The bitter drug of regret
Through my life, I have been a slave to regrets. The shadows of might-have-beens have stretched over my life, etched into my soul. Many pivotal points have been revisited in my mind so often that the memories have become as polished as ocean-tossed pebbles.
I do not remember when I began this self-destructive path. I remember one instance when I was in eighth grade. I was attending CCD class, a religious instruction my parents felt honor-bound to send me to. A nice guy in my class approached me and told me I should try out for the football team. I thanked him for the advice and immediately dismissed it as too hard and scary. For years after I would revisit that moment and wonder how my high school experience would have been different if I had heeded his advice and tried out. I was very large for my age, and although I doubt I would have gotten any further than a high-school level, I would have most likely been a decent player on the varsity squad eventually.
There were moments missed, women not approached, and events unattended. At every turn I balked, taking the safer, less risky route. After the fact, I would relive the moment, imagining what it would have been like if I had had the gumption to actually do whatever it was I regretted not doing. “If only” became my mantra. I wished fervently for a time machine so that I could revisit these moments and do them over.
Suddenly, I was looking back over almost a half century of regrets. I had taken the safe route, the easy path. It had led me to a dead end. I had never taken risks, never asserted myself, never reached for more than the bare minimum. I suddenly found myself twice divorced, trapped in a job I despised, and facing imminent homelessness.
Sometimes, coming to the bottom is the only way to start over. I began to take a more objective view of my life. Instead of wishing I could change the past, I started planning for the future. Even at my nadir I had many good things. I had my brain, my stubbornness, my health. I have never been afraid of hard work, just of taking chances. I began to face my fears and to travel outside my comfort zone. Suddenly, something magical began to happen. I began to achieve life-long goals.
One problem with my mind is the rutted track it had followed for decades. I was used to not taking chances, then spending useless time bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t taken those chances. I soon saw that I would have to perform some major brain hacking to rectify this situation. I was an addict who jonesed for failure and regret. I was determined to go cold turkey.
The first tool I utilized was mindfulness. One of the most valuable things in my journey has been developing the ability to warn myself when I began to slip into the well-worn habits of regret and fear. Instead of telling myself I wasn’t good enough, I began to try, letting my actions determine whether I was good enough or not. I soon discovered that there were many things I WAS good at, even great at. It might have taken me the better part of my lifetime to discover, but I was finally doing things, rather than avoiding them and regretting them.
So, I still travel down my path of self-discovery. Am I cured of my addiction? No. I doubt I will be within my lifetime. But, I am trying daily not to indulge. Like any addiction, it is a day-by-day process. Some days are better than others, but my life is brighter for not shadowing the present with the ghosts of regrets past.