Sunday, May 11, 2014

Getting Past Your Past

Saturday night I went to my best friend's brother's wedding. It was a very nice affair that was fitting of the bride and groom (it was partially Star Wars themed and they served pizza). I had a great time except for one thing..."College Melissa" came out a little bit.

"College Melissa" enjoys a good party a little too much. She is selfish. She is a follower, not a leader. She says "yes" when she should say "no." I still have trouble dealing with "College Melissa."

As a therapist I tell my clients that we are the sum product of all our life experiences up to this moment in time. And we can choose to do with that what we will. In dealing with the past we basically have two choices: let it become a crutch and hobble along through life ("If only that hadn't happened then things would be different...""Because of that thing I act this way now...""I can't. Remember what happened to me?"etc., etc., etc.) or we can rise about our circumstances ("I used to be that way but I don't do that any more.""Yes, that was a terrible thing but that was then, this is now."). We have clients at our agency that struggle to move past their pasts. The life they have known is sometimes abusive, violent, substance abuse riddled, and generally maladaptive in all forms. They struggle to find a new, law abiding, healthy way to live their lives. When I first gave up "College Melissa" I had the same struggle. She reigned supreme for about 3 years but held on for at least 4 or 5 more. I would find myself working my way out of the mire only to slip backwards again after a rough night or one poor choice. Even now every once in awhile (like Saturday) "College Melissa" will rear her ugly head. Now, thankfully she shows up very infrequently and she is no where near as out of control or troublesome as she used to be. But she still represents something that I no longer am. The worst part of it all is that I have such extreme guilt following a "College Melissa" episode.

I know that I am a child of God. And I know that I am forgiven. I know that even when I stumble God doesn't turn His back on me. He saw me through some of the toughest times in my life safely to the other side and He won't leave me now. I know all this and yet I allow Satan to convince me I'm a total screw up. Unworthy of being salvaged at this point. Not forgivable. Better just to lie down in the middle of the street and give up. And, worst one of all, that I'm a terrible Christian and a bad example of Christ to others. That last one really hurts.

Over the years I have developed a system that can help me to make sure that my old habitual sins don't show up again (and that "College Melissa" has less a chance of showing up). Maybe they can help you if you're struggling to get past your past.
1. Know yourself. You need to know your triggers, "danger situations", and threats. You can't fix something you haven't bothered to even find yet.
2. Set up a plan before hand. I heard this advice first about boundaries in dating: "Decide how far you're going to let things go before you go out on the date. If you wait until you're making out half dressed in a dark bedroom later to stop things it will be much harder." This applies to any situation though. Know your limits and set them early.
3. Use the buddy system. Sometimes I enlist the help of a trusted, non judgmental friend to help me enforce my boundaries. I once asked an ex-boyfriend of mine to help me with this when we were still dating. Later, after he had stepped aside and allowed me to break my self imposed rules, he said, "You're a big girl. You could have walked away if you wanted to." No, idiot. I couldn't. I needed you to help me. It was big of me just to ask for help. And you weren't big enough to help me. That's why he's now my ex.

I didn't use any of these on Saturday. I had been prepping and worrying about a big test and my Romanian lessons earlier in the day. For some reason it didn't even cross my mind to think about the situation I would be in later that evening. I briefly thought about my boundaries while I was sitting in the ceremony but by then I was already in it. It made it very easy to be flexible on my rules. And my best friend was there but I didn't bother to ask her to help me. Mostly because I hadn't set my plan first.

Today I'm dealing with the consequences of my decisions. I'm exhausted because I stayed out to late. I have a headache and my toes were stained blue for some very odd and unknown reason this morning. But I'm pulling myself back together. I really took to heart the message of forgiveness through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that our worship leader preached this morning. I had 1 or 2 very minor panic attacks (usually have a several big ones throughout the day after "College Melissa" comes out) and I've been reminding myself of the truth of God and His love for me. I know that I will stumble in some way in the future. But I hope that when I do that it's a trip and not a fall. I hope that I can get myself reset on the right path again and not be a barrier for reaching others. And maybe one day I will find that "College Melissa" is truly in the past for good.

Edited to add: This doesn't mean I didn't have a great time at the wedding and that I'm sorry I went. On the contrary, I had a great time and I'm very thankful that I got to go. This is just a personal glimpse into my struggles with getting over the past and the difficulty I have when my heart, head, and actions sometimes don't line up.

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