Since the past isn’t here now, how is it that I am keeping it alive?
The past is powerful.
For those who cannot think of the past without remembering the pain of trauma, it can be all encompassing.
Are we drowning in fear?
Is the inner critic causing crippling anxiety?
Are we weighed down by the heavy blanket of depression?
If so, how can we breathe into the present? How can we begin the process of shedding the weights of the past?
In my own life, trauma has been a defining force. I spent years trying to encase my pain in guarded walls. This encasement caused depression, rage, anxiety, toxic shame, lack of focus, and difficulties connecting with others. I carried my wounds from my past into my daily life without even knowing it. I kept my past alive through the lies I told myself about why the past happened. “If I only I was a smarter child,” “If only I was skinnier,” “If only I had tried harder.”
When I began therapy as a young adult, I was so disconnected from myself. I had lived in a family of enmeshment, narcissism and co-dependency. I developed harmful beliefs about myself, others, and the world. The emotional wreckage of the experience of my formative years caused me to hide my true self deep within the recesses of my psyche. Now, 10 years later, after peeling back layer after layer of myself, I have reached a point – finally – of realizing that I can let go of it. It’s a process of small changes, tiny revolutions inside. Where I become reborn again and again.
After years of doing emotional internal work, I still find the shrapnel from the battleground of my childhood. I distanced myself from my narcissistic mother years ago, and yet just this year I discovered that I still had her pain, expectations, and shame driving me at a very deep level. I was caught in a loop of needing more constantly. I needed to be more successful, lose more weight, make more money.
Why? Because I was carrying the mantra of the past with me: “I am not enough”. I had come to realize my mothers mental illness for what it was, and recognize the toxic dynamic of my family of origin. And yet, through all that work I was not yet ready to let that dynamic be purged out of me. I was not yet ready to re-write my shameful story of being not worthy enough. I was not yet ready to truly accept that it was not my fault, and not truly ready to accept what had happened. Because realizing that I was enough would mean that I would realize that there was nothing I could have done to change my childhood. There was nothing I could have done to stop the abuse. And then, that acceptance would have to drive me to let go.
I couldn’t have been a “good enough” child to stop the abuse or earn the selfless love of my parents. Because the abuse was not about my goodness or my worthiness. That’s a dangerous lie. The abuse was about people who were sick and did not have that kind of love to give. Who had their own demons to fight. And so, realizing that nothing I could have done as an innocent child who tried so hard to earn my parents love, could have stopped what happened to me.
It wasn’t my fault. I am enough. And, that is a painful and also wonderful truth. Because it means letting go of the past. Letting go of the shameful story, and stepping into my own power to let it go, and move on. It requires faith that my true self can guide my life, instead of past lies guiding my life. That nothing I can do or say makes me more worthy of love, it’s not about the external markers that I was criticized for as a child. It is about the true self, and my connection to that self.
And so I was addicted to a spiral of constantly shaming myself. Standing over my own shoulder telling myself: “You’re not doing it right”, “You shouldn’t have said that”, “You’re not moving fast enough”, “You’re not skinny enough”. Still thinking that maybe I can finally prove myself to my mother. Finally get that love and validation. But the truth is, I have that love now. That love has always been. But, years of emotional abuse had clouded it and caused me to lose faith in it. That love that comes from within.
And, its my choice whether or not I want to live in the faith that I am enough or not.
It’s my choice to let the past live on within me and continue to tell myself the lies over and over. Or, I can finally move toward letting the past rest in peace and walk with faith into the truth that I am enough. I can choose to embrace the healing that comes from letting go.
I can choose. Because I am empowered in the present.
I can let go. Because the past is over.
I can believe that I am enough. Because that is the true way forward.