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.