Holding Onto My Past

I recently had someone close to me criticize me for “holding my past in front of me” and bringing it up as a reminder of all that has happened.  They lectured about how unhealthy it was to dwell on the past and let it consume me.  In truth, though both of our words and actions in the past had tarnished and diminished our relationship over the years until it was a bare shell of the friendship it had previously been, I still sincerely valued their opinion so I took their words to heart and gave them serious contemplation.

In my ongoing journey to improve my mental health, I’ve spent a great deal of time in self-reflection, weighing my own actions and experiences along with the opinions of others.  While I can understand where their criticism was coming from in some ways, I also know what’s best for myself and what I need to do in order to heal and hold myself together.  I admittedly do hold onto the past in a few ways, some as an old habit and some fairly new.  While others may not agree with or understand my reasons why, I believe I hold onto the past for a multitude of good reasons.

I spent much of my life running from the majority of my distant past.  My demons and monsters lived in that portion of my past.  All my traumas and abuses lurked back there.  I avoided going to certain areas and talking to many people, not because they were bad places or people that had done me any harm themselves, but rather just because they had a proximate link to rougher times in my life.  My flight response has always been very high so when things became overwhelming, I had a tendency to flee.  I’ve spent my life hoping to outrun the scarier aspects of my past.

Holding onto that segment of my past is a fairly recent thing for me, an effort to stop running away and get healthier.  I came to the realization that I could never get beyond the traumas of my past until I turned and faced them.  Instead of fleeing from everything, I began to grasp them firmly, attempting to demystify it all and make it less terrifying, to find some sense in it, decipher what there was to learn from each thing, make peace with it and move on.

I am surrounded right now by that segment of my past because I have spent a lifetime running from it and it has finally caught up.  There are so many things in life right now I need to process and come to terms with in order to move on from them.  I have a backlog that goes back decades.  It isn’t that I’m choosing to live in that portion of my past because I refuse to let go of it.  I am surrounded by the past because it has all caught up to me and I must deal with it before I can move forward.  I write often and fervently about this period in my life because I want so desperately to heal from it and take away the power it has over me.

There are other aspects of my past that I cling to tightly, such as cherished memories.  I’m very nostalgic in that way.  I remind myself of the good times to help myself pull through the bad.  Love, especially, is very dear to me.  Even heartache and pain are tempered by the realization that relationships and situations were not always all bad.  Being able to see everything in shades of gray helps to soften my heart so that I do not become bitter and resentful by clinging only to the bad.

Others find it acceptable to hold onto the good memories but expect me to immediately forget the bad, especially if it puts them in a bad light or brings attention to their prior bad deeds.  They would prefer for me to forget their past transgressions rather than hold them accountable.  While I do not cling tightly to the bad in the same way that I cherish the good, I will no longer blindly disregard it, either. If I refuse to acknowledge the past, I cannot prevent history from repeating itself.  Calling attention to repeating patterns is not living in the past.  It is an attempt to avoid living through the same pain repeatedly in the future.

There are a couple sayings that go together wonderfully.  “Hindsight is 20/20” is one.  “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” is the other.  By looking back and learning from my past, I can stop myself from repeatedly being played for a fool.  I spent over a decade playing that part because I refused to learn from the past or listen to my intuition.  I cannot allow myself to fall into that same trap again.  Though I do not blindly mistrust without reason, I am more vigilant today and more willing to learn from my past when situations repeat themselves.

One such example is my ex-fiance, who was a serial cheater.  We argued time and again because the same patterns kept revealing themselves.  He would pull away and become distant, more secretive and sneaky about his online and phone usage.  He would begin withholding intimacy and attention.  His time away from the house would increase, with increasingly outlandish explanations for his tardiness.  I kept wanting to trust him or at least give him the benefit of the doubt.  Yet each time these patterns emerged, it was later revealed he had once again been unfaithful.  Had I learned from my past, I could have saved myself years of heartache.

