Friday, August 12, 2016

The bitter drug of regret

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.

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