I’ve been trying like crazy to whittle down my list of Things That Must Be Done, and over the weekend, I made some good progress.
I actually got the basement sorted, just a little bit more. Many months ago (was it actually a year ago? that’s possible), I un-boxed a ton of stuff we’ve had in our basement for years and years. This is stuff we inherited when my spouse’s parents passed away… stuff we packed up over numerous moves, and then never unpacked… stuff we just couldn’t deal with at the time, and put down on a shelf, to decide about later.
Later never came.
Oh, actually, it did come. The decision part just never followed.
So, being concerned about the “stash” becoming a condominium for mice, I went on a multi-day campaign last year to unbox everything that was packed in cardboard and wrapped in newspaper, and I re-boxed everything in soft paper towels and clear plastic containers that have sealable lids.
And it was good.
Except, for that last piece of the process — the collection of trinkets and tschaschkes that I didn’t have a container for. I put them all out on a big folding table, planning to box them up when I picked up some additional containers. I got the containers. But I never boxed them up. And as a result, I’ve been “threading the needle” in my basement, just to get to the water softener when I need to refill the potassium chloride. It’s been a pain in my a**, and I’ve wanted to do something about it for months — actually, more like a year.
But I couldn’t.
Well, this weekend, I decided I’d had enough, and I decided to make a go of it. I told myself I’d only spend 30 minutes working on the task, and that made it easier. I got myself a nice sweet juice drink, and I took some music with me to listen to while I worked. And as I got into wrapping everything up and placing it carefully in the container, I found I was making good progress, so I didn’t need to stop at 30 minutes.
And in fact, it took me less than an hour to get it all done.
So, I’ve been inconvenienced (along with the workmen who’ve needed to get through my basement to fix the furnace and water heater), for a year, over something that took less than an hour to sort out.
Yeah, that would be me, sometimes.
Because it wasn’t just about the job. It was about this nagging sense of failure I have at everything else in my basement — the vestiges of projects I started and then could never finish… the building supplies and handyman remnants of my past life, when I was so strong and with-it, and I had all these plans that I could follow up on… before I fell and got hurt in 2004.
All the memories of years gone by just flood in, all my failures with family coming to mind, as I look at the items on the shelves, and remember how much I loved the people I’ve lost, and I think about how much of a challenge I always was for them. And it’s remembering all the ways that they (especially my in-laws) were challenges for me — the betrayals, the fights, the disloyalty, the gossip, cutting me out of wills and family news because I wasn’t “one of them”. I wasn’t from the world that my in-laws inhabit, and they’ve always kept me at arm’s distance, even though I’ve never done anything other than love and care for and support my spouse — one of their own.
Going down in the basement and spending time there isn’t just about stuff. It’s not just about organizing. It’s also facing my past — the disappointments, the frustrations — and all the stuff from Before.
But now, at least, I got that piece done. So I don’t have to look at it. I don’t need to constantly crawl over it… be reminded of it… factor it in. I am slowly getting my basement back. One of these years, I’m sure it will be in the kind of shape I want it to be.
A week or so ago, I got a message from someone I have not seen in nearly 30 years. The last time I saw them, we were like siblings – so close, almost like lovers (except that we were each romantically involved with others in our small circle of friends). We were each others’ protectors and confidantes, through all the relationship drama that happens when you’re 22 years old.
I haven’t had that kind of a friendship with anyone, since – even my spouse.
That was back when I was drinking myself silly, most days. I was also still struggling with the after-effects of at least 5 mild TBIs, during my high school years. Plus, I was a falling-down drunk, so I may have hit my head during one of my forays, too.
Long story short, we parted ways under very bad circumstances. I was an ass. And I split without an explanation. Just picked up and left and never responded to the letters they sent.
I was so lost, so confused, so messed-up and furious with the world. And when I started to get clearer and cleaned up my act, I tried looking for them online. But I found nothing, other than a single picture of them at a holiday party with an organization they worked for.
Then nothing. I searched again, but the picture was taken down. I can find pretty much anyone or anything online, so the fact that they were nowhere to be found made me think they were dead. It was crushing. I had wrecked things so badly with us, because of so much I had not figured out… and I believed I’d lost my chance to apologize and make amends.