When I bring up many events from my shared past with others, it is because those issues have not been resolved and I am struggling to understand how they fit all together.  When situations are up in the air and varied emotions are thrown into the mix, I need to put everything out there like pieces of a puzzle and derive their meaning so that a resolution can be achieved, especially if the words and actions of others are contradictory.  I bring up the past because I need to understand the inconsistencies in order to learn from them, make informed decisions and move forward beyond all the confusion.  I do not wish to live in the past nor do I wish to repeat it.  I just need clarity so I can best determine how to proceed.

I truly want to move forward in my life, to be healthier and happier.  Much of my past has haunted me for years and must be dealt with before I can heal from it.  I will continue to cherish the good times in my past because nostalgia softens my heart and makes me a better person.  Other aspects of my past must not be forgotten so that I can learn from them and avoid history from repeating itself.   I do not intend to live my life in my past or to let it consume me, but I refuse to blindly disregard it anymore, either.  I bring up portions of my past with others in order to better understand contradictory situations so that I can make an informed decision about how to best move forward.  While I can appreciate the concern of others that I may be living in the past or letting it consume me, I truly believe that I need to acknowledge and align my past with my present so I can better understand how to live on a healthier path in the future.

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If I Were Gone…

When Suicidal Ideation Takes You to Dark Places

Suicidal ideation differs from being actively suicidal in that there are not any active plans to kill yourself.  You are not intending to take your own life, but rather your mind finds itself contemplating how tired you are of living a life that feels hopeless.  You are exhausted, drained and just want to stop hurting.  You find yourself thinking about death in abstract terms, almost as a sweet release and ponder how the world would be without you.

When I am overwhelmed with anxiety and stress and my depression has spiked, my mind will travel to dark, scary, morbid places.  I find myself pondering how everyone’s lives would be better without me.  I dwell on the fact that if I was to give up tomorrow, I don’t even have family that could make arrangements because all I have in my life is my children who are not old enough to take on such a responsibility or burden.  I have no intention of taking my life, yet there are days that these thoughts consume me.

Today, in the depths of my despair, I began to think about what my obituary might read if I were gone.  In my mind, it would read something like this:

Today, we lost Beth W-.  She was 40 years old.  She had a kind and compassionate heart, always trying to reach out to help others even when she was struggling to stay afloat herself.  She had a great love of animals, nature, children’s cartoons, bad movies, good chocolate and life in general.  She was quick to smile, laugh and give out hugs even though she was always crying inside.  Over the course of her lifetime, she filled many roles including fiance, wife, friend, student, teacher, caregiver and author, though there was no role she cherished more than motherhood.

She passed today after losing her battle with a lifelong invisible illness, complicated by the apathy of others.  She bravely battled both her demons  and a system who saw her as a number instead of a person, doubting what they could not see.  Though she fought long and hard to get help, she met roadblocks at too many turns, eventually being consumed by the fiery wreck of her own life.  She truly wanted to live but was not sure how, or whether life itself truly wanted her in it.

She is survived by amazing children with beautiful hearts and sharp minds who deserved so much better than the mother they received.  She is also survived by a handful of friends, some distant because though they cared, she was too overwhelming to be around for long periods of time and some estranged because she pushed them away so they would not see how broken she truly was.  She is also survived by a best friend who had too much on his own plate to see how her life was crumbling beneath her.  She was preceded in death by both of her parents, who passed to her the legacy of dysfunction and abuse.

There will be no services because she has no family to arrange them.  In lieu of flowers or donations, it is requested that parents hold their children tightly to ensure they know they are loved, that friends make a genuine attempt to listen to one another and that society in general begins to openly talk about mental illness and depression because deaths like these are both tragic and needless.  The world would be such a different place if everyone walked it with compassion and empathy.

As I sat here morbidly imagining what I would wish my obituary would say if I were gone tomorrow, I realized there was neither anyone to write it, nor anyone I was sure would care enough to read it.  My passing would likely go largely unnoticed, my death another number added to the statistics of the mentally ill.

