What If: You Could Change One Thing From Your Past?

Just one? I mean I have so many moments that I would like to revisit. So many times when I have said or done something in a way that changed things. When the cutting words forever changed the friendship. When driving away forever changed the level of trust. When the decision to abandon myself transformed my ability to look in the mirror. There are many, many moments of regret. But the more that I live, the more I understand that there is a difference between cleaning up the wreckage of your past and “changing” or shutting the door on your past. The difference is actually quite significant.

For the first decade of adulthood, I believed wholeheartedly that running from my past mistakes was the least painful way to live. I was particularly fond of avoiding those situations that required me to look inward and admit that I owed an apology. This work is hard. It is messy. It requires self assessment and a desire to grow. At 25, these moments were extremely unappealing as I was sure that I knew better than those that suggested such things. As time passed and as I began to see my own failures for what they were, I knew these were opportunities to grow.

But there are some things that are bigger. Sometimes they are even scary. There are moments in time where life was headed in a particular direction and then it took a hard left. As I reflect on some of these moments, I remember car accidents, deaths, the end of relationships. I can almost instantly transport my heart to the moment that those monumental events happened. When the call came. When the arrest was made. When the test confirmed what you already knew. Some of these moments are so long ago, and yet in reflection, our hearts and minds are instantly drawn back to the pain and grief and heaviness. We can feel the weight of something that happened decades ago wash over us with just a momentary time warp.

There is a line that I learned in recovery that I go back to anytime this ‘what if’ comes to my mind. “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” is one of the 9th step Promises. The first time I saw this printed on the wall of a recovery room, I thought for sure that this was lie. There was no way that I could get to a point that I would not only not regret the past, but I would not want to forget about it? This statement seemed to imply that I would make peace with the past.

This particular promise is not guaranteed on day 1. It is not given until after the first 9 steps (which include things like admitting powerlessness, turning pain over to the Divine, taking responsibility, honestly sharing your life with another human, looking at your part and making amends) are completed. To tell you that there is work to not regretting the past, is like saying that babies may need their diaper changed. It’s an absolute journey of necessity and regular duty. It is a passionate calling that is not for the feint of heart. This is a quest into the soul. It will wear you down in ways that you did not know were possible. But I can tell you that the promise is true.

I have countless things that I still wish had not happened in my life. Sure, I would gladly take away everything painful, from the random bumps and bruises to the deep gaping wounds that still have a tendency to cause unexpected reappearances or numbness on particularly hard days. But to go back, to try and do them over, would change me. Those days when the phone call changed everything or the mason jar of Wild Turkey seemed like a good idea are the very things that make me who I am today. As hard as it is to say, without the horrible terrible’s, the person that is standing today would not be me. It is in the experiences of life that I have been formed and that includes the really hard ones. They have shaped me in the hottest fire. I have used their scar tissue to walk alongside other people with similar scars. I have dug deep into the wells of strength that I have been given to withstand other setbacks. I have embraced that in not dying, I have a call to live. I have survived. And yes, that is in my very best Gloria Gaynor voice.

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