One statement that means very different things to each of us.
TL: So, here’s the thing, it got to a point with me and Mindless where I kept wanting, hoping, praying there was something, anything he could do to take the pain away, to make it all better. He was doing everything and anything he could think of doing, and no matter what he did, it never did work. And, then I figured out why, because the one thing I wanted above all else was for him to take all of the pain away by changing the past. And, that just cannot happen. As much as I knew that in my head, I could not accept it in my heart.
In another way, I also kept wanting to change the past. I kept wanting to go back and do something different so I would have figured out what was going on so much sooner. I spent a lot of time with “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve and/or if only I had” done, said, questioned, seen anything, something different and discovered what was really going on so much sooner. But, the past can never be different. As much as I knew that in my head, again I could not accept it in my heart.
I now have this mantra that I tell myself “the past can never be different, the past can never be better.” And, I just repeat it to myself when I start wishing that the past could be different or that there was just some magic silver bullet that could make everything better.
While Mindless continues do everything he can to help me through, I know it has come to the point where I need to find happiness within myself, letting go of self-pity and instead finding self-fulfillment. It is a work in progress, but it is my work in progress.
MC: For me, I think this is about two things: unhealthy self-soothing versus taking responsibility. I spent most of my life wishing I could change the past. It was beyond wishing. It was daydreaming, even fantasizing. Similarly, I wished I could change reality and the present, but not through action, only through magic, only through God, Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy magically altering reality. I wished I could change my mother so she would not be so controlling, judgmental, demanding, patronizing, jealous, envious, and self-centered, so I wouldn’t be immobilized with fear of how she would judge me as I grew, explored, relaxed, and became more independent. As an older child I wished I could change my past temperament and choices. I wished I hadn’t been so timid and insular as a younger child. I wished I had been bigger, more physical, and more active and aggressive as a younger child. I wished I had learned each lesson in life earlier and with less trial and error. As I moved on through high school, college, and beyond, I looked back on my recent past and wished I had been more attractive to girls; less awkward and afraid; more athletic; more focused and serious academically; more experienced with sex, drugs, and worldly things; more travelled; better read; and any number of other, often conflicting, things that I suspected would have made me more happy and successful.
With a pre-marriage long-term girlfriend and again with my wife, I began wishing to change their past. I wished they were less sexually experienced than me. In many ways they were, but that’s not how I saw it. In all this obsessive wishing I felt sorry for myself. I felt the world owed me better. I soothed myself with self-pity. Instead of focusing on the present, the future, and realistic courses of action, I looked backwards, telling myself the present was bad because the past was bad. I failed to take responsibility for my own happiness, my own view of reality, and my own path to the future. I obsessed on wanting a better past. It immobilized me.
Refusing to summon up the courage to accept the past, plan for the future, and embrace the present, I took refuge in a double life, a hidden life of affairs, porn, prostitutes, and lies. I used my self-pity as a permission slip for this double-life. I told myself it was fair to do illicit selfish things today to compensate for my perceived inequities of yesterday. When my wife learned of all my sins, I almost lost everything that really mattered to me. Only then did I realize what mattered most and what folly it was to think I could pursue the life of satisfying marriage and family alongside the hidden life of affairs, porn, prostitutes, and wishing for a better past.
As I struggle to help us recover from my sins, struggling to become a safe husband and a better man, I know that I can only succeed by being courageous and not retreating into the refuge of self-pity and fantasizing of a better past. I can only succeed by taking responsibility for my own behavior, happiness, and expectations of life. The past can never be better. As an unfaithful spouse who emotionally destroyed my wife, I do wish I could go back and undo my selfish behavior and my wrong-headed thinking. But, I have finally learned the importance of not obsessing on that wish and of focusing on real options, real choices, and real actions.