When Living in the Past Is Your Only Sanctuary

by Bill Brenner on December 13, 2012

I had coffee with a friend and former coworker recently, and we reminisced about some of the colorful characters we’ve worked with. One person we particularly admired has suffered through a life of depression, fear and anxiety and is mostly a recluse these days.

Mood music:


When this person does surface to talk to someone, the topic is always the old days. He carefully avoids the present because it’s so painful. Talking about the past is safer. We’ve been there. There are no strangers to deal with, no surprises. The past is etched in stone. It’s a safe cave you can hide in without worrying about the walls crashing in.

I understand why people with fear and anxiety hide in the past, because I used to do it all the time when my demons were getting the better of me.

I’ve always been a history buff, and I’ve read a ton of books on the subject, though lately I’ve been reading more music-related books. My interest is partly because I need lessons on how people in the past lived right and wrong. I want to read about the strengths someone used to make a mark on the ages and try incorporating some of that into my life.

But I’ll be honest: Those history books were a big, thick blanket I could hide under. Instead of trying to deal with the present, I’d loiter in FDR’s second-floor study in the White House (today’s Yellow Oval Room). I’d hang out in the smoke-filled rooms of Capitol Hill, enjoying a smoke of my own and watching the masters make grand bargains.

I did something similar by hiding in movies. By watching a Star Trek film, I could witness some adventure without getting shot or stabbed in the real world.

I think one of the reasons I don’t read quite as much history or watch as many science fiction films anymore is that I beat the fear and anxiety. I still have moments of anxiety, but not the fearful variety. With that fear gone, I’m more comfortable hanging out in the present and even participating in it. Good thing, too, because my work and family life leaves little time for the old ways.

True, reading a rock star biography deals with the past, too, but I also get a lot of information about how favorite songs I listen to today came about. Since I’m playing guitar again, I enjoy them even more.

I also go back to the history books on occasion. The difference is that I’m not afraid to leave the past when reading time is done. In fact, I’m usually eager to return to the present.

I’m praying hard that it’ll turn out that way for my old friend, because he deserves better.


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