Sometimes I make the mistake of dwelling on the past: Facebook memories, old photos, journal entries, gifts and cards from years ago. It always sends me spiraling into a cocktail of nostalgia, regret, and sadness. If self-pity were a drug, I would have overdosed long ago.
I traded my “bad bitch” energy for “anxious girl” neuroticism. No longer the life of the party, I’m more like the veggie plate you bring to a bridal shower. Practical, sensible, the thing that people pick at, but no one wants. And who’s going to eat all the red cherry tomatoes? Okay, I lost the metaphor. The lie I tell myself regularly is that I’ll “get back on track” and start looking like 25-year-old me. Beyond just looking like her again, I wish I had the same qualities as her: fierce, passionate, loyal, fun, confident. I had a few demons then, but eventually I made friends with them.
How did I get here? It wasn’t overnight, that’s for sure. And I don’t mean the change in my appearance. Like every other person alive, the culmination of all my life’s choices, good and bad, snowballed until they eventually buried me under an avalanche. Successes and challenges alike led me to where I am today, but I tend to focus on the negative ones because that’s human nature. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but this whole post is about my toxic fascination. Anyway, I’ve digressed too long.
Let me tell you–it’s extremely hard to find your way somewhere that doesn’t exist. To become a person that you aren’t anymore. There’s a special type of denial and sadness you go through, mourning your past self. The denial part is thinking you can ever go back to who you were, emotionally or physically. The sadness is trying to accept that.
Self-pity is a hell of a drug.
I wish I could clone myself just so I could grab myself by the shoulders, look myself deeply in the eye, and say, Hey, idiot. Stop romanticizing the past. Take off the rose-colored glasses, sweetheart, because guess what? Change happens by looking forward, not backward. There’s nothing for me in the past. If I want to gain more self-confidence, stop caring what others think, or be fit and healthy, I need to take the steps to do that. None of those steps involve moping, wallowing, or wistful longing while staring at old photos. I give myself permission to experience those feelings; they are valid. But they aren’t helpful.
Oh, and the elephant in the room here is that I was an idiot in my 20s. An absolute rude, immature bitch sometimes who burned bridges, acted impulsively, and didn’t know how to manage her emotions or cope with any amount of inconvenience or stress. I think we all act foolishly in our 20s in some way or another, but that’s no excuse. I was no paragon of virtue (or any other kind of paragon, for that matter). It’s laughable that I want to idealize my past self, while conveniently forgetting all the terrible shit I did.
If we’re being fair, the other side of that coin is that I have a lot of positive things in my life now compared to 25-year-old Jessica. I’ve accomplished things I’m proud of. I have friends and family I love. I’m much better at handling my emotions and approaching things with mindfulness. I make better decisions. Basically, I’m more of an average 30-something than I like to think I am, i.e. someone who has matured and grown. An imperfect human doing their best. That’s all of us, right?
If you’re wondering what’s helped me, therapy has been a major step. I’ve also done a lot of self-help work in areas like self-compassion, self-esteem, mindfulness (not just meditation), and journaling (prompts, mood journal, gratitude, etc). Other things I’ve done are establishing friendships with people I admire and enjoy being around, creating space for hobbies and creative outlets, and giving myself space to decompress and be alone when I need it. Maybe most importantly I am learning to give myself permission to not be a productivity machine. Learning to just be and not have to be doing something. I re-learn these lessons weekly, sometimes daily. I’m not a self-actualized peaceful being of purity, nor am I a chaotic, dumpster fire of a person who can’t take care of herself. Like most people, I am somewhere in between.
None of these steps were quick and easy, and like I said, they’re all ongoing lessons. I don’t want to act like I’m giving groundbreaking advice, like “If you follow these steps, you can solve all your problems!” As much as I like to list positive steps you can take in a situation (based on my experience), it’s not that simple. Change is never simple or easy. Despite what some BS listicle on an ad-riddled website will tell you, there are no quick fixes. Believe me, I’ve checked.
I will leave you with this tiniest bit of encouragement, something I am reminding myself of daily when it’s cocktail hour: trust that where you are right now is where you need to be. It may not be where you want to be, but you can’t start somewhere else. You have to start where you are.