I started this post before I left for Atlanta at the end of April to speak at Mom 2.0 Summit. It is one of the few times in 44 months that I didn’t finish and publish a post the same day I started it. I guess I finally figured out how the internet works because I suddenly felt shy and naked about sharing so many of my sordid imperfections and poor life choices. This leads me to believe that I’m a slow learner cuz, like, 44 months? Come on, homegirl. Instead of working through that fear, I decided to go to Target to see if they had any Easter candy left at deeply discounted prices.
I lived in Atlanta for two years after Cal was born until I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21. Most of the memories from my time in Atlanta are fragments because I am filled with shame when I remember the gas vouchers I received from my social worker so I wouldn’t miss my welfare appointments and the rotisserie chicken I had to put back because my food stamps didn’t pay for hot prepared foods and the time I didn’t buckle two-year-old Cal into her umbrella stroller and she fell out. Those little moments are the base notes, and they are the ones that stay. Occasionally, I recall something funny and beautiful, but like top notes, they evaporate quickly.
On this most recent trip to Atlanta, my past collided with the present. The dark waters of all the fucked-up shit I used to do started filling in the empty corners of my memory. I suddenly understood why I’ve been feeling like a fraud for years and years. My life is so good now. Is it okay to admit that? I get the sense that if your life is pretty solid, you’re supposed to point out the flaws and defects, but it’s such a weird and wondrous privilege for me to be able to say those words and actually mean it that I don’t want to dumb it down or cut into its beauty.
My life is pretty good. But on many days, I’m still not very happy. And I’m not happy because I still see myself as the person I was 5 years ago. 10 years ago. 20 years ago. Not much has changed in my self-view because I am a prisoner to my past. I live in fear of it and I keep my sins close because I don’t want to be surprised when every bad thing I’ve done boomerangs and slices me in two.
When I came back home from my trip, I had forgotten that I had even started a post. As I was about to open a page to start a new post, I saw the title of this one.
How to Break Your Addiction to the Past
I don’t want to brag or anything, but I gave myself a couple of high-fives (looks like clapping but more boisterous) for being psychic. Some sixth sense knew that I would go to Atlanta and come back ready to untether myself from the myths I’ve believed about myself for so many years.
I don’t keep in touch with many people from my past. Sometimes, it’s by default because they are dead or inaccessible due to incarceration or other unfortunate circumstances. Mostly, it’s by choice. Regret was not one of my strong suits when I was younger. I assumed that every mistake I made would add to the rich patina of a fast and wild youth, something I could look back on with amusement. Instead, it’s the kind of past where I now have to ask questions like I did in Atlanta.
I stayed in town for a couple of extra days because JK, my best homegirl and one of the few vestiges from my past that is still a part of my life, now lives in Atlanta. JK threatened to kick my ass when we first met, but somehow, she became my ride or die. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding.
On the last day, I spent a few hours with JK’s homeboy who was in charge of looking out for me (clearly, these people know that I am too irresponsible to be left alone). Almost an hour into casual conversation about everything and nothing, he stopped mid-sentence. I saw a shift in his face, and he said very slowly, “I….I think I know you. From a long time ago.”
There are few things I dread more than hearing these words. I had no recollection of meeting him, but he looked so sure. So I asked the question that I sometimes have to ask because my past is what it is.
“Did I sleep with you?”
He didn’t hesitate before saying “no.”
“So why were we hanging out then?”
He went on to describe multiple occasions in which we had spent time together, just the two of us. Once for coffee at Starbucks. Once to an arcade. Once at the one-bedroom apartment he shared with several friends. And once, at the weekly stay motel I was living in with Cal. He had even met Cal. “You were easy to talk to,” he said. “And look at you now. You look like you’re doing really well. Nothing like the girl I knew back then.”
I believed him. His words brought me so much comfort and relief. For a long time, I believed that I was beyond repair and very, very bad. But this person who had known me Then and met me again in the Now saw the truth.
For hours afterwards, we filled each other in on the last twelve years. I realized that my misery and shame and fear and regret changed nothing but my present. And my present is good. Really good. Out of habit, I still find myself turning around to meet my past. But then I think about the shitload of problems this has caused and I remind myself I am free to move on. Anything is possible. This is how I break my addiction to the past.
“It may have just been a moment for you, but it changed every single one that followed for me.” – I Wrote This for You
Holler at me:
Flourish in Progress on Facebook: I kick it on FB, like, all damn day.
Instagram (@flourishinprogress): My Insta profile reads: Hallmark ornament collector on the outside. Ghetto as fuck thug on the inside. Just letting you know in case you’re looking for flower pictures and shit.
Twitter (@ElizabethJLiu): I write stuff on here sometimes. Oh. I tweeted this out yesterday, but does y’all know any track that says “Versace, Versace, Versace” besides the one from Migos?