How to Break Your Addiction to the Past

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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

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  • Lynellekw

    You are a good and wise lady.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      xoxo

  • Jennifer Smith

    I had my oldest son at 19. There are a few years there where I fell way short of mother of the year. When I decided to straighten up, the guilt of what I had done almost killed me. Now I am good and life is good and my oldest is 11. I still catch myself feeling the guilt of my past on occasion and totally avoiding the past (even though I live in the same town) but I always try to remind myself that even though mistakes were made, my son is alive and I am doing the very best I can now. And hopefully, he will not have much memory of those couple of years.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Sometimes, I try to remind myself that I feel guilty and sad about my early days as a mother because I care so much. I want the best for Cal just as you do for your son and although we may not have been able to express our good intentions and love fully in the beginning, we knew our kids deserved more so we did what we had to do. High five, homegirl.

  • Natane

    I feel like this is where Rafiki’s (yes, that Rafiki, from the Lion King) words about the past hurting are incredibly wise. Anytime I feel unease about past choices I remember all of Rafiki’s words when he confronted Simba about who Simba was and they remind me of who I am. That despite mistakes, and poor choices, and a world of hurt, underneath it all I was always who I am now and who I am now is a good, happy, deserving person. And now I get to learn from the past.

    Thank you for your open, honest, inspiring words.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Please still be my friend but I have never watched this movie in its entirety. We might even have it, so I will have to dig it out and watch. That Rafiki dude sounds like he knows his shit.

      And I hope you remember: You deserve the best. All of the time. In everything. You are good. You are someone of value.

      • Natane

        Oh no. You probably missed all the good parts then. Like Rafiki’s wisdom, Timon and Pumba’s hawaiian dance, the ending. Definitely watch it, Rafiki knows what he’s talking about. I probably quote him once a week.
        Thank you. It’s always lovely to hear that I deserve the world. Just remember that you do, too.

        • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

          I watched it. And LOVED it.

          • Natane

            Yay! It’s such a delightful film.

  • Angela V.

    Thank you for writing this. I’m trying to work through a cornucopia of painful memories that feel like a mind prison. I’ve been defeated for too long by the invisible, because I don’t know the way to victory. But anything is possible. Even good things.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      That word describes it PERFECTLY: poison. The longer we allow it to exist the wider it spreads and it seeps into everything.

      I know you can do this. Hard, but totally fucking worth it. YOU GOT THIS, GIRL.

  • miss_britt

    I think it’s interesting that he recognized you, that he knew he knew you.

    Because the good that is your life now? It was always in you, I bet. xo

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I think so too. I look so different from back then. Maybe my habit of wild gesticulation did me in.

      And, thank you. You’re a great example of what it means to find good in anything and everything.

  • Steph@DontChewGlass

    “I realized that my misery and shame and fear and regret changed nothing but my present.” Jesus Christ. I need to read this every day.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You are too insanely awesome to let your Before take away the perfection of Now.

  • fran

    i know exactly what you mean, after 11yrs of unhappy married life, as i would cry to sleep in my new place, i reminded myself i didn’t have to be sad anymore, you said it best, “i am free to move on. anything is possible” it’s so simple, seems TOO simple at times, but it’s sure refreshing to think that, smile, and let the bad feelings and thoughts from the past go.
    Just the reminder i needed, Thanks sweetie!

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Giiiiirl, a big change like that is often scary and uncomfortable, but YOU GOT THIS. I’m not tryna compare my smaller relationships to married life, but I often stayed with someone for far too long because I was just too damn scared of the unknown. I intensely disliked the present situation but at least I was familiar with it. But when I eventually broke free and weathered that transition period, I got to look back and think “thank god that’s not my life anymore.”

  • http://shelaughsatthedays.net carrien-she laughs at the days

    Is it ok that I just cried a little reading this because I’m so glad for you to have seen this glimpse and realized your freedom?Also, you and the words, you’re good at putting them together. <3

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I’m so glad God put you in my life. You’re very good at pointing out the good in everything.

  • http://www.southshoredecoratingblog.com/ Stacy Curran

    You are such am emotionally mature, beautiful, person and one hell of a good writer! I really admire you.
    Stacy

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You’re making me blush, homegirl. Thank you for seeing me in such a positive light. I hope to adopt your view one day.

  • Thuy

    I love you and thank you for this, I hope to meet you someday my ghetto fab boo!

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Coincidentally, I love you too.

