I’ve done many things I regret*. (No, I’m not going to list them here. Hee.) A few very big things, many medium and small things, and hundreds of teeny thoughts or words or actions that pile up drop by drop over time. Here I am wading up to my knees in regrets – I wish I hadn’t ** I shouldn’t have ** I should have ** Why did I ** I wish I could GO BACK and do… ** How would things be now if I just did…?
Regrets swirling around me like Exxon Valdez-oil-spill water – chilly, thick, life-stealing. Mistakes and missteps. I am stained by them and stayed by them. Ruminating on the woulda, coulda, shouldas leads to regret-paralysis, and I am stuck – feeling gross, ungrateful, angry, afraid, and deeply unattractive — unable to learn from the past, live in the present, or move freely into the future.
Here I am in this familiar territory (I must like it here, I go here a lot), soaked and cold like a stone, self-indulgent, whining, trying to make sense of the drop by drop by drop….
There are many strained metaphors we could employ at this point in the post to solve this ‘regret problem’ — I could clean and wash away my regrets, I could pull the drain and let them go, I could just accept them and don a pair of stylish wading boots, I could turn up the compassion in my heart and let the regrets evaporate in that loving heat, or perhaps in some twist of fate, Deus Ex Machina style, someone could save me and haul me out of my regret soup and fly me off in a private helicopter to a paradise where regret couldn’t find me. I guess those are all possibilities or blog posts or whatever, but here’s the deal….here’s the damn discovery that I am working with and working with and working with and making frustratingly little progress….almost all (maybe ALL?) of the things that I regret doing were motivated by fear. Fear is my greatest regret. My greatest regrets are linked to the times I was most afraid. In my fear, I turn ungenerous, mean, angry, grasping and cold. I run run run. My thinking gets muddled, my heart is eclipsed – at best I am clumsy in thought and deed, at worst I am destructive – and these actions, no matter how compassionate I try to be toward myself after the fact – all translate to thorny sticking regret. Most of my bad decisions have been built on a foundation of fear.**
Once upon a time, during a therapy session, a woman wept about one of the BIG things she regretted doing and how disappointed she was to discover ‘she wasn’t the person she thought she was.’ Wise therapist responded, “Look, your fear kept you from being the person you are. Your fear obstructed your sight and restricted you from acting as your authentic self. Your mind created a vivid scary vision of the future that seemed real to you, so you freaked out. But fear isn’t reality, it’s just fear.”
Yeah, ‘just fear.’ Enlightening, sure (a life-changing conversation actually), but also a little overwhelming to someone who’s ‘just afraid’ of so many things, many of which she cannot even articulate. You might never guess this about her.
But it’s irritating, right? My fear is so annoying. And boring. Boring and annoying and persistent. And I know that I’m not the only one with a made-up-never-gonna-happen-and-who-cares-if-does fear. I mean, what the hell? As people who are so privileged and lucky, who have so very much, what are we afraid of exactly? Really, what is there to be afraid of in our wonderful lives? Shame on me, shame on us for being so fearful. (Not a compassionate response, I know). It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and disappointing and deeply human. I don’t want to be deeply human. I’d rather be a movie star instead. Sigh.
So, in a somewhat reluctant effort to step in the direction of a happier, lighter, and more equanimous life, I am working on this. All roads seem to lead back to mastering, befriending, or getting around my fears. I suppose I have to deal with that. Boo. Hiss. Damn. Boo and hiss and damn.
I’ll get back to you about how exactly I’m going to deal with it. Dude, I can’t figure it out today.
As Fran says in Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. Right? [This is a fabulous movie directed by Baz Luhrman. I love Baz Lurhman. You should see it.] I’d like to do some whole-living, please, as scary as that seems. I’d like to cha-cha down the yellow brick road and ask the Wizard of Oz for some courage, please, so that I can more fully realize the person I am.
Sorting out how to do this consistently – to be brave or at ease or sit with my fear – this seems complicated and hard, and frankly, makes me feel all sorts of cranky. But geez, what is the alternative, really? A lifetime of regrets? A lifetime of having a heart that’s two sizes too small? A half-life?
*I’ve also done some things I definitely don’t regret like moving to NC, marrying my husband, becoming a mom, making theatre, and having some fabulous friends and family. So there’s that.
**It probably goes without saying, but I am not referring to legit fears about health, safety and well-being. Obviously, in those cases, it is wisest to listen to your body and your heart, take your fear seriously, and get help. It’s ok to ask for help when you are afraid. In this post, I’m referring to those gauzy ill-formed imagined fears that can make a person act unskillfully, such as fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking weak/stupid/ugly/dumb, fear of disappearing or being irrelevant, imposter syndrome, fear of being alone, fear of not having enough/being enough/doing enough, fear of missing out, fear of not leaving a legacy, etc….and of course those fears we can’t do anything about like the fear of getting older and of dying.