Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”—George Santayana
Imagine a tape running through your head that has all the things that ever happened to you playing on a continous loop through your mind. Now, imagine that every time you look forward, every thought, idea, word, motion is filtered through that tape, again and again. Every time you think about the future, you have to look through the past.
That’s what happens in our heads, every day, when we remind ourselves that something which happened yesterday is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s what happens when we don’t question what we learned in the past, and drag it forward with unrelenting loyalty into the present. Our future is predicated upon what we do today. When what we do today is founded on what we experienced in the past, rather than on what we learned, we are “doomed” to repeat the experiences without learning the lessons.
What happened in the past, is the past. It’s history. And, it doesn’t need to repeat itself, as long as we take care today to assess what we learned about ourselves and look at the world through our eyes of understanding, rather than our eyes of fear.
Learning from the past is not about what other people did to me. It’s about what I did in response to what other people were doing. My learning comes when I focus on me, not when I focus on someone else, through trying to change them, or deny them from their own truth by trying to force my truth on them.
Awakening to reality today, sets me free of yesterday
When I awoke from the nightmare of an abusive relationship to the reality of my life the day the police walked in and arrested my abuser, I had to accept that what was real that morning was my life in that instant — it wasn’t my life forever more — it was simply my life in that moment. Now, there wasn’t an awful lot right with my life — but I was alive — and, being alive meant I knew I would be able to heal, to make changes, to take steps forward that would create the life of my dreams, as long as I didn’t drag the mistakes of the past with me and as long as I didn’t hold him accountable for my life. Yes, he had done many things that were wrong — he is/was accountable for those things. But, if I kept repeating the things he had done, how he had harmed me, hurt me, abused me, I was holding myself tied to him. He was gone. I needed to keep him gone and the best way to do that was to turn up for me, in all my beauty, pain, sorrow, warts and all.
Letting go of the past is challenging. Our minds are conditioned to believe the voice of fear that keeps whispering — Be careful. Don’t do that. Don’t move. Watch out! You’re too hurt to move forward. Look what happened the last time you did that, trusted someone, went there, said that….
The truth is, if the past didn’t kill you in its passing, it can’t kill you today. The past has no power to hurt you. But it can haunt you, because keeping it alive through memory can cause you pain today.
I create what I fear
When I fear the past, I recreate it, every day, in my mind. If anyone has read or watched The Secret, they’ll understand the truth of this statement. If you keep your thoughts focused on replaying what happened in the past, those will be the thoughts you surround yourself with, every day. And those thoughts will create the life you see in your head.
When I was set free from that relationship, almost four years ago, I had to make a choice. Do I want the past to become my future? Do I want to carry the weight of what happened to me with me as I healed? The answer was NO!
I wanted to live the life of my dreams. I’d just come through my worst nightmare. Why repeat it?
To ensure I didn’t repeat it, I had to look at what happened to me, within me, by me, and let go of what he did. I had to hold myself accountable for every action, step, idea, thought I had had that created the devastation that was in my life that morning when I was set free.
In holding myself 100% accountable for everything I had done and for all that my life had become, I gave myself the grace and power to be accountable for 100% of what I did from that moment forward.
Who needs a magic wand when there’s tender loving care?
Don’t get me wrong, there was no magic wand that was going to make my life “all right” over night. I was psychologically bruised and battered. I was homeless. Penniless. Jobless. I needed time to heal. To soothe my wounded soul and nurture my spirit back to wellbeing. I needed to treat myself with tender loving care.
I was very fortunate. I had a sister who, along with her husband, gave me a safe and welcoming place to stay. They were my angels in those first months of recovery. They gave me a place to catch my breath so that I could stabilize myself enough to begin to take one step forward every day.
Look at Joe Simpson, who wrote Into the Void. He broke his leg during the descent of a mountain in Peru. While navigating his way off the mountain in a snowstorm, he fell into a crevasse and spent a night crying in despair, believing he was dead. Finally, he realized that was not the death he was meant to have. If he was to die, he wanted to go out fighting. So, he took action. He started maneuvering his way off the ledge he’d landed on when he fell into the crevasse, onto another ledge he saw in the distance. He spent four days fighting for his life, crawling his way out of that glacier, and lived to tell the tale.
When the sociopath was arrested and I awoke to freedom, my life felt pretty black. But, in the distance, I spied a tiny glimmer of light. I started moving towards it. I kept moving. I kept taking one step forward, every single day, to ensure I healed the wounds and didn’t let the past fester in my veins. I took care every day to count my blessings and I took care of me — tenderly, gently — I had been abused. I did not need my own voice to add to the damage. I needed my voice to encourage me, support me, love me.
