Peace With the Past

by Bill Brenner on May 10, 2010

As bad as the past was, the author is no longer afraid to face it.

Mood music for this post: “Yesterdays” by Guns N Roses:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Fic0XjrSs&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

The Guns N Roses song above is about letting the past go. “Yesterdays got nothing for me,” Axl Rose sings. I used to feel that way. But lately I’m finding it’s OK to go back into the past.

I thought it would be better to leave past relationships in the dust because it would be too painful trying to resurrect them. I also thought it would be too damaging to those from the past who I’ve hurt.

Sure, I’ve been through the meat grinder. A lot of memories are bad. But nestled between those memories are some good stuff I now realize I should treasure and be grateful for.

When I dug through some boxes in storage Saturday, one of my discoveries was a VHS copy of a 1991 performance if “Cabaret” put on by the theater group at North Shore Community College, where I went before Salem State.

A good friend of mine played a lead role in that play. I reconnected with this person on Facebook a couple years ago. She’s happily married with a great job and two beautiful children. But back in the day, she went through a lot of difficult stuff, including the death of a parent.

When we talk about the past she often can’t remember a lot of her time at NSCC because the memories are too painful. And on the surface, given how Blessed her life has been in more recent years, I can see why she’d prefer to leave the past where it is.

But that video tape is a snapshot of some of the fun we all had back then, too. It should be OK to remember the good stuff, as long as we don’t let the memories consume us and keep us out of the precious present.

She may disagree with me on that one, so I’ll keep her identity secret here.

There was a time when I wanted to leave the past sealed away. Then I went into therapy for OCD and had no choice but to open that vault. I had to because that was where I had to start on the path to sanity. I had to re-examine what happened to figure out how I got the way I did and, when I went into a 12-Step recovery program for the compulsive binge-eating addiction, I had to keep digging up the past because that’s an important part of the program. When we share in an OA meeting, we discuss how we used to be, followed by the moment we entered program, followed by what our lives are like today.

At the end of each meeting, we read something called the promises, which has this passage:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

I didn’t understand that idea at first. Now it’s something I cherish.

By not shutting that door, I’ve been reconnected with people who were important to me back then. And while those relationships can never again be what they were, getting back in touch with them has shown me that I was wrong about some of my past. Specifically, I thought those people hated me now. They don’t.

The biggest example is Sean Marley’s widow, Joy.

She’s remarried with kids and has done a remarkable job of pushing on with her life. She dropped out of my world for nearly 14 years — right after Sean’s death — until recently. I assumed  she hated my guts and wanted nothing more to do with me. I wouldn’t have faulted her for that. I hurt a lot of people back then. But I’ve at least learned that she doesn’t hate me.

I have to be careful with this particular reconnection. I still have a lot of questions about Sean’s final years and the OCD in me wants to know everything now. If I’m lucky, some answers will come in time. But I’m not going to push. I have no right to.

Besides, simply being reconnected is, as Joe Biden might say, “A big fucking deal.”

Finding my brother’s 1984 high school yearbook was a big deal, too. I had worked so hard to keep those memories in the drawer that I had almost forgotten what he looked like. That’s a shame. Now I remember, and it’s all good.

Finding old pictures of me and my great-grandmother reopened a chamber in my brain of memories to be treasured. I’m grateful for that.

The key is to keep the past in perspective and not let the life of today be shackled by whatever came before. You can never really go back.

But you can enjoy the good memories sandwiched between the bad.

That’s what I’m learning, anyway.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann May 10, 2010 at 6:19 am

You can “out me” Bill 🙂 I’m not quite sure what to say. I don’t disagree with you. Everyone deals with their challenges in life differently. My blocked memories have happened all my life. Perhaps its a survival mechanism. I don’t remember much of my childhood either having lived thru a divorce with an alcoholic father. I’ve also learned alzheimers runs in my family so perhaps there’s a physical reason for it to? I honestly have no idea.

“Those who can’t remember the past are condemed to repeat it” Yeah, I’m screwed…

Angela May 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

The “Promises” are amazing and they hold true if we work for them! I know that they have come true in my life, only when I step out of God’s way and let his will happen.
It’s great to hear them working in your life as well-

Ange

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