She was bulimic – we all “knew” it.
When I was 19 years old and studying at university I lived in dorms, a few rooms down the hall from Jules*.
Jules was super skinny, but would constantly be eating. One evening I went into her room and she was in the middle of consuming a two litre tub of ice-cream. Bulimic, she must be. That was the conclusion we all came to.
I cleaned the toliets on our dorm floor. I was tired of cleaning up what I believed to be throw-up stains. So I came up with a genius plan; I’d create “Do you have bulimia?” posters and stick them on the bathroom doors. Posters which would provide a support number, but also hopefully stop people from throwing up in the toliets that I had to clean.
Jules knew the posters were targeted towards her. She knew it was my idea and that I’d created them. It ended in a horrible confrontation, where she told me of extremely sad situations she was dealing with.
I wish I hadn’t created those posters. I wish I could take that back.
At the time I thought it was a brilliant idea, which would make my cleaning job a lot easier. Looking back I realise just how cruel it was, a selfish decision based on judgement, not love, without any facts. An intrusion into another person’s story, which I had no idea about.
This is just one regret I have.
I have many.
I hate it when people say they have no regrets. Perhaps they don’t like to own the “regret” label because it’s become popular to say you don’t have any.
The truth is having regrets just means you’re human. I don’t know how anybody alive could honestly say that there are no moments, or choices, if given the chance they wouldn’t choose to take back, or change.
I try not to dwell on regrets, but there are days when they definitely dominate my thoughts.
I wish I didn’t say that.
I wish I didn’t hurt them.
I wish I said how I really felt.
I wish I had acted sooner.
I wish I had treated myself better.
I wish I had tried harder.
I wish, I wish, I wish.
Life isn’t about living without any regrets, it’s about living in spite of them. It’s about finding ways to not let them define you.
Maya Angelou once said, “This is what I’m learning,” because the learning is never finished, never done.
This is what I’m learning when it come to living with regrets.
1) A lot of emotional pain is caused by our inability to accept that we can’t change the past
Hal Elrod was 20 years old when his car was hit head on by another. He was declared dead for six minutes, before coming back to life. After waking up in hospital Hal was told he had suffered brain damage and that he may never walk again.
A few days later hospital staff pulled his father aside, saying they were concerned about his son because he appeared to be too happy, clearly he hadn’t accepted the reality of his situation.
As it turned out the reason for Hal’s happiness was that he had accepted his reality. He realised that he couldn’t change what had happened. What was done was done. Hal did end up walking again and has gone on to do great things, but “Can’t change it” is still his mantra.
The past is just that, the past. It’s been and gone. There’s no point continually beating yourself up over what can’t be changed. It’s done. You no longer get a say over it. Release it. You may find that by releasing and accepting it, a lot of your pain will be gone.
2) Your past doesn’t need to dictate your future
Just because something bad happened in your past doesn’t mean it needs to define your future. You get to choose as to whether or not you will let your mistakes, or the mistakes of others, consume you.
The best way to look at your regrets is to learn from them. Remember them so you won’t repeat your mistakes and get caught in a vicious cycle of regret. It’s important to grow from each regret so you can make room for the many more mistakes you will make as life goes on. Don’t you love being human!
3) Someday the pain you feel now will be a distant memory
The pain of regret fades, in time it won’t hurt as much as it does now. You may never forget what has happened (this is perhaps a good thing), but if you do the work you will be able to forgive yourself and others for the past.
Nothing lasts forever. When you are in a crisis it’s almost impossible to see out of it. But the pain won’t always be as intense. It may always be there, like a broken heart that never completely heals. If you smash a plate can it ever be perfectly put back together? No, cracks will remain. But that’s how the light gets in.
4) There is always redemption, it just might not look how you think it will
Redemption will come. It just may not be the answer you initially hoped or prayed for. We may wish with everything we have that we could go back and make different choices. Unfortunately we can’t.
That kind of redemption is not available to us. However, what we can trust in is that some kind of answer will always come. We will find a way to move on from our pain, we will find a way to forgive. In time things won’t seem as hard. We will learn what to do, how to carry on, despite what has happened to us.
“When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm is about.” – Haruki Murakam
5) Be kind
If we allowed it, we could beat ourselves up for the rest of our lives for our mistakes. Don’t. No progress is made in this space.
The number one rule in life should be to be kind, to yourself. How you treat yourself is often how you will treat others. Get into the habit of treating yourself with the respect you deserve. Regardless of the regrets you have you are still worthy of love.
Having regrets, making mistakes – these things make you human. It’s all a part of the human experience. Be kind to yourself for being human. It’s not your fault, really. Your parents are to blame.
*Name has been changed for obvious reasons