I once heard that you are over your past when you can talk about it without significant feelings attached to it. I’ve learned that is not true, as I am the queen of dissociation.
Years ago, a young teen boy revealed to me through text that my now ex-husband had done something sexual with him. I confronted my ex and as it goes with all compulsive liars, he made an excuse- a very feeble, weak excuse. The next day while at work, my then husband called me and told me his version of the story, which was still bad enough for me to file for divorce. As I hung up, I shut my office door and laid in the fetal position and bawled… for five minutes only. I clearly remember standing over my body telling myself that I had to be strong. I had work to do, a child to raise, and college to finish- no time for mourning a loss. I went totally numb of feeling. I was a walking shell of a human. Perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be that I was impervious rock that had the miraculous ability to move. I turned to the thing I always turned to when life gets crappy: men. I was seeing another man within a week of learning my husband molested someone’s child. Wow- I was horrible. My ex and I split the time with our son 50/50 for two reasons: 1.) I couldn’t believe he would do something to my son (I now have my doubts with a clear mind) and 2.) the reason that made me feel guilty… I got alot done on my three days of not having my son there. I didn’t have to fake smile either. At those times, I focused on school work, housework, and an occasional date. At that time, I told myself that it was so I could focus more on him when he was around, but really how much emotional focus can a stone statue give to a child? He was confused and upset, and even though my body was present, my heart had stopped pumping. I didn’t realize he was going through a loss too. I had dissociated from everything and was incredibly selfish. I wish I knew then what I know now. I know if this was on Facebook, people would have a field day with how I responded. “How could you be so blind?! You are a terrible parent to leave your son in that questionable situation! You don’t deserve to have children! Your job is to keep him safe!” Hah- you can’t tell me anything I haven’t already put myself down for. BUT in addition to putting myself down, I have also put it behind me.
Hurtful truth: I can’t change the past, but I can change the future.
This thought hurts because when you have regrets, realizing you can’t change the past requires attention. You pay tribute to your mistakes- think about them, list them out, even dwell on them. They must be faced and mourned. You will cry, and it will get ugly; however, with that pain and release comes peace. That is when you choose to accept that you can’t change what you’ve already done (or happened to you). Once you accept that you can’t change the past, you have to consciously stop your thoughts of regret for a while. You believe you deserve to feel like crap because they were stupid mistakes, but that time is no more. You have grieved the mistakes, the losses, the pain… and it is time to move on. The question changes from, “what did I do wrong” to “what can I do with my past to bring about positive change?” Notice how it’s not about forgetting the past. It’s about learning to integrate the struggles of the past into positives of the future. It’s about accepting what you can’t change and changing what you can. I can’t change that my ex-husband’s decisions hurt a lot of people. I can’t change that he tells people I cheated on him. It’s not my job to make sure his victim(s?) doesn’t suffer. It’s not my job to tell everyone that he was a compulsive liar and pedophile, which has been hard for me and of course, is another story. Some things have to be let go, while others can be taken on.
I attend graduate school now to get a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Part of me wanted to understand how he could do such unspeakable things while another part of me wanted to know how to help others. When I began graduate school, I knew I wanted to work with adults who had been sexually abused as children and never dealt with it. The thought of the boy burying those events hurt my heart (when I finally began feeling again). My ex said he had been through things as a child (true? Who knows), so knowing that the trauma of his childhood affected him as an adult made me want something better for anyone I could reach… and now I do. A local community agency advertised a job working with adult victims of child sexual abuse. Through a very interesting turn of events (it truly couldn’t have been a better situation), I got the job. So even though I can’t do anything about my ex, I now have the privilege of sitting with the broken as they face things they have pushed down for decades. So, to end this with a few favorite quotes:
“A great future does not require a great past.”
“I’m not interested in whether you’ve stood with the great. I’m interested in whether you’ve sat with the broken.”