I’ve spent years holding onto narratives about myself—the things I’ve done, the person I’ve been, and the people who I’ve shared my life with. I’ve obsessed about how things have unfolded. There are nights where I can’t stop thinking about every little interaction from the day prior.
“Why did I say that?”
“She must think I’m such an idiot!”
“How embarrassing was that interaction?”
Sometimes it feels like these thoughts grip you slowly and tightly, like an invisible snake constricting your airways. The thoughts keep coming, accumulating rapidly until you can’t remember what you were worrying about because you’ve concluded that you’ve fucked up so often you’re just a lost cause.
I’ve learned these thoughts are the beginning of larger stories we tell ourselves. And the irony is that the people who are involved in each individual instance have a different point of view on how the events happened.
Something happens between two people, and there will be two different versions of the same event. You might be able to agree that it was cold outside that day, or about what one of you was wearing, but the way we interpret so much of our world—through body language, the meaning of the words used, the tone of voice—is completely subjective. And to make matters even more complicated, our opinion about said events is subject to our mood, our health, our overall state of mind—all things we humans are really terrible at tuning into.
Everyone has their own interpretation of what happened in their past and how it affects them. Wit & Delight’s December theme is about how we can find more peace in our lives. What I’ve learned about making peace with your past is that it’s up to you to decide what you want to believe.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. We like to stay stuck in the past because want to feel certainty about what happened or didn’t happen. We feel less threatened when we focus on what we know vs. what we don’t know. Having the courage to let go of the past really does mean stepping into an unknown future. And fear of the unknown can be a big reason we hold onto memories and beliefs that might cause us pain.
We can live in these cycles for years, sifting through our internal narratives in our heads. Because all the worrying feels productive. It feels like we’re solving what pains us, even though we’re only stewing in our own opinion of said events.
I’ve learned a lot through releasing these narratives. Today I’m writing about three things I’ve learned from letting go of my past this year, specifically stories that I’d previously clung to tightly as part of my identity.
Example: I’ve held onto the belief that my ADHD means I won’t be able to run the business the way I should. The keyword here is should. I had decided the outcome before even thinking of ways I could make it work DESPITE the struggles that come with ADHD. Yes, having ADHD does make things challenging sometimes, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to run a business.
The fact (my ADHD) is something I can’t change, but my thoughts around it? Those I have control over. And as you can see, the small shift in words (from “I can’t” to “Yes, it might be challenging, BUT”) unlocks a huge opportunity for me to look at my reality with a completely new understanding.
My motto has become this: Yes, it’s going to be hard, but no, it’s not impossible.
Here are three things I’ve learned from making peace with what I cannot change.
1. You have to acknowledge you’ve been reluctant to move forward.
I had always looked at my ADHD as this character flaw, something that I was never going to be able to change about myself. I would stew in the pain and in the difficulty it took for me to do day-to-day tasks. Then I would stew in the shame and feel worse about myself, making it even harder to do the one thing that would make me feel better: getting a few things done, one at a time.
Moving forward is hard when you’re in the thick of feeling sorry for yourself. Acknowledging your reluctance to move forward helps neutralize the feeling, separate yourself from your emotions, and makes it a bit easier to find some self-awareness and clarity.
Moving forward is hard when you’re in the thick of feeling sorry for yourself. Acknowledging your reluctance to move forward helps neutralize the feeling, separate yourself from your emotions, and makes it a bit easier to find some self-awareness and clarity. I believe worry is a tactic we use to avoid looking the truth in the face.
Takeaway: Instead of thinking your circumstance shouldn’t be this way, instead of thinking that it’s not fair, acknowledge your feelings about your situation. It is a surprisingly powerful way to begin to move forward.
2. You have to realize blaming others won’t relieve the pain.
When we think what has happened to us isn’t fair, our next instinct is to find the reason why. Because we’re often less self-aware than we think, we often blame external events or people for our circumstances and choices. We feel that if we can just identify who and what is causing us to suffer, we can find relief. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, even when we do find closure in assigning a source for our pain. I’m not saying this is the case with victims of racial injustice, violence, and abuse. I’m speaking to the moments when our happiness is tied to the behavior of others. When we find ourselves searching for someone else to point a finger at before assessing our own role in the outcome, that’s a good sign we’re looking at the situation with bias.
The problem is that it can feel good to blame others. We can avoid facing consequences and put off more feelings of pain by avoiding what the truth may uncover. The more aware we can become of our own behavior and choices, the more positive our experiences can become. We no longer require people to behave in a certain way in order to find peace and contentment.
Takeaway: Instead of blaming someone else for your past, pain, or being misunderstood, think about the choices you made and how you’d make different ones knowing what you know today.
3. You need to have a reason to move forward.
Personally, I was sick of how I was feeling. Once I realized it was me, and me alone, holding onto a story that was crafted by me, myself, and I, I was ready to be done with my own bullshit.
Wanting to be free from a painful relationship with your past often means the fear of the unknown is more attractive than the security of a hurtful past.
Wanting to be free from a painful relationship with your past often means the fear of the unknown is more attractive than the security of a hurtful past. It takes time to get there but I encourage you to ask yourself this: Are you ready to move on? Are you ready to be free from these thoughts? Are you open to life without this hurtful narrative? If the answer is yes, write down everything you would do with the time you’d get back. With the energy you’d have one you’re free from the weight of worry.
Takeaway: You can’t let go until you are ready to say goodbye to the stories you’ve told yourself. You can’t take them with you.
I know making peace with painful parts of your past is hard. They often feel like old friends. Stewing on them almost always feels somewhat productive—like the worry and angst will somehow force a different outcome. In the spirit of this season of gifting, think of making peace with your past as a gift to yourself (and to others in your life). Be willing to see what life looks like after you let go of the pain and welcome a new beginning (and a lot more happiness) into your life.
Kate is currently learning to play the Ukulele, much to the despair of her husband, kids, and dog. Follow her on Instagram at @witanddelight_.