It seems we are all encouraged to move on from our past, especially when it brings us pain. In our quickly changing lives, it is almost necessary to salvage the most valuable memories and lessons from a time or event and leave the rest, just as we would flee from a fire with our most precious belongings.
Though there are times I think to the past, cherish old memories, and remember where I come from, most of my time is spent preoccupied with the present and with what’s to come. As well as this seems to work for the purposes of happiness and survival, what happens when we are forced to revisit an unpleasant past which we have already moved on from?
In the past month, I had a surprising influx of revisits to challenging places in my personal history. Each of these situations placed me face to face with a unique, uncomfortable failure from long before. Each circumstance presented a unique opportunity for me to learn.
The First Ghost: Finding take-aways.
The first came via phone call. While in Los Angeles, I broke my nose pretty badly during a soccer game and suddenly was inundated with bills from a hospital, doctors, anesthesiologists, and a surgical center. At the time I was stressed with the injury itself, the bills, and having to take time away from work. Eventually, with some help, everything was paid off. At least I thought it was until the phone rang last month (over 3 years later), with a call from the surgical center which claimed an unpaid balance. In one swift phone call, I was taken back to that time when I felt so tense, scared, and even angry. As I sorted through old checkbooks and bank records, I landed right there in the middle of all that turmoil. If you ever want to travel back in time, just look at your financial records, they paint a vivid picture. At the time I downplayed the struggle to make ends meet to my parents, but they still helped me tremendously with medical bills. Now I had to ask for their help with a lot more honesty about the details of that time so that we could find the correct payment records to deal with this new situation.
It has been a humbling experience traveling back to that time, but coming out of it has been so valuable, and picking out exactly why it has been valuable is important to feeling okay about the whole thing.
3 GOOD THINGS: What are the three bet lessons I learned or took from this experience?
In my case: 1. I learned to keep organized records of finances, especially for big expenses. 2. I learned the value of being open and completely honest with loved ones, even when I fear that honesty will be a burden. People do better with the whole picture. 3. I remember the feeling of being completely broke and know that I need to both ensure that I safeguard myself against it for the future and have compassion for those in similar situations.
The Second Ghost: Writing my own story.
The next blast from the past came when I visited my hometown. As part of a current project, I needed to visit my old college stomping grounds and meet with coaches who I had many unresolved feelings towards. I don’t know what I expected. Probably a little bit of a look-at-me-now type thing. Somehow part of me still had something to prove to them. My visit to campus and our meeting was actually a bit of a let down in its normalcy. Though many things changed, it still fit like a glove, and my time with the people whose memories haunted me for years was just pretty pleasant.
For this time in my past, because it meant and still means so much to me, I choose the personal narrative strategy for coming to grips with the past.
PERSONAL NARRATIVE: Write down everything (emotions, meaning, deepest thoughts) about and emotional experience that has been affecting your life. Do this four days in a row for at least 20 minutes continuously. According to Cal Berkeley’s Science of Happiness course, this is helpful because you are able to write your own story rather than looking as a passive bystander. Studies have shown mental and physical health benefits as a result to this approach compared to a control.
The Third Ghost: Getting to the bottom of this!
The third encounter with my past was from a much more recent history, and is honestly the only one that’s been enjoyable working through. This one involves a summer romance of sorts. I dated someone for a few weeks until he fell of the face of the Earth. We saw each other most days and things were moving right along until one day he just stopped calling and answering texts. I was busy and mostly concluded that our relationship had just run its course and that was it. However his not telling me anything left it puzzling to me because he never was that way before. Randomly, he ended up playing soccer with me on an indoor team and we had the chance to talk last week. This time I jumped at my chance to trudge through the past, cold-case files style.
PLAYING DETECTIVE: Look at facts and ask all the questions. Leave nothing unstated. Walk thoroughly through the who, what, when, where, how, and most importantly why. Staying objective is key. At this point, I didn’t care too much about any prospect of a future relationship with him nor did I care whether or not he wanted to answer questions. I knew i needed information and was super interested in figuring this whole thing out. It worked out pretty well, though I suspect there will always be somethings that I never know.
Past failures can be humbling and painful, but examining them will always lead to new insight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for being so stupid in the past, but the truth is that the only reason I knew how dumb I was is that I learned from the mistakes. Today I am grateful for my mistakes and the opportunity to learn from them, and I’m proud of my recoveries from them all.