Oh those voices in your head. There is the mocking tone of the past, reminding you of why your future is doomed. There is the growl of that person who perpetually makes your blood boil. There is the wicked whisper that says you’re not enough. There is the hiss of your own self-sabotage and defeat.
We are often imprisoned and tortured by these unwanted contributors when, in fact, we alone have control over the volume dial. We’re doing it to ourselves. It’s funny, isn’t it?
So often we become hostages to circumstances, expectations and memories we will never manage to change. We waste our time away in mental dungeons, hanging out with ghosts of the past. We get locked into an exhaustive current going nowhere but in circles – rendering us out of breath and with nothing to show for our efforts.
And, perhaps, it isn’t entirely your fault. Regardless, freeing yourself is your responsibility. So let those chains fall and move onward for a brighter, more liberated tomorrow. Take my hand – this is where it begins.
#1 Trying to Please the Perpetually Disappointed
You once drove 100 miles to rescue them from standing in the rain. You left loving surprises on their windshield. You called to check in, yet again, on their troubles. You sacrificed hours of your time for their sob stories – even for things they should have been doing themselves.
Perhaps, in the moment, they were grateful – showering you with glorification. But that shower of love always becomes a storm cloud before long. You find yourself with your nose in the corner or your butt in the hot seat – clammy hands, waiting anxiously to find out what your punishment will be this time. One failure to step to the beat of their drum, and you become the subject of their rants to others. You know this because you are the receiver of the incessant complaints they always seem to have about the others.
You tiptoe around their expectations, wondering how to avoid their wrath. But, eventually, with hands in the air, you realize that it is only a matter of time before you are – again – villainized. You didn’t call often enough. You didn’t praise them enough. You didn’t trip over yourself to return a text message quickly enough. Hell, maybe you didn’t break enough bones.
But, wait, you begin to wonder. Are my efforts ever going to be worth the trouble?
The answer is no. It’s time you accept that their anger and unhappiness are not about you. You could hang the sun, moon and stars in their honor, but it wouldn’t be enough for long. This is because chronically discontent people are tortured by an internal raucous you cannot see. Stop breaking your back and sacrificing your peace of mind for someone who is wired to be disappointed.
If you can, let them go. If you cannot, let the desire to please them go. Because you never will.
#2 The Almost-Perfect Relationship That Got Away
When I was 19 years old, I fell madly in love with a guy I planned to marry. The feeling was mutual. We spent more than a year attaching his last name to the end of mine. He wrote me love letters that brought tears to my eyes, we fell asleep on blankets underneath the summer stars and – together – we dreamt of making the country our personal playground. We even named our unborn children. But the inescapable truth was this: the futures we envisioned for ourselves contained painful differences.
When the relationship crumbled, I worried I would never love that way again. I spent a decade entangled in other relationships, all the while glancing backwards and mentally glossing over the problems I had with my first love. For me, he was the quintessential “one that got away.”
There was always a monster on my shoulder, hissing at me: “What if? What if walking away had been a mistake?” Many times we tried to reenter one another’s lives, but many times it just didn’t quite “fit.” It seemed so divinely cruel, as though my life’s greatest love story had already been written to include a tragic ending.
But I was dead wrong.
In an odd twist of fate, I met, fell madly in love and married a man far better suited for me – someone who appreciated my oddest idiosyncrasies. We formed a bond much deeper and more authentic – a romance that quickly took root and flourished into a wild and wonderful forest. In him, I found a love that balanced, healed, restored and – ultimately – was truer than I’d ever known.
So if your precious relationship fell apart, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be. It just means it wasn’t meant to last. Stop glancing backwards and begin looking onward. There is something better.
#3 That Awful, Awful Thing You Did One Time
I once ran over a dog in my parents’ neighborhood – right in front of the owner and his three year-old daughter. Even though it was an accident and the dog had not been on a leash, the man launched a raging fury at me.
It was a literal nightmare. I sobbed at the sight of the dog’s mangled body. I sobbed into my pillow every night for a week and peaceful sleep eluded me for at least two. I didn’t even want to look at my car, for it had become a carriage of guilt and terror. I was in a state of mourning for the dog’s family, and I hated myself as much as they hated me. Twelve years later, I still shiver and bow my head to pray – rendered ill – at the thought of it. It was just bloody awful – literally.
But looping and replaying that horrific scene in my mind never accomplished anything other than torture for me. I could never rewind and repair what happened. I never managed to go back in time, instruct myself to take an alternate route and prevent that dog from harm.
So whatever it is you did – accidentally or intentionally – that one time (or more), neither can you.
Don’t make yourself a hostage to a past transgression. Stop assigning yourself penance for a mistake you can no longer change. Stop rattling those chains. Free yourself of them and let it go, my friend. You’re already forgiven.
#4 The Fear of Falling On Your Face
If ever you decide to try for something worthwhile, you will – at least once – fall miserably on your face. I’ve fallen an innumerable amount of times, but have always risen, dusted off my knees and been met with some of my most rewarding victories. It’s never not been worth it.
The life of a writer is interesting, but it isn’t always bubble gum, marshmallows and sunshine. I’ve had periods of ego-stroking praise and invitations so exalting, I could almost hear the angels singing. I’ve had love letters in my inbox that rendered me speechless and provoked me to phone my father – only to gasp in awe. But I’ve also had agonizing periods of crickets. I’ve slammed into the formidable walls of disregard. I’ve heard the sour notes that echo “no.” And it sucks every time.
But I’ve always lived to tell. I’ve always returned to my feet – remembering that I’m only bruised because I was reaching for that which makes me come alive.
In your life, you’re going to stumble and fall no matter what you reach for, so you may as well fall in the name of love. Fall reaching for what harmonizes with your heart’s cry. Fall reaching for what is true. How could you ever regret it?
#5 What Might Have Been (Psst. It Doesn’t Exist)
If only you had taken that other job after graduating college. If only you had relocated to another city. If only you had applied for that promotion. If only you had not allowed him to worm his way back in again. What if you had known then what you know now?
None of those potential outcomes exist. “What might have been” is a dream we pitch to distract ourselves from beginning again. Wallowing in the opportunities you did not take only swallows precious time you could spend investing in your second chance.
“What might have been” is fictitious and always has been. But your future? It is waving at your present, saying, “come hither!” It is asking to be written. But here’s the catch: you must begin.