If you’re anything like me, sometimes you shy away from your past. Maybe you weren’t the perfect person a few years ago, a decade ago, but who is? I’ve never met a perfect person. So why is it that we have such a hard time dealing with past experiences that were painful? Why is it that we refuse to accept that what is done is done and it’s time to start living for today?
I think the answer to these questions is simple: Because of pain.
For most of my twenties I concealed my drinking problem. You see, I was a functioning alcoholic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s what was happening in my life.
I drank to feel happy. I drank to not feel. I drank to numb myself. I drank to have fun. I drank because, that’s well, what I did.
When I made the choice to give up alcohol (you can read my story here), I was overwhelmed with shame, guilt and a feeling of hopelessness. You would think that by giving up something that hindered your ability to live fully would be liberating, but it was downright terrible.
Because of all the pain of my past. The pain I caused others, inflicted on my own well-being and the destructive behavior I had accepted as a norm.
My pain and past was holding me back.
I went almost 3 years without telling anyone that I was living a sober life, that I had kicked my destructive behaviors to the curb and was better for it. I was afraid that my past and my past digressions would come up.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
It wasn’t until this past February that I told a group of people I had never met before that I am a recovering alcoholic. And I told them I had never told anyone before. Guess what happened?
I was accepted. I was applauded. I was greeted with a warm embrace.
Telling others of my destructive and imperfect past was liberating. The type of past your parents would urge you to keep quiet, the type of past you would rather not deal with; by keeping my past to myself I was holding myself back.
Until I accepted my past, I could not fully move forward and create a happier future.
No matter what your imperfect self has gone through, no matter how muddy the waters of your past, by accepting it, you can create a happier future.
I’ll repeat the quote listed at the beginning of this article:
The past cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or erased; it can only be accepted. – Unknown
Acceptance is the first step in creating a happier future. But it starts with accepting what has happened will always just be. You cannot change it, forget it, edit it or erase it. It is only that, the past.
Instead of fearing the past, embrace your present life. Accept yourself as you are now.
Here’s How You Can Start Accepting the Past Today:
1. The Past Is The Past And Nothing More
Learning to accept the past is a process, it is not an overnight fix. You will need to acknowledge and face your past for what it was. What are your thoughts and feelings about the past, and please, hold the judgement here.
As you begin to explore your thoughts and feelings of the past, you can start to see what you can learn from it. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it, and that my friend is a wonderful opportunity.
When you accept the past fully, you accept what it was and nothing more. Do not wish to change it, but to embrace it for what it was.
2. Feel and Feel Hard
Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions that sweep over you when you think about your past, or a traumatic event, or something you fear will come creeping back into your life. Feel all of it.
When you hold back your emotions, you hold yourself back from living a great today and future.
If you have a friend or family member that is open to listening to you, take advantage of this resource. Share with them all the feelings you have about the past. Get it out of you! You can also use other means of creative expression to give transit to the emotions you are feeling.
3. You Live Here
A dose of mindfulness when dealing with the past is a wonderful way to combat feelings of guilt and shame and to usher in the feelings of acceptance and self-love. Practicing mindfulness is the ability to create an awareness of what is within you, what is outside of you and living in the present moment.
So when you hear someone say, practice mindfulness, what they’re really insisting on is this: Be an observer of your life. Observe your thoughts, your feelings, your surroundings, and other people without judgement. Just simply be in the present. Do not concern yourself with thoughts of the past (you do not live there), be here, in the present.
By fully accepting the past for what it was, you can start living fully present today.
When I fully accepted my imperfect past, you know what happened?
First, I experienced a wall of emotions, as if the flood gates were being released on me. At times, I felt like I was drowning in my emotions, but it got better.
The second thing that happened was a sense of peace. A calm after the storm. I was no longer afraid of my past creeping around the corner, I was no longer afraid to live in the present.
The final thing that happened to me was this: I start believing in myself again. I started trusting in my own ability to create a bright today and a brighter tomorrow.
“The future depends on what we do in the present. “-Mahatma Gandhi
I know accepting the past is hard. I know when you’re dealing with past trauma it can be downright frightening. But living with fear, shame and guilt for the rest of your life is utterly terrifying. We live right here, right now, I encourage you to enjoy it.
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