Such is the case with so many people struggling with mental illness today.  We are struggling, stumbling, floundering through life.  We are trying so desperately to live and not give up hope yet we feel all alone in the world.  All too often, we find ourselves drowning in depression, just wanting the pain to end.  Whether or not our situation is truly hopeless, all we can feel inside is despair.

More often than not, even when we reach out for help or assistance, we’re met by roadblocks and red tape.  There are so many hoops to jump through, unknown roads to navigate on our own that it quickly becomes overwhelming, complicated and unbearable.  We are met with doubt and suspicion along the way as if we are fabricating our struggles or looking for attention.  We are treated coldly, without compassion or care, like we are numbers and not people.  We are made to feel like we are inconsequential and somehow less than human by the same groups and agencies we have turned to for help.

We watch as one by one friends and family distance themselves from our “drama” but we don’t fight it because we already feel like a burden.  We begin pushing away those who are left because we come to believe it is only a matter of time before they would leave us, as well, and it seems easier to cut the ties ourselves.  We feel completely alone.  On some level, we feel we deserve it because we are such a mess.  We honestly believe that everyone would be better off without us in their lives.

Meanwhile, we’re drowning.  We’re drowning in hopelessness, helplessness, depression and despair.  We’re struggling harder and harder to find reasons to pull ourselves out of bed, reasons to keep living.  It’s not so much that we want to die that we are just so very tired of living this way.  We already feel dead inside.  Our minds take us to dark places, dwelling on morbid situations that we know are unhealthy yet give us a strange sense of peace.

Deep down, I know I would be missed, at least by my children and by the few friends who have stood by me through my struggles.  It is a fact I cling to on my hardest days, when I feel like I am spiraling down into that hopeless abyss.  No matter how hard I try to fight it, that darkness sometimes seeps into my consciousness and beckons me.  Though I am not actively planning to take my own life, there are days I cannot help but ponder what it would be like if I were gone.

Cutting Free

Today, I cut all ties with someone who once meant a great deal to me.  It isn’t that I didn’t love him as a person.  He claimed even to love me back.

It is that how he treated me was wrong.  It was unacceptable.  He made me repeatedly feel like I was nothing, worthless, like I didn’t matter.

Ironically his last message to me had numerous lines that echoed almost verbatim from the abuses of my childhood, words that still haunted me decades later.

He broke my heart repeatedly and tried to blame me for it because I chose to put my heart out there in the first place.  He felt he bore no responsibility because I kept choosing to care.

I used to believe that love could overcome everything.  What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.  But I know now that sometimes all the love in the world can’t fix some things.

I don’t claim to be perfect in all of this.  I know I’ve made mistakes, too, and I’ve hurt him over the years, as well. He’s been quick to remind me of it all so I’ll never forget.

But I’ve never point blank told him that he meant nothing or just wasn’t worth the effort.

Once a relationship has gotten so bad, so toxic, that I find myself crying and wanting to just give up, give in, it is time to say enough, let go and cut the ties.

No friendship, no love, NOTHING is worth holding onto once it begins hurting me so badly that I begin thinking, even for a moment, about giving up.

Love should never feel that way.  You don’t intentionally try to hurt those you love.  You don’t try to break the people that love you.

Love is supposed to be gentle, kind, compassionate and understanding. Love doesn’t belittle, talk down to you like you’re stupid or damaged or worthless.

Whatever that was, it was not love.  It was not healthy.  It had to go. Before it killed me.  Before I became consumed with thoughts of escaping that pain.

Everything deleted. Everything blocked. Everything done.

No one is worth giving up on life over.

Nobody has the right to come into my life and inflict that much damage and hurt.

Anyone who makes me feel that worthless, that hopeless, that unlovable, that lost, that I find myself longing for the pain to stop for even for a single moment does not deserve a place in my life or in my heart.

When he tore into me tonight, that edge clearly came into view.  It beckoned, whispering those sweet lies about a peaceful release.  Much like he said to me tonight, I, in turn told that edge “Fuck you”.

It cannot have me.

And neither can he.

I’ve cut all ties.

It hurts like hell.

But I’ll survive and I’ll eventually be okay.

Because I’ll still be alive.