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Trapped in the Past. Choosing to Move On.

9 July 2014

I had a conversation yesterday with someone I care deeply about who is making bad professional choices, I think. Choices rooting in feeling disrespected that are seemingly guaranteed to ensure that the person ends up in future positions where they will again feel disrespected. And the cycle repeats. There’s a deep mistrust of anyone with authority that verges, sometimes, on paranoia. And this person comes by it honestly. As a child, people who should have done better treated this person very badly. Nevertheless, those same people placed my friend in a position of high privilege. Which my friend seems intent on squandering.

It makes me sad. But I recognize there’s nothing I can do about it. I know what it’s like to be resentful and angry. I know what it’s like to have that rage in constant boil underneath. I know the toxicity and feedback loops of depression and self-sabotage. I’ve participated in all of them. I’ve deliberately fueled them with alcohol and arrogance. I’ve chosen to hurt myself – emotionally, physically, psychically, professionally – rather than to risk healing. And yes, healing is a risk. I’m still not entirely sure how to properly communicate it.

Healing means accepting what has happened to us. It means finding out own part in it. It means taking responsibility for the ways we’ve chosen to participate in our own misfortunes. It means abandoning fantasies of revenge and restitution. Injuries occurred. They cannot be undone. We cannot be restored to whatever state we might have inhabited if those harms had never happened. What ever state we imagine we might inhabit. Healing means giving up things which often comfort us.

As a child, I was the victim of disruptive upheavals. Cruelties. Abandonment. As a young man, I suffered from mental illnesses. These are real injuries that I did not deserve to suffer. But they came upon me regardless. Some perpetrated by people, some by genetics. They are facts. Healing does not mean I have to deny them.

I spent several years in open indulgence of these injustices. I was mistreated and depressed. I didn’t deserve what happened to me. And so I used them to excuse my own indolence. My failure to advance in my education and my life. I sat on my own privilege, which allowed me to refuse to work. To refuse to fit in. And I was miserably unhappy, and constantly angry. I sabotaged the things that I most wanted in the world: affection, family, connection. Over and again I made choices that – though I couldn’t see it at the time – undermined the incredible opportunities my talents and my privileges had afforded me.

I know that will alone cannot conquer depression. It did not conquer mine. I know even better that will alone cannot conquer alcoholism. Every effort of will I made at those black gates was crushed like an orange under a train. Similarly, I think that will cannot overcome the miseries of the past, the injustices we’ve suffered; I, at least, could not simply choose to forget or ignore the many ways I’d been made a victim of other people’s acts and negligences. It is my opinion that fighting these things leads only to more anger, and more misery.

But that doesn’t mean we have to give up hope for healing. I think first and foremost, we need – I needed – to recognize that healing hurts. I went through more pain in the healing process than I did from the initial insults when it came to things like my parent’s divorce, my father’s abandonment. As a child, I instinctually repressed pain to survive. As a young man, I drank to obliterate it. As an adult, I had to experience every agonizing moment of it in order to move through it.

While force of will was insufficient for me to confront and conquer the challenges I found myself facing, surrender and acceptance allowed me to release them. While I fought the old injuries, I found myself bound to them, intimately. A battle at close quarters; constant entanglement. This is true for me for both depression and alcoholism. This is true for me for my primordial anguish as well. As long as I choose to struggle, I choose to remain cloaked in the origin of my pain and rage and indignance.

And while will cannot relieve me of these challenges, willingness is required. I must be willing to look at my own struggle and effort in a new way. I must be willing to see that battling, resentment, indignation, and righteousness – no matter how well justified – are binding me inexorably to the things that I most wish to be free of. I must be willing to abandon my desire for revenge (usually cloaked in some magisterial costume of “justice”), and look instead to the ways that I ensure I am not making the progress I want to make.

People and things outside my control harmed me, and badly so, once. I spent a couple of decades in simmering resentment, and hatred, and righteous rage for how I’d been done so wrongly. The sickness of that eventually overwhelmed me. I had to lose a lot of things I cared about before it did. But finally, the sickness became unendurable in its own. I became willing to try a new way. A way of relenting. A way of releasing.

There are battles to be fought in this world. And some of them I will stand in and fight for. But I cannot fight myself any longer. And that’s what we do, I think, when we remain entangled in our pasts. Wrestling phantoms with our own faces. I cannot fight my disease. I cannot fight my history. I do not close the door on my past. It informs my present, it informs my self. I chose for a long time to carry a burden that was never really mine. And letting it down was agony. But I walk upright now.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    9 July 2014 13:09

    Beautiful post. Thank you. I don’t know when I have read such a clear, straightforward, honest, and yet elegant description of both the bondage of our pasts and the process of becoming free from it. You are becoming quite a writer.

  2. 10 July 2014 07:00

    As someone who is struggling with depression and the miasma of suffering in the hands of other people, I just want to say thank you for writing so touching and so terrifyingly honest. Thank you.

  3. Syd permalink
    10 July 2014 09:19

    Wonderfully expressed. The damage done in the past has certainly affected my life. But, like you, I have learned that it doesn’t define who I am in the present. I am aware of it and my shortcomings, but I have moved on so much in recovery.

  4. Kathy permalink
    13 July 2014 16:32

    You really are a gifted writer! I am glad you are out there putting into words the thoughts and feelings that I just can’t quite pull together.

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