By the time we reach our 50th year we all have emotional baggage. I have so much it would fill several airport trollies and need a small army of porters to tow it behind me, which would be both expensive and exhausting. So at various times in my life I’ve made a choice to leave my suitcases behind. I now travel along my life’s path with a large hold-all filled only with my most vital and treasured possessions. It turns out all that baggage I thought I needed, and which made me me, was unnecessary.
As regular readers know, I did not have the best childhood in the world. My parents lacked education, emotional intelligence and made some very poor decisions. In my twenties I was really angry about that and the way their choices and behaviour had affected me. But here’s what I learned: they did not know any better. They had been taught poor coping mechanisms and interpersonal skills by their parents and were simply living what they’d learned. By the time I was 30 I had to make a choice to forgive them or move away from them. I chose forgiveness of my Mum and Step-Dad because I love them and they love me, and chose to let go of my biological Dad.
I have no idea why some people hold on to the pain of poor parental relationships. Why anyone would spend their whole lives blaming their parents for how their own lives have turned out. Yes our childhoods are determined by our parents, but our adult lives are not. We can choose to let go, forgive (or not) and to move on. We can talk through our issues with a trained therapist. We can learn better ways of showing anger and hurt. We can read books on how to improve our communication and interpersonal skills. We can learn to do things differently to the generations who have come before us. By the time we’re 50 we surely have to take responsibility for our own lives and not keep blaming someone else for how we’ve turned out.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
I fell out with two of my closest friends in recent years and both were holding on to past pain, which I found frustrating. One had had an eating disorder since her early teens. She was adopted and had let this dominate her entire adult life. She never sought help and when her body started packing up from years of malnutrition to be honest I found it hard to have much sympathy. Her food issues set a bad example for her three children and I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t even tried to sort her shit out. She herself adopted a child and it’s plain for everyone to see that she never really bonded with him. She’s a good parent in that he’s looked after very well, but she keeps her emotional distance and is repeating the distant relationship she had with her adoptive Mum. The other friend also had a strained relationship with her Mum, poor body image, couldn’t come to terms with her chronic illness and the effect this had had on her life, and basically wallowed in the whole thing. Her constant ‘poor me’ attitude was really grating especially as, compared to me, she’d had a pretty good life! Why would you not seek counselling and at least make a stab at sorting your issues out? Why do some people get to their 40s and keep walking on the same old treadmill of pain and misery, focusing on everything they’ve lost and not on all the things they still have? I can’t image waking up every day and hating myself or my body – how on earth would I face the days?
It seems to me that people who are still wallowing in past pain by the time they’re middle aged are getting something out of it. You wouldn’t do it otherwise. We are animals and we don’t embark on behaviour that isn’t rewarding, even if the reward is negative. I pointed this out in an email I sent to the second friend mentioned above which she made public on Facebook and I was branded an evil witch and sent to Coventry by half my so-called ‘friends’, but I stand by every single word. We all have baggage. We all have relationships which have damaged us in some way. I’ve had my entire adult life taken away through chronic illness as have many of you, yet I am happy. I have my emotional shit together. I do not blame my Dad for being crap, or my Mum for her lack of coping skills. I realized I’d made a mistake in chosing my abusive Husband so I left the creep – I didn’t stay in the marriage torturing myself like my parents have done for the better part of 40 years. I do not blame my body for letting me down – bless it, it’s doing the best it can to keep me alive despite everything. I do not have the life I’d planned, but I do have a life and I have no intention of living it in misery.
Happiness is a choice. No matter what’s gone on before we can wake each day and choose to not let our past define our future. We can forgive ourselves, and others, for our mistakes and for not being perfect. I am not one of these happy clappy people who embraces my disability – who the fuck would embrace a broken body?! But I accept my broken-ness and try to live the best life I can despite it. If I focused on everything my illnesses have taken from me (career, partner, kids, money, holidays, hobbies) I’d probably top myself, so I don’t focus on it! It’s not rocket science.