The many ancient mystics and modern day gurus will teach you to be in the present and not dwell in the past or look to the future. Even modern day psychologists realize that bringing their patients back to look at past traumas only serves to re-traumatize and not necessarily heal them. The past has the power to heal your heart.
But I say, to learn and grow into the beings we are here to become, looking at the past events is necessary. We do this to dissect the stories that become engrained in our psyche. It’s how you look at your past that makes the difference.
If there were one thing I could tell my younger married self, it would be to trust my red flags. Listen to what your body is telling you and then act to protect yourself at all costs. Because it was at the very beginning that I saw my impending divorce and I didn’t even know it.
There was the Friday night my ex decided to review some “floor plans” of his then colleague. He was in real estate development. She was attractive and very similar to me. The only difference was that I was at home in the first month of nursing, our newborn, recovering from a traumatic birth and a cesarean section. There was no family around to help me or assist in any way. So, I relied on my ex to take an interest and at least come home after work. But the quick visit to check out her floor plans and promise to be back at 9:30 pm turned into him rolling in at 1 am. I felt shattered.
We argued. There was no remorse for leaving me waiting or hurting my feelings or betraying our sacred bond. Could I have married such an insensitive, narcissistic misogynistic man? I refused to believe it. I shut it down. He blamed me for being so needy and even made excuses for him. He was tired; he worked so hard, he deserved to go out. So what if he fell asleep on her couch like he said he did. I believed him. He is my husband, after all.
My body was telling a different story. Like I had been sucker punched in the stomach, my whole body ached with the effects of heartbreak. I cried myself to sleep, feeling even more alone than ever.
It was years later, in a therapy session, where I received the greatest gift. My therapist said, “all you have to take is a 2-degree shift from your present reality”. The ability to see a situation from a different point of view can change everything.
I have found that the key to looking at the past without reliving the trauma is to remove yourself from the story altogether. Now when I retell that story, I pretend I’m the big sister listening to my little sister who is asking for advice. By removing myself as the main character in that story, I can observe it from a distance, without feeling the feelings I had when I was in it. That’s the 2-degree shift.
Now, when I look at that story from the Big Sister point of view, I can give objective advice. Here’s what I would say to my little sister with the newborn baby and insensitive narcissist husband. First, I would support her any way I could and tell her to start thinking about her needs first. I would encourage her to ramp up her self-care. Go for a massage, get a baby sitter, have someone come in to cook for her and take the baby off her hands for a few hours of rest each day. Then I would encourage her to rethink what she wants in her partner.
Since she is at the beginning of her marriage, what does it look like, how is she going to be in the partnership, and what does she expect from her partner. I would encourage her to write it down and then discuss it with her partner to make sure that he is on the same page. In essence, the goals of each partner/parent must be the same for the marriage to flourish. I didn’t know this then. We didn’t have any of those discussions as the marriage progressed. Would it have changed things later? Probably not. But that’s not the point of the magic of hindsight.
We have to screw up to learn and grow.
Our mistakes are where the learning is, not in the being right and striving for that elusive perfection that never exists.
If only I had the wisdom that I do now. But that’s what hindsight is all about; seeing where it went wrong for you to make different choices and not repeat the mistakes. Right?
I know that, for where I was then, I would have picked the same kind of partner- selfish, detached, inconsiderate, needy, egotistical, misogynistic. Why? Because that is what I was to myself then. Yes, you read that right. All of the characteristics that my ex had were a reflection of what I was on some level. Perhaps not as overt in the way he presented these traits, but they were there because I accepted them to some degree and therefore I was them as well. It was easy then to point the finger at the offender. But at the end of the day, I attracted that type of man into my life. “Well, you picked him,” said my 3rd Lawyer. This phrase echoes in my mind every time I recall a scene in my story.
When you can see your past as a story; a cautionary tale; a lesson to be learned, then you can look at it with different eyes. From the eyes of a big sister. From that 2 degrees shift. The mystics and gurus are still correct. It’s never a good thing to dwell in the past. But it is essential to reassess the past with the eyes of an observer for us to learn from our mistakes and transform into the beautiful, loving, caring beings we are striving to be now.