Fast forward a few years. Doing a search, I found them again – just a single mention of their name at an organization where they worked, in the town where they had lived when I’d known them. No picture, no telephone, but I knew it was them. I toyed with the idea of getting back in touch, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it as well as I wanted.
Fast forward a few more years, and another search shows them at a different organization in their town. Again, no telephone number or email. Again, I couldn’t figure out what to do.
So, I gave up. And I downloaded one of the songs we used to sing along to, back in the day. I listened to it, now and then, while driving around.
Then I stopped. That was over. It was done. Let it go.
Fast forward again… to last month. All of a sudden, a message from them shows up. They reached out to me. They found me. And they wanted to make contact.
It was something I thought would never, ever happen. But there it was.There they were.
I wrote a note back, and then wrote another. They responded. Then I wrote an extended apology and explanation for why I disappeared. I left out the TBI stuff. Why blame that? I was just an ass, is all. And young.
I haven’t heard back from them. It was a very honest, heartfelt note, and I can imagine they have some catching up to do with their own perspective. We’d had one one of those epic friendships, like soldiers do. Or castaways on a desert island, building a raft together, to head for the open sea and look for more help.
It’s been an emotional bunch of days. I’ve gone through over 25 years worth of upheaval, since last week, but now things are calming down, and it feels good. Like I’ve finally put that one missing piece of the puzzle in place. I don’t know if they’ll ever get back to me again, but the fact is, I finally finallygot the chance to say, “I’m sorry. I did wrong.”
I think I found a new way to get a grip. I’ve written a bunch of times about how I’ve lost it over little things — dropping a spoon while I’m making my morning coffee, not being able to hold something firmly in hand, getting stuck in traffic, navigating tough situations at work, arguing with my spouse and having the argument spiral wildly out of control and escalate to the point of madness…and more.
It’s been an ongoing struggle for me, and it’s cost me plenty, to lose my grip and be reduced to an adrenaline-soaked pile of skin ‘n’ bones, shaking and sick to my stomach and regretting what I did or said for hours… days… weeks… sometimes years. Regret is a usual and customary part of my life.
In some ways, it’s the glue for my past. If I didn’t have regrets, and all the strong feelings that go along with them, I’m sure my perception of my life and my past would be very different from what it is right now. In some ways, I’m not sure my memory of my past would be as clear — the emotion of regret has pretty much locked some experiences in my memory for all time. Take away the regret, and you take away a big part of how I recollect my past.
Some folks say, “I have no regrets – I would do it all again the same way.”
These folks have no imagination.
I can think of a million different things I would do differently, if I had them to do all over again. And I can think of a million different outcomes that I wish had happened, versus what actually did. It’s not that I’m being hard on myself, it’s just that I see and recognize my limitations, and I am very clear about those instances where things did not go the way I wanted them to, because I “lost it”, sometimes for no apparent reason.
Do I wish I had not flipped out at my boss, back in 2005, and given him a piece of my TBI-addled mind? You betcha.
Do I wish I had not harangued and browbeaten and hassled my spouse, till they finally broke and threatened to divorce me — not once, but many, many times in the course of the past years? You’d better believe it.
Do I wish I had not gotten into those fights with the neighbor kids that got me in trouble with adults and other kids — who were older and bigger and meaner than little ole obnoxious me… and outnumbered me on top of it? How could I not?
Do I regret flying into road rage over nothing, really, and chasing people down a highway or side street to “show them”, several times, just a few months back? Absolutely.
My past is littered with poor decisions, as well as good decisions I couldn’t make good on, because of some stupid-ass impulse control issue or some idea that felt great at the time, but was a really dumb one, once I thought about it with a clear head. My life has been punctuated by overly emotional outbursts where my frustration and confusion got the best of me and turned me into someone I did not recognize. My memory is spotty to begin with, and the pieces I actually do have in place are anything but uniformly good.
So yeah, regret.
A lot of people tell me that regret is a “bad” thing to feel. They say it’s negative and it holds me back from really enjoying my life. They say the same thing about shame, but in all honesty I have a lot less problem with shame than with regret. I’ve heard shame defined as a humiliating sense that you should have done better, or somesuch. And then there’s guilt, where you make things that sucked into things that were your fault — as though you had so much control over those things to begin with. Shame isn’t such a big deal for me — sure, I usually have the sense that I should have done better, but it’s not that humiliating. It’s just a little embarrassing. Guilt isn’t such a huge deal for me, either, because things that suck are often just notmy fault, and I often have the very clear sense that I have no control over what happened or what resulted from it.
