Going Backwards Can Move You Forward in Life
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! has made it onto my site again. (If you haven’t read the profoundness of Dr. Seuss, I highly recommend it.)
As he writes in one of his most famous books:
“When you’re in a Slump,Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
you’re not in for much fun.
is not easily done.”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Drawing close to the age of forty-one this year, and realizing that, God willing, I’m probably halfway or almost halfway through my life, it’s easy to conclude that I’ve had my fair share of slumps.
My father (ever the pessimist) told me once, “If you think about it, life really isn’t anything but a series of crises with some good stuff sprinkled in.”
Imagine what it’s like to grow up the child of a parent who is extremely negative and pessimistic about life.
Now imagine having two parents like that.
This was my childhood.
The other day I got to thinking about whether or not I heard praise in my childhood, and the honest truth is, I can’t think of a single time either of my parents praised me.
I’m sure they did at some point. I’d probably have an easier time remembering, if not for all those crises.
My parents have grown. They were young when they had me, and both of them came from pretty rough backgrounds themselves.
Hurt people hurt people. It’s true.
Consequently, I repeated many of their same mistakes with my own children. But by the Grace of God, I was able to recognize it sooner, turn an about face, and most importantly, ask forgiveness.
Asking forgiveness might be the single greatest give we ever give ourselves.
That’s right. I said ourselves. Most people think forgiveness rescues someone else, namely the person or people who we hurt or who hurt us.
And I agree that it does.
But the release we get from forgiving and truly letting go of an offense? Priceless. Can’t be beat.
So much room in our head and heart is cleared when we forgive, space that makes room to create new, more positive memories.
According to the Harvard Gazette, most of us spend almost HALF the time thinking of stuff that isn’t happening in the present–almost half! That’s insane!
I was one of those people.
I used to constantly dwell on the past: what was, what could have been, what should have been.
All my mistakes used to play in my head like a DVD on repeat.
It nearly destroyed my life because, in an attempt to stop the past from spinning around inside my head, I used alcohol and food as a distraction and and escape.
I knew I needed help, and thank God, I found it.
First, I hit my kneeds and prayed.
Then, I sought out trusted friends I could confide in. I also researched every blog, podcast, sermon and YouTube video I could find.
I realized I was not alone.
Finally, I began to understand that this journey I’m on, life, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
I was not the person I was in childhood, I was not Me the Teenager, and I wasn’t even the wife, mom and woman I was a decade or two ago.
Every day we have the chance to renew our spirits and try again.
It has taken years–YEARS–to learn all the techniques I’ve studied so that I can turn to my Creator and not food and alcohol to heal.
I practice these techniques daily. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, I fail.
The journey is the focus. The destination isn’t even on my radar.
Where I’ll land is determined by both the universe and my daily decisions. There are many circumstances we have little control over.
Even my mind is out of my control, the subconscious part of it, anyway. When an unwanted thought hits, I have to use ninja discipline to get my head back in line.
It is an all day, every day, 24/7 affair.
Changing your mindset will not happen overnight.
And a fresh mind won’t begin to take shape until you forgive.
Sometimes you have to go back before you can move forward.
After years of being in a slump, I learned that in order to get un-slumped, I had to “return” to my childhood and “fix” what was broken.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Back to the Future.
There is no time travel and no way to physically return to our childhoods. (And I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want to go back and do any of it over again, especially junior high!)
But in my mind, I knew I needed to return to some of those more painful moments and use a process called reframing to change my outlook on those memories.
frame or express (words or a concept or plan) differentlyOxford Dictionary
I use reframing sparingly because there is such a thing as toxic positivity and it runs rampant in Christian circles, especially among women.
I’m not a fan of this I’m good, life is good, we’re all good, garbage that has seeped into our religion. But that’s a blog post for another day.
When I talk about reframing, I simply mean that I draw from the negative experience something that can be used for good.
For example, when I was in the third grade, I went to a Friday night football game with my best friend.
That wasn’t something I did all the time; my father hated sports and neither my brother nor I ever played a sport. (Probably why I married a sports-loving former quarterback and star pitcher. I always felt so left out.)
I will never forget the next day, riding somewhere in the car with my dad, carrying on and on about the night before because it was homecoming in our town and the girls on the court, dressed in beautiful gowns, had sashayed across the field like princesses, the queen crowned with a sparkling tiara.
A perfect night for a girlie-girl like me.
I told my dad, quite confidently, mind you, “When I’m in high school, I’ll be homecoming queen.”
Without a second thought he said, “No, you won’t. That will go to someone prettier and richer.”
Can you imagine for a moment my eight-year-old little face? How the beaming smile I had dropped? It’s something I’ve pictured in my life over and over again.
Because that was not an isolated incident, but pretty par for the course at my house, I internalized that behavior and carried criticism into my marriage and parenting.
Thankfully, my husband was raised completely different (not perfect, but different), and he lovingly pointed out one day that the world was going to eat our children alive and there was no reason I had to do it first.
“But if I tell them first then they won’t be hurt!” I argued.
“You’re wrong,” he said. “They’ll be hurt more.”
A lightbulb went off in my head after that conversation and I learned two things:
First, it is my job as a mama to be the safe place my babies can fall.
Second, my father was doing the best he could with what he knew. Just like me.
I dug deep into that memory, saw my dad trying to protect me instead of trying to hurt me, and the incident from my childhood was completely reframed. *
Reframing also looks like this: I parented myself by reliving the incident.
But this time, I said what my father should have said, “You can be homecoming queen, Toni. You sure can.”
When I healed myself from that particular moment in childhood, I started doing it every time an ugly memory popped into my head.
Was it hard work? Absolutely, but over time, it became much easier.
More important than reframing my own memories, however, was asking forgiveness for the times I’d hurt my husband and children.
When I saw how willing they were to forgive me, I found no problem asking forgiveness from anyone I hurt, any time I hurt them.
Asking forgiveness became a balm to my soul, a way to lift my prideful heart off the pedestal of human ego and to place it inside a soft velvety box of humility.
We practice self-care when we forgive.
Hear me out, this may seem impossible to do. Some of us have been deeply, horrifically hurt by people who were supposed to love and care for us.
Ironically, it was my mother, so traumatically abused by her own parents that she carried deep, gushing wounds into her marriage and parenting, who lived out this kind of forgiveness best for me as I watched her forgive her father for what he stole from her during her entire childhood.
“It took me years to realize my father was probably very hurt and abused when he was a child,” she later told me.
Which leaves me with this: if you don’t revisit those childhood issues, reframe them and heal, you will inevitably pass them on to the next generation, thus ensuring the vicious cycle continues.
It’s hard work, my friends, life, the journey.
But we can travel together and lift the load for each other.
How have you learned to deal with bad memories? Comment below or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!
*There are some memories that are too painful to bear alone. Please seek professional help. I am not a licensed counselor or therapist and am not giving medical advice. Visit Psychology Today for a list of licensed therapists in the United States.