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Protected: On change, resistance, and in response to those shocked by my pregnancy announcement. (I’d grab a cuppa – message me for password)

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The Stranglehold of Memory

Be kind to me
My robot heart is fragile too
Keep it well, keep it true
My robot heart
– Hawksley Workman

There’s something that’s been bothering me a lot lately, and it comes in the form of discrepancy. I think we all tend to feel unsettled when we’re not at peace: when our actions and thought patterns defy what we want them to be, it causes inner conflict. I find that usually, simply recognising the existence of that discrepancy is enough to move toward doing something about it. But what happens when the gap seems impossible to close? Sometimes, when a behaviour or thought pattern has been so deeply engrained for so very long, it almost feels impossible to do or see things any differently. The stranglehold of memory exerts such a strong force over our minds that even when logical actions and reactions are staring us in the face, we can’t help but surrender to the reflexive patterns we’ve followed our whole lives.

One of the reasons it’s causing me such distress is because it goes against everything I try to stand for. As I mentioned not too long ago, practising acceptance of the past and focusing on the future is something that helped me get on with life after everything was thrown up in the air. Reminding myself that we only get one life, and making it a priority not to waste a second on things that have already happened has allowed me to be more productive, more proactive, and more positive. But I find I keep slipping up. I allow my mind to default to panic and disaster mode at the slightest sign of history repeating itself, despite all present-day evidence to the contrary. The trouble with investing your whole heart into people is that you give them full permission for the potential to hurt you catastrophically. And when people have done just that, and repeatedly, it’s hard not to put a guard up. One thing I’ve reiterated many times lately is that no matter how many times my heart has taken a beating, it’s not going to stop me from putting it straight back out there. But what happens when you do that, yet your mind is unable to let go of the fear it could all happen again?

“But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while,
even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller’s Wife

A good friend recently gave a good analogy. Imagine if you were assaulted or mugged in a dark alley one night. You’d probably be a little scared of dark alleys for a while, even if they were the most beautiful alleys on the planet. It’s the oldest of lessons: touch a hot element and get burned, and you’ll learn not to make the same mistake again. But that goes so very much against how I want to live life: I want to take risks and hope for the best; I don’t want to cage myself in and become a prisoner of fear. I want so desperately to be able to get to the end of my life and look back without regret – to say I gave it my absolute all, and have “oh wells” rather than “what ifs”. I want to live with passion and zest for life, believe in happy endings and in the innate goodness of people. I want to believe that people care about each other, and I want to believe in love. Not just settling for unreliable friends and acquaintances, or a partner you wish understood you. Not just settling for a job that pays the bills but doesn’t make you excited every day. But finding those fairytale endings, those brilliant friends who’d cross oceans to make you feel better when you’re down, that perfect partner who knows you better than you know yourself, with whom you never have to wonder, that amazing job that seems designed for the most unique skill and interest set that belongs to you alone… I want to believe in it all, but I can’t stop my mind going into panic mode at the tiniest imperfection. I can’t shake the feeling that investing my heart into things in similar ways I’ve done in the past is going to result in disaster, so instead of accepting and believing that sometimes in life things can work out, I default to it’s happening all over again in some futile form of self-preservation mechanism. I inadvertently doom my own existence by allowing past events to dictate a future that by all rights has every potential to be wonderful.

I realise life isn’t perfect, I realise I’m not perfect and I realise people aren’t perfect. I realise that nobody can live a fairytale existence free of hurt, pain or disappointment – that’s just real life. I realise I probably need to lower my expectations of the world – not even expectations; hopes… any situation can go brilliantly or terribly, I just don’t know how to break free from the worry that’s become so at home in my mind after a series of life blows. It’s human nature to want to protect ourselves, but I’ve always maintained that by guarding ourselves we miss out on the incredible depths of emotion that could be felt by opening our souls to another human being. Greater openness involves greater risk of destruction, but living a half-life isn’t really living at all. So how does one break away from the risk of self-fulfilling prophecies? If you always expect the worst, it has a habit of becoming manifest. We inadvertently plant seeds of sabotage that will allow us to feel comforted should things fall apart, giving ourselves the option to later say our fears were fully justified. But doing this destroys the present moment. Kindness is questioned, assumptions are made, and the path that could be walked in bliss and beauty is strewn with imaginings of worst case scenarios, or detours to hunt for signs that history is doomed to repeat.

Why is it so difficult to let go of former hurts and simply embrace the opportunity for a fresh slate? Why are we conditioned to allow the past to dictate and curb our present ability to live? Why must memory exert such a frighteningly strong stranglehold, and why is it so difficult to simply choose to shape the future instead? I want to live in the now, free of the worry of the then invading all over again. I just don’t know how to break free. My mind is being a frightful rebel to what my heart wants it to be.

Oh, you delicate heart
There’s deep enough wells for our tears
When we break ourselves carelessly
Through a tumbling down of our fears

Peel the scars from off my back, I don’t need them any more

Peel the scars from off my back,
I don’t need them any more,
You can throw them out
Or keep them in your mason jars,
I’ve come home

– Lyrics from the beautiful Welcome Home (Radical Face)

If you told me a month ago I would now be happier and feeling more at home than I have in my entire life, I probably would have sent you back to the TARDIS to try another point in spacetime after clearly getting the wrong coordinates. I didn’t imagine that in such a short time, what would commonly be seen as one of the worst things that could happen in a lifetime was the catalyst that led me toward the path that genuinely feels more right than anything. I’ve always been a huge advocate for the power of choice, and when everything that’s supposedly certain is pulled out from under your feet leaving you hanging in mid-air, you really do have one: panicking at the loss of control, or shifting your focus toward something you can, and trusting that by allowing yourself to be open to a whole new beginning instead of frantically clinging onto a door already closed, the universe will deliver. And here I sit, a few months later, more secure, happy, and genuinely at peace than I think I ever have been. But I’m not going to lie and say that dealing with people’s reaction to the supposedly abnormal feelings of wellbeing hasn’t been a challenge.