  • Elizabeth Barnes

    You are so damn brave and I love you for it. Let it go girl. Easier said than done I know. And now that damn catchy Disney song is in my head…

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You’re so kind. And yes, so much harder to do but so worth it. (That’s what I tell myself when I want to give up because I’m a total giver upper)

  • Corrine

    I am going to read this entry every day until I convince myself that “I am free to move on.” Thanks for sharing!

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I try to think about the life I could have if I just unhooked myself from my past. It helps. Just think, you could be even more amazing than you already are, boo!

  • Misty

    I’m so glad you got a glimpse of your past that wasn’t all bad, through the eyes of someone who knew you then. It’s easy to focus on all the mistakes and bad actions, but what you need to know is that you’ve always had that good in you. It just took all those mistakes and time for you to realize it yourself and be in this good place you are in. You were always going to get there. It was just that the road was bumpy and very hard. I’m happy that you have that clarity now.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I wish I could stop learning everything the hard way. lol. But then….what would I do with all that free time on my hands? ;)

  • http://www.smacksy.com Lisa Rae @ smacksy

    Thank you for this. I have been told it’s okay to look back but not stare. This is hard because I’m a stare-er. Moving on is a relief and sometimes I have to learn it all over again. xo

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Oh. So eye-opening. I feel a lot of pressure to always stay facing forward. Much more doable if I can turn around occasionally….as long as I don’t stare. Thank you.

  • Sarah Stars

    I concur with what most have said above – you are wise, and wonderful, and thank you for sharing, even when it seems scary or like some jerk is going to judge you unfairly. I hope I get to where you are – that I can admit weaknesses, and make that a strength in and of itself. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Sometimes I think I share out of ignorance bc when I realized very recently that um anyone could read anything on here, it sort of spooked me. But then I went right back to being my ignorant self. ;)

      • Sarah Stars

        I would be paranoid beyond belief that the people that I don’t want reading it would be the ONLY people reading. But I guess the ignorant thing works here, otherwise there would be a lot less blogs, and that means that I wouldn’t know there were other people out there that are part of my ‘tribe’.

  • Amanda

    Thank you. I can’t tell you how much I needed to read this. I often have to remind myself that I hold myself to the bar of what I considered success when I was half the age I am now. The reality is that I’m a very different person than I was even five years ago — and miles from that naive little girl fresh out of high school, the one who thought she’d be married with three kids. I need to let go of that and realize that for the person I am now, I’m pretty damn successful. Or, well, I’m getting there. I believe Elsa said it best: “I’m never going back — the past is in the paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast!”

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      There are so many different kinds of success. I don’t think we can have them all, but more importantly, I don’t think any of us even want them all. I think it’s pretty fucking awesome that you can assess the success you’ve achieved. Gotta know where we are to get where we are going.

  • chelsie

    Liz your words always hit home. I am too ashamed of things from my past and feel as though I failed my oldest for so long as a mother. His father was not much of a father (or hisband) at all and that consumed me. It swallowed me whole so much that I don’t remember too much of my son’s first years cause I was so wrapped up in the bullshit his father was doing or who he was doing. Too much time wasted being a doormat and not embracing the AMAZING child I had. I have 2 younger ones now and they test me everyday. Everyday is a struggle to find balance with those two and I wish I had paid more attention the first time to know how to handle toddlers. My parenting skills are not something I’m proud of. I am that woman in the store clinching her teeth telling her 2, yes 2 screaming kids to knock it off. I’m the one you look at and wonder what the he’ll she is doing as a mom cause her.kids are so disrespectful. The answer is I have no fucking clue. Reading your blogs touches my heart and also lifts me up when I have had a bad day. So thank you for bearing your soul and.letting us see things get better.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Oh girl, I struggle so much when faced with the immense guilt of all that wasted time on stupid men who totally didn’t deserve my attention. I wish I had known at that age to focus on Cal. All of those years are a blur and if I ever had another baby, I truly feel like I would be starting at square one because I was too preoccupied with drama to really know what I was doing as a parent. But you know what? Negative energy is always heavier and when so much of it is heaved onto us, it can be overwhelming. I know all about the clinched teeth. When it gets to that point, I just try to get through the day. I think “tomorrow will be better.” And it often is.

  • http://www.elizabethaquino.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth Aquino

    Just wow. Right now.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Wow to seeing you last week. The happiness effect of spending time with you is, like, multi-day.

  • Maggie May

    This is awesome. I love blogging because of posts like this.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      HI! Oh gosh, thank you for even reading. You were one of the first people I “met” online and a good example of what real writing can be.