But regret? Yeah, there’s no lack of that with me.
But does it hold me back? Sometimes it does, but it doesn’t always have to. In fact, regret is probably one of the things that holds my life together. It might sound strange, but think about it — it’s a powerful emotion, and it’s always lurking right around the corner in my mind. I am keenly aware of all the things I’ve screwed up and how I wish I had done them differently. And that makes me even more keen to figure out how to NOT screw things up the next time.
See, that’s an important part of my recovery — being able to assess the outcomes of my behavior, see where I’ve screwed up, and then make an extra effort to get it right the next time. There is usually a next time, and when I’m using my head, I can make the most of new opportunities when they arise. It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve often been humbled (and humiliated) by circumstances. But it’s paid off. Regret has served me well.
I’m currently having a new opportunity to re-do things that I’ve screwed up in the past. This is a big-time do-over, and I really want to make the most of it.
Basically, I have discovered that a very close relative of mine really screwed me over a couple of years ago. I won’t go into the details, because it’s complicated, but basically it’s about them pushing me out of the way (behind my back) and trying to cut me out of the family, because they believed I was “damaged goods” and I was a hindrance and a waste of time to my family. Things have been pretty touch-and-go with my family, over the years, and I’ve worked really hard to make up for the things I messed up — and I thought I was doing pretty well, a couple of years ago.
Now I find out (through old correspondence and writings) that there were some serious “operations” going on to push me out of the family, string me along on the surface, but keep me clueless about what was really going on. I come to find out that there were all kinds activities my family members were doing with each other over the space of a couple years — they had a great time and really enjoyed themselves, and never said a word to me. In fact, they hid it from me and pretended it never even happened. I thought something was up, a few years back, and I asked about it, but everyone flatly denied that anything was going on that I didn’t know about.
Two individuals, in particular, were driving the whole thing, and they kept me in the dark while organizing activities and having a grand time… while I was working my ass off at work, just trying to make ends meet, and generally struggling with so much on a daily basis without any real moral support.
Funny, I thought people were more distant than usual.
Now it turns out, I was not only right about something going on, but I vastly underestimated the extent to which I was cut out of things. There was even talk of some large-scale activities which involved people very close to me, to whom I have turned for support many times. Basically, they were going to ditch me and go traveling, see sights, do lots of different things… a full roster of family activities, to which I would not be invited. In the stuff I read, I was dismissed as an impediment to their fun, with talk about how so-and-so “handled” me and “talked me down” when I was upset. Like I was some kind of mentally deficient village idiot they just couldn’t be bothered with.
God, cut me, why don’tcha… When I read this stuff over the weekend, it really threw me for a loop. There was this whole other world that people very close to me were developing, and not only was I not invited, but I was un-invited, deliberately pushed to the side, like I was some kind of human flotsam. Dismissed. Disposed of. Like I didn’t matter, and they couldn’t be bothered. I had been feeling bad about feeling a bit pushed to the side, but I didn’t want to make that big of a deal out of it before. Now I realize that it was a much bigger issue than I ever imagined, and in addition to feeling hurt and betrayed, I also feel like a complete idiot for not realizing what was going on, and basically fulfilling their expectations that I was a clueless, brain-damaged idiot who would never know the difference.
And that stings.
Yesterday was a pretty rough day for me. It was like Day One of the new world… and I had a hundred different ideas about how to confront people and let them know that I KNEW what they had done, and although I never pressed the issue before, I still knew that something was going on. I’m not thatdamaged. I wanted them to know that I had a lot more details now, than they ever thought I would… and I wanted to take ’em all down. Cut them out of my life. Just dispose of them, the way they’d tried to dispose of me.
The only thing is, they’re my family. And when I really thought about it yesterday, I realized that over the past six months, they’ve been trying to do better with me. I think the guilt just got to them. And shame. The realization that what they were doing was really pretty shitty must have sunk in, and they decided to change their ways. They’ve been trying — noticeably — for the past six months or so, to make room for me and include me in things.
