I am routinely bombarded by stories and quotes (usually surrounded in frills and flowers, or a nice beach scene…with footprints) admonishing me to NEVER LOOK BACK! Keep the past in the past, I’m told, live in the present, learn from your mistakes and move on. I was even taught as a child that when Lot’s wife looked back she turned into a giant salt lick. (It’s right there in the Bible, look it up.) I mean, how terrifying is that? Looking back is pretty bad stuff.
But what if it’s not? What if looking back is the only way to move forward? No, this is not a Yoda-ism. “Think about it, you should. To move left first you must go right.” Psht. That’s not where I’m going at all. It’s just, I’ve experienced some unpleasant stuff in my life (to put it very mildly). I’ve been through pain and loss and fear and abuse. Looking back is the only way I’ve come through everything I have. You can’t experience really horrible things and then just keep walking, smiling, head held high into your future. It’s impossible.
When things were at there worst for me, in the midst of my marriage when I felt afraid and unloved and belittled and bullied, it was all I could do to just get through each day. I had children to care for, a business to run, so many responsibilities. I didn’t have the time, let alone energy to face the way I felt about life. How I felt like no matter what I did it was never enough. How I was both crushed by the way I feared my husband and by the way he neglected my basic needs. There was no time to process the way he burned through every dollar we earned or his affair that left me broken in an entirely new way. I didn’t have time to wrap my head around the surprise pregnancy that came six years after I had had my tubes tied. No room to grieve the miscarriage that soon followed. There were so many layers of damage I couldn’t possible have dealt with them all as they came.
It wasn’t until my marriage was over that I could even start to process. It wasn’t until then that I had the courage or strength to start looking back, taking each memory as it came and sitting with it. Crying until my eyes were swollen and my throat was hoarse. Or filling my journal with rage I didn’t even know existed inside me. I’ve been processing solidly for the last five years now and it’s all required looking back. And let me tell you, it’s the only reason I am where I am today, which is a good place, if you were wondering. (I’m no longer in the fetal position on the floor in a puddle of tears and kleenex eating something made of chocolate.) I’ve come a long way.
And that brings me to the other reason looking back is good. It’s the only real way to see how far you’ve come. Whenever I feel like everything I touch turns to crap I have to look back and remember just how far I’ve come. How my life used to be run by fear. How I spent whole days in bed wondering how I would ever survive the pain I was in. How I used to believe that no one could ever possibly love me in a selfless way or that I could ever open myself to love again. I think of all the new friends I’ve made and adventures I’ve had since my divorce. And I think of all the people who’ve carried me in amazing and beautiful ways that I can never repay and who would never want me to.
Looking back doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Use it as a way to heal from the past or to commend yourself on how far you’ve come. And if nothing else, to remind yourself that you should never ever get a perm again.