There aren’t a lot of things in life that bother me, but one of them definitely comes in the form of people passing judgment before hearing a whole story, or put more simply: gossip. There have been all sorts of interesting studies about our propensity for talking about people who aren’t in the room, and the psychology of it is rather fascinating. On the plus side, it serves as something that bonds social group members together and can result in feelings of interconnectedness and belonging. But on the reverse, it can destroy friendships and reputations, and can lead one to feelings of alienation, humiliation and belittlement over invented or assumed stories passed through the rumour mill with little to no truth at all. So why is it that the human race is so quick to judge others without first bothering to hear the truth?

As I’m sure many of us experience at some point or another, I’m no stranger to being talked about. I think us bloggers especially may even inadvertently bring it upon ourselves: by putting our hearts, hopes, fears and dreams out there for the whole world to see, naturally there are going to be some old blasts from the past, jealous haters or other Internet trolls that are going to latch onto something you say and use it to fuel spiteful comments or make judgment about you. Something I’ve been tossing about my head lately is something about which I’m not sure how to feel: you know I’m hugely passionate about the idea of giving your all to everyone and everything, but the trouble with always pouring your soul into every open door is the fact that every subsequent occupant will have a piece of you that may no longer reflect the person you are today. This leads to incredible frustration when judgments are passed on those pieces of the past – everyone’s life path is strewn with wrong turns and mistakes here and there, but we become who we are today by learning from them. They’re not one-stop destinations that accurately describe present-day you, but when people’s only impression of you is from a period in which you were learning those lessons, the consequential judgment and skepticism can be hard to take.

Yes, I believe the past plays a huge role in shaping who we are now, but I don’t think we have to wear our history like a map on our face.  Enormous feelings of discontent can evaporate when you realise you have the choice to play along with people’s tendencies to define you by your past, or see yourself as the only true author of your own future. You may have been someone else once, but that doesn’t mean you’re the same person today. If nobody ever learned or grew or changed their ways, what a stale, hopeless world we would find ourselves in. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us every day telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to give credit to other people’s decisions that we are the sum of our past mistakes. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe them.  And in doing so, we construct our own prison cells caging us in from our true potential.

It’s tough not to listen when it feels like the rest of the world’s definition of you is stuck on who you were, overlooking the possibility you could have done any sort of growth since. For the last few weeks, I have been infinitely happier, more content and more secure than I can ever remember being. Lame sap that I am, I told someone recently that in hindsight, it seems that until this point, I’d been living with only ten percent of my heart and simply assuming that that was what life was. Feelings of intense wellbeing and the loss of fear and anxiety that have been such fierce companions for so long are now, for the first time, daily occurences, but people are having a hard time believing it, and tend to meet my mentality with suspicion. Lately, I’m filled with such passion, joy, and a sense of certainty – it feels like I’ve been living in a world of black and white and I’ve finally stepped into technicolour. But why is it so hard to believe that I’m fully capable of being happy? 

The reason I’ve been able to move forward so quickly is, I think, through acceptance. It was one of the goals I wanted to implement this year and it’s something that’s helped me see things with incredible clarity. I look back on the last few years and see so clearly that I was settling; on the surface, going through the motions of what one would assume to be a relatively typical life, yet on the inside, wishing every day for things to be that little bit different. Wishing I didn’t have to worry, or second-guess. Wishing I didn’t have to wonder about what was being said behind my back. Wishing for contentment, security, and genuine happiness. Wishing for compatibility. Wishing for the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach to go away, and wishing that the stuff of fairytales existed in the real world. Wishing I didn’t have to wish so much. Looking back, I know without any shadow of a doubt that that ongoing feeling of discontent was a sign from the universe, and I’ve learned that if something feels wrong, it probably is, and no matter how much you overlook it, go along with a pretense or invest in endeavours to fix it, if you are on the wrong path, something spectacularly catastrophic will happen to open your eyes, and force you onto the right one. It’s happened before, and as a result, it made it that much easier to recognise this time around. I’m genuinely grateful for things taking the direction they did, because they led me to what currently feels like the best chapter of my entire life. And when you know in your heart that things genuinely happen for a reason, that things weren’t right, and that the only thing you can control is the here and now… it makes getting on with the future that much easier. Another goal of mine this year was not to waste any time. So why not choose action? Why not grab hold of opportunities life throws your way and have faith that they could be amazing? I can understand holding onto the past if you’ve lost something that was. But when it was something ultimately uncertain and at times, destructive, why not allow yourself close the door behind you and step into a brighter future just because it may not be the social norm?

There will always be people who’ll judge. There will always be societal pressure to do things a certain way, and there will always be questions, rumours or misunderstandings. There will always be people who will define you by your past actions, but at the end of the day, only you know your true heart, and the person you are today. The past will always be there, but it cannot be changed. The only thing any of us can ultimately control is our life from this point on. So why not leave history where it belongs, make the most of our time, and focus on a better future? If you’re making the right choices for you, gossip and judgment can’t really hold that much weight at all.