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.

Holy Week 2020: Tuesday

Hard conversations. I feel like this was the central theme of the week. It matters not which account you chose to read, every single one of them tells of Jesus trying with all that he had to communicate and explain what is about to happen without giving up. But there were moments that he had to want to scream, “You idiots! What don’t you get?” When I pulled up the text for today, I read a familiar story of one of those conversations. The account is found in John chapter 12. It begins in verse 18 and is a lengthy passage. And while I tried to find the truth suggested, or at least an interesting new insight, I struggled with familiarity. Until I arrived at the last line: After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. (verse 36). That was the truth I needed this morning.

Jesus understood. Jesus was human. Jesus was like the worn out mom in the midst of quarantine. He, too, need to get away from the people and hide. Because being a coordinator of chaos is a heavy job. Because all the questions. Because we all have moments when we reach the end of our ability to be calm and kind and rational. We all have the moments where we just need to depart and hide.

Two nights ago, I knew in my gut that it was one of those nights. I went away for a bit (aka locked the bathroom door and prayed that no one would start bleeding or feeling). I took a break in my homebound sanctuary. But even that was not enough. After a long bath, I found myself sitting on my closet floor. The closet is inside the bathroom, inside my bedroom. I had 2 sets of door between me and the next human. I departed and hid from them. I texted a friend. I said some fu* and sh* words. I had a moment where I just needed to let the weight of the day jump the heck off my back. These moments are hard for people like me. I want to be the tough and capable type of human. I want the world to think that I have the answers and the serenity to face what may come. But the truth is, I don’t.

There is an added challenge for those of us that are holding on to sobriety in these days. It has been a while since my last drink, but please don’t think that I am not immune to the deepest desire to have some wine to wash away the day. I know that fast acting anxiety meds would work wonders for the wiggles and the need to run that I feel. These days are long. These feelings are big. The solitude is painful. And at the same time, the excessive words are maddening. One of the biggest signs of struggle in my sobriety experience has been drinking dreams. Multiple times in the last weeks I have woken up in a cold sweat because in my dream I was back at it. And for a moment it feels good. And then you wake up. You feel the misery. It is a painful way to “rest.” Actually, there is not much rest to be had in these moments. I was taught in early sobriety that sleeplessness does not kill you, but a drink can. So how do we keep moving?

I get my ass out of the bed when I wake up in that panic and I go for a long walk. I depart and hide from them. If I have learned one thing on this journey, it is that I need to work through the feels. Which I ABSOLUTELY hate. But they will kill me. They will suffocate me in the name of shame and resentment and fear. They will paralyze me from breathing. I have to get away from the voices that are filling my mind (my people, the TV) and I have to listen to my own Spirit. Some mornings, that means that I am walking around the neighborhood crying. Others, I am listening to a podcast and filling my inspiration tank with Brene’ and Glennon and Mike. And still other days, I am having an anger fit with my favorite musicians.

I feel like this week is a unique and holy moment to recognize the many ways that we are wired and called to not just read the stories but experience the journey. I am already planning some unique connection points for the days ahead. I can assure you that the other 3 humans in my house will want nothing to do with my pilgrimage, and honestly that is more than perfect. This is for me. I have spent most of my adult life preparing Holy Week for others. I don’t think I knew just how much I needed to travel this road without a to-do list.

Here’s a challenge for you. What does remembering the meal, the garden, the trial, death, Saturday and the first light of resurrection look like for you this year? Let me let you in on a secret that I’m finally embracing: there is no wrong way to do this. But, you miss a holy opportunity if you don’t.

May we depart from the ideas of should, and hide in the unique opportunities we have been given to walk this road with Jesus this week.