Have you ever tried hiking with a 50 pound backpack? It takes enormous balance and strength. But eventually everyone bows under the pressure and grows fatigued. That’s what it feels like when we carry the weight of all our past traumas, indiscretions, anger, losses, perceived slights, disappointment, and failures.
It’s time to move on. Deal with those issues so we can stand tall and leave that crippling pack behind. But we can’t do this by ignoring what happened or pushing it deep inside. Neither relieves the burden or changes the path they created. Instead they fester, waiting to erupt at any moment.
It requires an honest assessment of the contents. In some cases it means owning up to our part and making amends to those we harmed. It’s the only way to forge a new road, no longer encumbered by our past. Choosing to acknowledge what contributed to the load and seeking out better, healthier ways to interact in the future. Otherwise we are doomed to build and carry similar packs.
For some, it’s a harder road to traverse than others depending on the destruction and damage left behind. But all we can do is look at the here and now and the choices required to move forward in a more constructive and positive way. Disrespect, lying, cheating, stealing, envying or attacking others for their successes instead of sharing and enjoying their triumphs leads to shame and guilt, signaling we’re approaching or crossing a line. They aren’t meant to be ignored, allowed to simmer under the surface, be used by others or fed upon as a tool to keep us hating ourselves. Instead, they should be taken as cues that make us think long and hard about our behaviors, encouraging change when appropriate. They are meant to help us see when we’ve veered off the path and need a course correction.
In other cases, shame and guilt come from horrifying trauma, survivor’s guilt or the erroneous belief we caused a problem we neither had the power to create nor the ability to resolve. A child who believes into adulthood a parent’s death was due to their anger after an accident, died in childbirth, a divorce. Devastating emotions that impact all future relationships until seen through adult eyes for what they are- out of our control.
Here and now we can look at the abyss and face the monsters. For some that means confronting them head on, for others it means asking for help, support and guidance, learning to stop enabling inappropriate behaviors and getting therapeutic interventions.
Only then can we confront our demons and finally let them go. Skeletons, secrets, anger, hate, losses, failures… only have power if we let them. Brought into the light and dealt with openly, they can be transformed. Carrying the load indefinitely by pretending the past never happened or feeding on its issues can only succeed for so long before the weight destroys us.
And finally we must forgive- ourselves and others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we let someones atrocious behavior slide. Forgiveness does not mean we absolve them of their culpability. Not at all. Instead think of it as a purposeful decision to end your overwhelming and suffocating hurt and pain, even when they don’t deserve it. Finally letting go of the emotions that are ripping us apart so we can move on, They aren’t suffering, in fact they may be thrilled to know their actions continue to cause such devastation. We are the only ones impacted, we are the only ones who can stop its hold.
Forgiveness isn’t just for others. We can’t truly drop our load and move on without forgiving ourselves as well. Too often we can be our own worst enemy, berating and diminishing at every turn.
As they say in recovery,
Help me to accept the things I cannot change
Change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.