You haunt me like ghosts. With this letter, I hope my soul can be free from your memories. Some of you go back so many years. You’re old and outdated and the details of you have been lost on me but shame in my decisions have somehow muddled on through the years and lived on in my mind. Some of you are more recent and some of you fall in between.
My childhood isn’t overcome with you, mistakes. Not because you weren’t there, but because I was a kid, and for some reason I am able to give myself a pass for this time in my life. I didn’t really know the ways of the world, I didn’t realize the impact that my mistakes made, and at a younger age I was able to forgive myself easier, love myself stronger.
My teen years are riddled with you. You are around every corner and sewn into my memories. I will be driving to work in the morning, drinking coffee and thinking about how grateful I am for the opportunities life has gifted me with and in the same second I am reminded of you. As my mind takes me back to the day and time when I made you, the familiar scene plays out easily, like a movie reel. A mistake I made 10 years ago will pop into my mind and my heart heaves with shame and regret as if it just happened. I feel unworthy of where I am today, considering where I was on that day. Lying, cheating, or hurting others, maybe all three at once. I ponder the same question over and over: Have I paid enough? Have I spent enough hours wallowing in regret and guilt that 10 years later, that mistake can be erased from my mind? The answer is always no.
On one hand I feel as though I have righted enough wrongs that somehow I must have evened the score by now. On the other hand, I feel I should wear my mistakes like ornaments on a tree, nestled right next to my accomplishments. I might not be proud of them, but the same decision making skills that brought me success in life also brought me shame. I have hurt others along the way and I feel I owe these bad decisions the same glory as the good ones. This is why I will probably never let you go.
Even worse, are the mistakes I have made in adulthood. Haven’t I learned by now? Such small decisions with such horrible, awful consequences. This morning while brushing my teeth I was reminded of the worst mistake of my life. At some point, during each day I go back to it. I think about how I could have taken a different path. I think about how easily it would have been to not make this particular mistake. And I cringe. Driving, brushing my teeth, having dinner with friends, at the movies, it doesn’t matter. The shame comes over me and I turn my head at some point each day and just for a moment I cringe with guilt and regret before turning back, unnoticed, and continue my day.
Especially painful are the mistakes I have made that hurt others. Past boyfriends, past and current friends, bosses, coworkers, my family, maybe even strangers– at some point I have made a mistake that has hurt them in one way or another. They forgive me, they have probably long since forgot about whatever I had done, but for me there is no forgetting.
People constantly tell me I am too hard on myself. I agree, but I struggle to stop. I feel the more I remind myself of these times, the less likely I am to mess up in the future. I know I am not rational in this thinking and I guess this is one more attempt to set myself free.
You, mistakes, have lived too long in my heart. You’ve taken too many hours and moments when I could be living my life instead of visiting my regret. I have learned from you and in some sick way, I love you for molding me. For sculpting my life to what it is, for making me strong, compassionate and for giving me the often uncontrollable will to be better. Today I leave you where you belong, in the past. This is your stop, your time to exit, and I am moving on to a new page, a new chapter, a new day without you.