I turned up for me
Four years later, I continue to take care of myself with tender loving care. I deserve it.
There is no sense in telling myself that I will never heal. Or, I will never get over him, or forgive myself, or him, or anyone else for that matter who has ever harmed me. There is no sense in holding my pain in place like a butterfly on a mat. When I do that, no matter how far I extend my wings, they will never fly, for they will be pinnioned beneath the glass, frozen in time.
What keeps you down?
What are you holding onto from the past as a truth today? Is it “true,” or is it something you believe based on what happened back then that you keep replaying in your mind believing if you do, it won’t happen again? There are no guarantees in life, but you can be assured if you keep fearing the light, you will never step out of the shadows of the past.
Ask yourself, can what happened then be duplicated exactly the same way today? Is that actually possible? Is that what I want in my life today? Is that who I am? Do I know less about myself today than I did when I met him, or do I know more? Do I love myself more or less today than I did back then?
Life is full of change. It’s constant. Continuous. Fluid. This page, blank a moment ago, is now filled with letters that make up words. It has changed in the time it’s taken me to write it.
Change is here to stay
When we hold onto the past, we are resisting change. When we resist change, we resist living freely.
Embrace your life today. In this moment. Exactly the way it is. Love yourself today. In this moment. Exactly the way you are. Let the past go, sweep away regret and doubt and fear and anger and step into the freedom of living this moment without the fear that what once was has to be again.
It doesn’t have to be! It’s your choice!
Just like Mickey, pieces of me were chipped away and my mind was being manipulated by my ex. He was a master at making me feel like I was someone special and it was my own ego that wanted this for myself. His cheating and money spending habits (of money I made) did cause me to have a nervous breakdown. I think it was the fact that he made me feel so important, I was really surprised when his ugliness revealed itself. It was such a shock because he seemed so perfect at the time. In the beginning, he made me feel sorry for him somehow, his wife left him and their son and took off to go drinking in the bars and run around with men. This turned out to be a lie and he did a good job exploiting her whenever he could. He was so convincing at times, it made me crazy. 2 yrs of counseling and a good lawyer sent him packing and now I am free 4 yrs now but he still uses my 20 yr old son (his stepson) as a tool to get to me. In fact, he and my other sociopathic ex have paired up together to try to get even….how’s that one for a laugh?
M. L. Gallagher, I always like what you have to say. You are so encouraging and that is what we need more of. I can also relate to everyone who has responded especially Mickey. I don’t know why some of us are more prone to fall victim to this type of personality but I imagine it is a combination of a lot of things. For all the different reasons that bring us to these relationships the outcomes seem all to familiar. We put up with la lot of lying, conning, humiliation, and more. We seem to have a very high threshold for bullshit and we need to learn not to. It is amazing the things I put up with for a little bit of love, affection, attention, etc. But you know what, I can get that from someone else. Someone who is emotionally healthy. And even if I don’t, I can give it to people who will really appreciate it and not turn it against me. I think that is one of he cruelest tricks of a sociopath. You can give them all the love you have, every drop of blood you have and they will throw it in your face and accuse you of this and that. You know what I’m talking about. When I met my abuser, he led me to believe he had cancer and he was an excellent actor. I think he was better than some of he actors we see on TV. He really had me fooled. He had everyone fooled, even his family. But even after I found out he lied about it, I still wanted him back. Things didn’t get better, he kept his lies going, just different ones. I tried to break up with him 100 times and 100 times I would take him back or call him back. I went to psychiatrists, therapists, groups, read books, all of that didn’t work. It’s like trying to quit a bad habit. I tried to quit smoking once. I would throw my cigarettes away only to wake up the next morning and dig them out of the dumpster. It was the same way with him. I knew he was bad for me but I was addicted. My daughter has a dog that eats it’s own poop sometimes and I think that that is what I did when I would go back to him. I’m not trying to be mean to myself but really sometimes I don’t understand my own behavior of why I would go back to someone who clearly does not care, uses and abuses me… I got rid of my phone and filtered him out of my email. Drastic times call for drastic measures. When I think I miss him, I know that my brain is playing tricks on me and I have to remember all the bullshit and ask myself is that what I want to eat for the rest of my life. I think not. I just need to keep reminding myself of this and the fact that I am better off emotionally, physically, financially and every other way Without him. He is a huge liability not an asset to me.