Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.
I think we've all asked ourselves this question at some point along the way: What if I could go back and change something from my past? Could I have handled that situation differently? What if I had chosen a different path? If only I had known about that sooner or gotten to know that person better. Maybe if I had pushed harder or made amends with that person. If only I had been stronger or more courageous. We wonder if a different choice in the past could have changed the way things are now.
Many of us let regret, shame and guilt drag us down and be a constant reminder of the way we have failed. Those feelings tell us that we are failures, there's no way to change, and we shouldn't even try because we'll just mess things up again. They can even keep you from improving yourself or your current situation if you let them. But none of that is true, for you or for me. The past is simply just that. It's a period of time where a decision had to be made or a lesson had to be learned.
While we can revisit the past, try to see the decisions we (or others) made from a different perspective, and try to learn from them, we can't change anything that has already happened. However, we don't have to let it define us now. In fact, this is the perfect opportunity to try and learn from what we have experienced and do better now. Have you ever heard the saying, "I did the best I could with what I knew; now that I know better, I will do better" by Maya Angelou?
What Would I Change?
This question has been rolling around in my head a lot lately. I had a terrible childhood. Pictures from my past are constantly flashing before me, haunting me, taunting me, daring me to move forward in life and not let them swallow me whole. I've spent a lot of time processing, understanding and coming to terms with the things that happened. In fact, I still have epiphanies every so often that help explain some of the past to me. However, I have accepted it and moved on, and don't let most of that stuff bother me anymore.
Normally I would tell you that there isn't anything I would change, but that's simply not true. What has really been weighing on me, especially looking into the future this week, with a new year at my fingertips, are the mistakes I've made with my kids. When I was pregnant with my first little one, and the first couple years of his life, I had know clue what I was in for. I had babysat before and had been a first grade teacher for almost 10 years, and I was confident that I would be great with a baby.
But I had no support system, no real experience, and my husband was in a major depression at the time. Now, as I parent my second child, I see how my first child could have been parented and how differently things could have been handled. I really feel like he would be a different child if I knew then what I knew now. The mom guilt is sometimes unbearable. I honestly wish he didn't have to struggle with some of the things that he does at such a young age, but I can't go back.
When considering the past, and wishing we could change one or more situations, the only thing each of us is really saying is, "I really want to be happier today, and I don't know how to get there."
You're looking to maximize your happiness now. But there's no way to achieve that by looking back. It's a waste of time thinking that if your life had gone the other way back then, things would have worked out better now. There really is no way, without having had knowledge of the future, to pick the moment that truly would change your life. You have had so many different scenarios where you could have chosen differently one way or the other, that would have had far-reaching and unpredictable consequences in your life.
You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. Each and every experience we have, and each different pathway we chose, has led us to the point where we are now. If your loved one hadn't passed away, if you hadn't been in that horrible situation, and if you hadn't had to make that difficult choice, it's very possible that you wouldn't have what makes you so special today, if you would even be here at all.
If you haven't seen enough of those time travel movies, like Back to the Future, the one thing they always learned was that it didn't benefit to change the past. If anything, it always just screwed things up further. You did the best that you could, in your current state of mind, in that situation, at that time. The only thing you can do now is to move forward and make your future better.
We may not be able to go back and change our past, but we can change our future. We can change the person we are, how we treat others, the decisions we make, and the paths we take right now. Today. So let's look back together. (It may even be helpful to write these down.) What specifically would you change and why? What can you do today to take those lessons you've learned and apply them to your future?
Did you need more patience? This is great time to work on being more patient with those in your life. Did you wish you had said you were sorry or told someone you loved them before they passed? Oh man! Do it now. Call those that you love or go visit them, say your apologies now and tell them how much you love them. Did you put up with poor treatment in a relationship before? Vow from this day on to never do that again. Use the experiences from your past to know how to avoid repeating them again.
And here's some great all around suggestions for healing from the inside out and moving forward to a more positive future. You deserve a better future no matter where you are in life. Now's your chance to get it!
- Forgiveness. One if the most important things you can do today that will radically change the future is to forgive. Confidently forgive those that hurt you, knowing that by holding on you're only hurting yourself, and forgive yourself. Let go of the guilt, the regret and the self-blame. You can't change things in the past, but you can change the future.
- Walk Away From Toxic People. It's hard to move on and become a better person yourself if you are allowing people that hurt you, tempt you, or being you down to continue being a part of your story. Let go, stop answering their phone calls, and allow them to drift out of your life. You need people that will encourage you and lift you up in your life.
- Have Faith in Yourself. You are worthy of a better future, you are capable of change, and the future will be as bright as you make it. You can do it! You only need to have confidence in yourself. You have gotten this far, and you have survived your past struggles. That should tell you that you can handle anything that is to come.
- Embrace your inner badass. Don’t put up with situations thinking that you’re weak. You’re more powerful than any situation, even at times when you feel broken, damaged, or undeserving. Nip the abuse in the bud. You have enough strength to take care of yourself.
- Feel your pain. Don’t take it out on others, don’t suppress it, but just sit with it. Grieve, cry, write, meditate, or see a therapist, if you need to. Do whatever it takes to let go of the pain, instead of holding on to it as if it’s a badge of honor. It’s not.
- Let go of the past. Whatever transpired is done and over, so we don’t need to hold on to the pain forever and allow it to define us. Only you can decide that you are no longer going to let the mistakes of the past affect your future.
- Rewrite your story. Set goals for yourself, dream big, and then start heading that direction. It doesn't matter who you are, what you've been through, or even what you are suffering right now... it can change today. Step out of that bad relationship, quit that awful job, start eating right to get rid of that disease, and start taking to yourself with more respect.
Make the Effort and It Will Pay Off
I keep having to remind myself, when I start thinking about the first few years of my oldest son's life, that I did my best. I genuinely cared about him and was doing my best with the limited resources I had. Would I make the same decisions today? No way! But I'm not that person anymore am I? My husband and I are in a much healthier place, thanks to some hard work. We've had a handful of miscarriages, we've lost one of our sons to unknown causes, and here we are 5 years later with another beautiful little boy in our lives.
All I can do now is to try and repair our relationship and do the best I can for him in our present and in the future. I'm sure I'll look back in another 5 years and wish again that I had done things differently, but I'm not there yet. I don't have that knowledge or experience yet. That's why I read all of the books I can, do all of the research I can on parenting, and try my best to love him, care for him, and be the best mom I can. What more can we ask of ourselves?
That's what I suggest for you as well. If you truly want to move on and improve your life, you have a fun journey ahead of you and lots of healing. Start with the suggestions above for a great way to get started, and seriously set some amazing goals for yourself for where you want to be 1, 5 and 10 years from now. Then start working towards your goals. You may not reach them, you may surpass them, and you may change them 10 times along the way, and that's okay.
The idea is that you are making the effort. I promise that it will pay off in the end. Next year, when you are looking back on the past year of your life, you'll be pleased.
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on December 31, 2018:
lol I love that belief. I'm so glad I ended up in this place myself. I love my husband and my two kids. I couldn't have asked for a better future.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 31, 2018:
How wonderful my friend. "If you haven't seen enough of those time travel movies, like Back to the Future, the one thing they always learned was that it didn't benefit to change the past. If anything, it always just screwed things up further."
Wow I am so happy with my life -- if I didn't mess things up before I would not be here.