterday about judging, I was doing A LOT of judging of myself.
Not cool. Not cool at all. Why was I being so hard on myself? It didn't seem like anyone was judging me. Those I hadn't seen in awhile said, "You look great!" Everyone was happy to engage in playful banter with me. So why I was being so hard on me? Diane Von Furstenberg once said, "The secret is to enjoy being you." Clearly I was not enjoying being me. And clearly this was making me unhappy. And then, this morning, I realized -- in one of those perfect aha! moments -- that I wasn't necessarily unhappy with who I was last night; I was unhappy with who I used to be. I was unhappy with the person I used to be, the only person that people from my past knew me as. I wanted to be the me I am now back then and obviously that wasn't possible. I recalled a quote (sorry, don't know who said it) that I'd copied into a notebook the other day:
Strive to live unrestricted by your past.
Apparently I wasn't doing this so well. I was letting my past -- which I'd neatly folded and shoved under my bed, hoping it would never be seen again -- infiltrate my present. I was letting who I was impact, to a great extent, who I am now. Of course, the past will always be with us. We cannot undo what has been done. We cannot go back in time and make better choices (but how I wish we could!). All we have is now. And, the way I see it, we cannot let the past (especially the bad parts of it) take over. I've worked so hard over the past six months at trying to be a happier, more positive person. I am not about to let one awkward night of revisiting the past take that away from me. I am putting my foot down.
Okay...so...the foot is down. Now what? It's one thing to say I'm not going to let it get to me. It's quite another to actually do something about it. So I've rounded up some pretty awesome quotes about the past and I'm going to use each of them to make this situation better for myself. I bet you've been in a similar situation (or someday might be) and these might help you out too. It's not easy to live in the present. I try. I really, really try, but I'm not always there. Sometimes I get sucked back into the past, caught up in thinking about what might have been or what I think should have been. But, as I'm sure you know, it's pointless. You can't go back. You can only be here now. Focusing on the now is what I'm striving to do, and I really believe I can overcome this little hurdle and come out even stronger because of it.
5 Ways to Battle the Big, Bad Past
#1: Don't Forget to Let Go
Strength is measured not
by holding on, but by letting go.
This was the very first quote I came across and, by far, my favorite. Of course, literal strength can be measured by holding on, but figuratively it takes a lot of strength to let go. For whatever reason, most of us really want to cling to the past. We want to hold on and keep it with us and relive it over and over again in our minds. But that's not healthy. You know that. I know that. We deserve better from ourselves. We deserve to be free, to be unrestricted by what is over and done with. I know how difficult it is to let go. I have spent many a night lying awake revisiting memories and wondering what I could have done or how I can undo what has been done. But there's no going back. I don't think it's healthy to ignore your past or completely forget it, but I do think it's necessary to let it go. Is there a difference between forgetting and letting go? Yes, I think so. You must know what was and do your best to understand it and then you must set it free to be what it is: something you will never get back. That might sound like a downer thing to say, but it is the truth. The past is over. Accept it. Let go. Move on.
#2: Tolerate Its Differences
The past is a foreign country.
They do things differently there.
Leslie Poles Hartley
I remember the past in bits and pieces, as most of us probably do. It's never a clear cut, exact memory. I remember what I want to and I know this. But I have a hard time, especially these days, understanding that life I used to live. How could I keep doing the same things over and over when they kept hurting me? How could I spend so much of my time with people who treated me badly? Why didn't I see how important it was to make a change? How could I have wasted all of those years? I look back and I frown in disappointment. Why was I the way I was? I don't understand (though I'm certainly working on it in therapy!). I don't get it sometimes, as much as I want to. And that's why I love this quote. It's important to understand that we might not always understand. And that's okay. It's okay to not know exactly why things happened the way they did. It's okay to look back at your past and see a foreign land, with signs all written in a language you can't understand. It's not necessarily easy to accept this, but it's important. We don't have to understand everything. We can try (and probably should), but it's okay to recognize that our memories and our interpretations are imperfect.
#3: Embrace the Now
You can clutch the past so tightly
to your chest that it leaves your arms
too full to embrace the present.
Such a beautifully expressive quote, isn't it? We have the ability to restrict our present by clinging too tightly to the past. In my case, I wanted to completely forget the past and pretend like it never happened. I viewed it as this horrible, how-could-you? thing that I wanted to run away from. But, in my vicious attempts to avoid it, I was somehow also clinging to it. I wasn't letting go (see the first quote) and I wasn't really, truly moving on from it. By not dealing with it, I was allowing it to stay with me. By not accepting that it was gone and I couldn't change it, I was, in my own way, clinging desperately to it. And, in doing that, I wasn't leaving enough room for the now. How in the world can I really embrace living in the now if the slightest remembrance of the past sends me into a tailspin of chaotic emotions? I haven't dealt with the past properly and I'm still holding on. I need to let go and make room for the present, for the new and positive me.
#4: Use What You Can
Everything you live through helps
to make you the person you are now.
It's not easy to look back at the bad and find the good. It's so much easier to just write off your bad experiences and hope they don't happen again. But your past -- regardless of how much you want to forget it -- is part of you. You cannot deny that. So, my advice? Use it to your advantage. Take what you can from what you've been through and learn from it. Sure, this isn't easy. Sure, it requires a lot more work than just being thankful you don't have to go back to your past. But it's worth it. You can learn from everything. There is always something new to discover about yourself and understanding why something happened in the past is a great way to do this. You are who you are now because of the past, so make the best of what you went through. I certainly know that I've learned a lot from my mistakes (even if I did have to make them over and over again to finally get it). I wouldn't be who I am if it weren't for the bad times. We can always learn, but that learning process is a choice. You can keep going on, not thinking about what is behind you, or you can take another look and expand your mind by learning from your experiences.
#5: Know Your Limits
You cannot see the past that did not happen
any more than you can foresee the future.
I don't know about you, but I have a special talent for making the past seem a lot better or worse than it was. I romanticize situations. I demonize people. Yes, I know this isn't healthy, but I think to some extent we all alter the past with our current perceptions. And we invent imaginary ideas of what could have happened. It's important not to go back and think about what could have been. When you start to think of "could haves," remember this: It could have happened that way, but it didn't. And, as the quote suggests, you don't know what the outcome of that so-called preferred situation. Everything, I believe, happens for a reason. Sometimes it's not clear what that reason is. Sometimes I don't think ever really becomes clear. But I think there's a reason. And you have to accept that. You have to realize that you should not go back in your mind and create "could have" situations. What happened, happened. There is no undoing it, and it's really not healthy to go back and analyze make believe situations. Know the limits of your past. Know the limits of your mind. Go back and think about the past, learn from it if you can, but don't dwell there, thinking about what could have been.
Well, there you have it -- my two cents on how to deal with a past you'd rather forget about. Though I have to say I would really like to go back to yesterday and have made the choice not to go to the bar, I do think that a cathartic post came out of it. I feel better after writing this. I feel like I have a plan, like I can deal with the past that I've been trying to avoid. It's not going to be painless, I'm sure of that, but I know it will make me a better person. If I deal with my emotions (even the bad ones!) I'll be much better off than if I try to pretend I'm not feeling a certain way. I still feel a tightness in my chest when I think about last night and all of the baggage that comes along with it. I still feel myself catch my breath when I think about what the future could bring, the potential it has to twist and tangle itself around my past. But I think I'm ready to take this on. I'm reading to stop avoiding and start living in the now.
How do YOU handle things about your past that you'd rather avoid? How would you react if you were faced with them?