  • Adrienne Henderson

    I keep living in the past by rehashing certain time periods and remembering the people I used to hang out with. (mid 20’s) They pretty much dumped me and I don’t really know why. I think the Why is the reason it kind of haunts me. These people obviously are not the l kind I want in my life currently but the Why is still there. I am going to learn from you and consciously stop my train of thoughts when I start to think backwards. Thank you for posting this and sharing :)

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I totally feel you on this. Other than rehashing the mistakes that I personally made, I over-obsess about why this person or those people treated me a certain way or didn’t treat me a certain way. Like, why didn’t that person want to be my friend anymore? Is it me? Am I not good enough? And even though I tell myself to just fuck em, it haunts me. The only small comfort I can find is if I had had all those people in my life from then till now, I would still be really fucked up. And I try to be thankful that they disappeared.

  • Jody

    I just found your blog and I love it! You are funny and know your shit. Plus I think you use more cuss words than I do and that is really something!

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Sup! Welcome! Sometimes I try to talk without salty language and I start to sweat because it requires so much effort. :)

  • ambervd

    “But this person who had known me Then and met me again in the Now saw the truth.” I love this. I want so much for certain people in my life to see me for who I am NOW (wife/mother of two/ writer of sartorialisms and ridiculousness) and let go of who I was THEN because it’s hard to see myself in the past in their eyes when I feel so good about my present in my own. This is why my husbands continued love amazes me. He knew me then and still loves me NOW. Even when I am somewhat stuck in the past and mired down in the muck that I used to be , he reminds me of the beauty in the NOW and encourages me to wallow and rejoice in it.
    sidebar: we seriously need to hang out.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You forgot STYLE MAVEN!
      I am so fucking glad that you have a partner who can remind you of your awesomeness on a regular basis. You have so much light and goodness and it, like, even comes out of you even through social media because there is so much of it. P.S. We so totally need to hang out. Forrealz. Are you crazy busy during the summer?

  • http://www.unitedstatesofbecky.blogspot.com/ unitedstatesofbecky

    Thank you for this post. Also: “I remind myself I am free to move on” = perfection. I needed to read that.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Objectively speaking, you are one of the most awesome people I have met online. I hope you realize your immense worth.

      • http://www.unitedstatesofbecky.blogspot.com/ unitedstatesofbecky

        Your comments make me blush and thank you. You’re pretty badass and awesome yourself. :)

  • lauriewrites

    I like you SO much. You are a survivor of the finest order, and I appreciate your existence in my little corner of the planet. I’m also glad you got to go back there, since it helped a little to leave some stuff that’s no longer useful behind. You deserve to experience every minute of your beautiful life now, that that shitty time prepared you for. I was thinking on my walk today at lunch, how come I had to almost die to stop trying to kill myself for real? How come I have to get in so much trouble sometimes before I straighten up? Why does it take this? But I guess it takes what it takes, and then a miracle happens for some of us in spite of ourselves. We are so lucky. And now if we’re lucky lucky we can enjoy it and maybe give some of it away, too. I know you do that for me when you write this stuff down. I know you do it for lots of other people too, as well as yourself.

    Anyway, I am being super serious today, apparently. I am just glad that I got to hug you that time in that old southern house. At least I hope I did. I am forgetful and socially awkward and usually holding a hot beverage. Just know that I meant to if I didn’t. xoxo

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      We’ve been following each other on Twitter for quite a while but it’s only recently that I’ve had the good fortune to finally meet you and hug you. And then monopolize you for, like, 10 minutes, which I still feel very selfish about so don’t hold it against me!

      Knowing you soothes my soul. (wait, was that creepy?)

  • Monster Mona

    I struggle with coming to terms with my past every day. I thought every act would just be one hilarious story in the blooper feel of my life and now, as a more grown-up person, I see that some things have more lasting repercussions. Thank you for writing this, and for your blog- it’s my favorite thing on the internet (minus all the cats and porn, of course). <3

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      When I come to that place of feeling so many shitty feelings about my past, I try to remember that I, at least, can see that my “past me” is not someone I want to be anymore. And that as grueling as it is to deal with the repercussions, I have to figure out a way to live a better life (fail daily, of course) so that the future me doesn’t have to go through what the present me is dealing with. Um, I don’t think I even made sense just now.

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  • Tiffany Gann

    Thank you for writing and sharing this story. I needed this!