And now the question comes down to this — do I let myself fly off the handle with them, confront them, and try to punish them, for what they did before… or do I let it go and allow them to make amends for their callous unkindness? They really seem to be trying, and they seem to have had a real change of heart, and I don’t want to screw that up. It might make me feel better to confront them and make them “pay for what they did to me”, but in the long run, how will that help? I know what they did. They know what they did. Who knows why they did it, and who knows — maybe it was just one bad idea that someone had once, which then took on a life if its own… and then they all got carried away in the heat of the moment and continued to make those unkind decisions just ’cause it seemed like the thing to do.
I will never know that. Nor will I ever know what changed their minds about things and caused the change of heart.
All I know is this — years from now, when I look back on this time, I don’t want to remember flying off the handle and going off the deep end, doing my “scorched earth” meltdown freak-out thing with people who are my family and my main support. I don’t want to think back on this time as one when I lost it, when I trashed the attempts to make things right, out of my hurt and pain and insecurity and need to make others hurt the way I am hurting right now.
No doubt about it, this is very painful. It’s been excruciating. To be so dismissed and so marginalized and just pushed aside like a piece of trash… it just reminds me of all the other times in my life when that was done to me, and it just feels terrible. But even more terrible would be to let that pain and hurt take over my life and proceed to cause more pain and hurt in the lives of others.
That’s the kind of memory I don’t want to make. That’s the kind of experience I don’t want to have. Because no matter how justified I am in my hunger for revenge and vindication, no matter how much right I have to eye-for-eye justice, the long-term fallout of that kind of thinking and behavior is much worse than the original cause for it. It’s bad enough that I was deceived for over a year about things that mattered so much to me. It’s bad enough that the people I trusted most turned against me and made fun of me and treated me like just some tool. But if I let loose with a rampage, then any recovery from that is going to be delayed — for a lot longer than a few years. And knowing me, when I get going, I say and do things that can never be taken back. And if I let myself get to that place of uninhibited attack, I can do more damage than I intend to.
I should know. My past is littered with experiences like that.
And I don’t want to do it again.
So, I’m just letting it go. I have to. I am overworked and over-tired, and if I indulge my outrage, I’m going to be even more overworked and fatigued as I try to clean things up on my side. I’m doing my best to turn my attention to more positive things and focus on the good stuff in my life, not dwell on the bad. I know what it’s like to have a bad idea and then let it spring into life and let it get out of hand. I know what it’s like to not be able to stop myself from doing and saying those things and hurt someone I care deeply about. I know what it’s like to be human, and that’s what happened with my family — they just got really human, a couple of years ago.
And now they’re trying to make it up to me.
They’re being really nice to me. Considerate. Caring, actually. More than ever. I’m not going to push that aside, I’m going to let them do it, regardless of the reason. The past is the past, and while it hurts like hell to find out the inside story, it’s still the past. And I have a present and a future I need to take care of.
I can’t let the bad decisions and behavior of others dictate my own behavior and state of mind. I’ve let that happen in the past, and this time I have a chance to do it over — do it differently. I have a lot of really great prospects ahead of me, and if I let this revelation get the best of me, then Ilose out. And I don’t want to do that. I have been through some pretty tough things, but this is one of the toughest… and when I look back on this time, I want to look back with pride that I handled myself well, that I dealt with everything as a sovereign adult, and that I chose to rise above it and not wallow in petty hurt and pain, which only serve to make me unhappy and unhealthy in so many ways.
Life can really suck, sometimes. Pain happens. Betrayal happens. So does deceit and scheming and all kinds of sick little games. Freak-outs happen, too. As do meltdowns and breakups. But in the midst of this upheaval, I’ve got a new chance to handle the old shit in a new way. And I will. Because when I look back, years from now, I want my memory of this time to be full of pride, not only pain. I don’t want to have this be the kind of thing I regret and carry around with me as yet another example of how I can’t keep my act together. I want the moment to belong to me, not to others who tried — once upon a time — to ditch me and treat me like I was nothing.
They’re trying to make it up to me. They’re still not admitting anything, and they’re still hiding what went on, but at least they’re trying to make it up to me. And that’s a positive change for the better.
Life is waiting, and it has a lot in store — lots of it very good stuff indeed.