One of the biggest problems that has plagued me in life is the inability to let things go. This has been a part of my personality and thought process for as long as I can remember. Especially when it comes to stressful events, my mind just keeps returning to them over and over.
For example, my wife, Jenny, and I walk our dog most evenings. One day a couple of weeks back, we were walking along and I put my hand to my face as if in pain. Jenny asked me what was wrong. I told her I had just thought about a time about five years earlier when I told a man I thought he was lying to me, and then later found out he was telling the truth. I had apologized to the man (a stranger at a racquetball court), but it was awkward. I had felt like a fool.
Why did I think about that moment? Why does it still bother me so much to think about that moment? When I do think of it, I feel the same feelings of shame and embarrassment I felt in the moment itself. Why?
I don’t have answers to these questions. But this is how my mind works. It holds on to moments, and likes to revisit them. I wish I could say my mind holds onto an equal number of positive moments, but while there are a few, it seems to mostly prefer the shitty ones. Thanks, brain. You’re a pal.
This is a problem, for sure, but one I don’t know how to combat. There are people who hold onto their pain because they want it to define them. It is their pain, and they are proud of it. They like to hold it out and say “This hurts me! This is what I live with every day! This defines me!” I am not one of those people. When it comes to pain, I try to move past it. I would like to feel that I am a person who learns from the past, and tries to build themselves every day to be a better person, rather than one who clings to an idea of “who they are” to remain stagnant. The person I am today hardly resembles the person I was even a decade ago.
And yet, somewhere inside, my mind holds onto this stuff. Minor things like the example above, and major ones as well. For instance, I was relentlessly bullied when I was a young child. I tried to fight back, sometimes in highly ineffective ways. The fear, shame, paranoia, and self-esteem issues that came with those events float into my mind unbidden at times, just to remind me that they’re still in there.
I’d like to keep my past memories, but somehow separate them from the feelings… not the knowledge of the feelings, but the ACTUAL feeling. I don’t want to relive these events, in other words. I don’t want to carry them around with me all the time. They don’t define me, but they do wear on me.