I originally wrote and published this piece in 2015 on my very first blog – which no longer exists. I felt compelled to share it here after writing this post, it’s a valuable exercise you might find useful. I found my way back to myself and have changed in a million and one ways since 2015 – and I owe so much of that to writing.
It’s January and I’m in Paris, sitting across the table from my husband in the apartment we’ve rented for the month, discussing our dreams and plans and trying to articulate with deep honesty what we really want our future to look like.
But I can’t shake the feeling I’ve missed something important. That amongst my collection of inspirational quotes about moving forward and starting new chapters in life, that nothing will ever really change because I remain the same person I’ve always been, and I’m kidding myself to think I could ever achieve a life of true adventure, creativity and freedom.
I can’t help but feel that’s a members only club to which I haven’t been invited.
This feeling isn’t entirely new, it’s bubbled to the surface whenever I dare to dream for as long as I can remember. A result of being a home-schooled small-town child, I haven’t always been entirely confident of my place in the world and slightly embarrassed that I wanted more than I already had; worldwide travel, to live abroad, to be somewhere else that offered the opportunity to meet unique people and do unusual things. I’ve often experienced an undercurrent of discomfort at the thought that by wanting a life that may be different from those around me, I’m subliminally saying that some of the people I love the most are not a member of my tribe.
But I’ve always managed to ignore the feeling that I’ve missed something important, only this time it was different; it was too intense to ignore.
Rather than brushing it aside, I decided to lean into it instead and it soon became obvious that I had missed something critical, that sometimes in order to move forward it’s necessary to first step back into our past and face whatever may be tethering us there.
So I went back, right back to my earliest memory and I began to spend time reflecting on the really significant moments and events within the various chapters of my life – both the positive and the negative – which had also shaped my life to date.
I took out my journal and I mapped out those chapters and within each I wrote down things others had said that had changed me in some way; I recalled people who had come into my life and left an imprint on my heart, the paths I had taken knowing at the time that they were particularly noteworthy because they could never be retraced.
Writing this, I’m aware the entire exercise sounds superfluous; there are so many important things going on in the world and there I was putting time aside specifically for navel-gazing. Predictably, there were times when the words flowed and times when I felt stifled by memories, but I kept going because I felt like I was doing something that was too important to stop.
Because what I was beginning to see was the truth.
Nothing will ever really change, you will always remain the same person – you may achieve some of those things you set out to do – but you will never achieve your ultimate dream if you keep listening to the voices in your head.
And those voices are yours.
Yes, they may have originated from that very first time you became body conscious when you were little and a friend pushed their finger into your belly and said, “You’re fat” – but why have you said those exact same words to yourself nearly every day since? And maybe those kids who teased you when you first started school aged 14 were a little bit mean, but it’s you who’s always been ashamed of that gap-toothed teenager and her eagerness to please. And how about the time you were heartbroken and on the rebound, you hooked up with a friend who said, “I could never love you”. You didn’t even like yourself at the time – so you certainly weren’t expecting to be loved – yet you took ownership of those words and repeated them to yourself. I could go on…but I won’t.
Why is it that so often we can forgive others and move on, yet we fail to forgive and move on when it comes to ourselves? I almost long to kiss that sweet child and to tell her she’s not fat, I wish I could hug that gap-toothed people pleaser, and I certainly wish I could have saved myself from the self-destruction I seemed intent on for quite some time leading up to my divorce.
But I can’t. Just like I can’t erase past mistakes, bad decisions, fake friends, wrong men and my words and actions that hurt others, even when I would never intentionally hurt anyone. But I can learn to close my ears to those voices in my head and to replace them with kind words instead.
In the end we are the same person, but we do change, and we’re also a composite of many selves and how we talk to who we become – as a result of the experiences each self goes through – can have a profound impact on how we live the next chapter of our lives.
I wish someone had warned me about this, I was always told not to listen too much to what other people said, but I was never told not to absorb those words and then to say them to myself. Which is why I want to warn you now.
I also want to share that the process of stepping back into the past in order to move forward into your future is some navel-gazing worth doing. Aside from recognising the source of so much negative self-talk, I also saw a richer version of my life than I’d been able to see before, and have a much deeper understanding of who I really am. Although like anything, change requires patience and it takes time to dull those once roaring voices until you can no longer hear them at all.
All those ‘don’t look back’ quotes are all very well, but sometimes it’s necessary for us to revisit our past in order to let go of it properly. Only then are we able to make a truly conscious decision about who we really want to become.
© 2017 Esther Zimmer