In my months of group therapy, I was typically asked at the beginning of the session to set a goal for the day and rate my mood on a scale of 1-10. Adding this practice to my daily routine, at first, made it painfully obvious how purposeless my existence had been for the months that led up to this. I hadn’t been caring about myself so I certainly didn’t care too much that my moods had been fluctuating and while mania is a very goal-driven state, any of the goals I might have had were most likely not going to be beneficial to me, or anyone else for that matter, in the long run. The realization that I needed to be more of a presence in my own life was absolutely frightening as I had been so used to the more passive route I’d been taking. I became almost overwhelmed by holding myself accountable for how my life was going as opposed to excusing self-destructive behaviors by labeling them as “coping mechanisms”.
My therapist noticed immediately the amount of time I would spend thinking about the past.
Strike that. I didn’t just think about the past. I was hung up on, obsessed with, and stuck in my past. A slave to regret, sorrow, grief, and shame. It didn’t really matter how productive this rumination was. Some days I was just overcome by the need to replay some of the worst moments of my life over and over again wishing that I could go back and change just one thing. Now I do feel like it is important to learn from the past so as not to continually make the same mistakes repeatedly but there is a definitive difference between learning from your past and being consumed by your past. Perhaps I flirt with that line a little bit on a regular basis; however, along with most bad habits during a manic episode, it was exacerbated to the point that a hairline fracture became a compound one.
The gritty truth is that my first ever relationship was an on-again/off-again one with no shortage of fighting, score-keeping, holding grudges, and just a fantastic display of toxic, spiteful behavior coming from both sides really. And if anyone was lucky enough to witness the disaster that was this relationship that somehow dragged on for 2 1/2 years, nothing compared to the fiery end that came with the final break up. Now externally, I appeared to blame the entire thing on my ex but, truth be told, we brought out the worst in each other and, while I cannot control other people, I can control how I react. So at the end of the day, no matter what facade I was able to maintain, I was filled with shame. Shame at allowing myself to be treated poorly in a relationship. Shame for not standing up for myself. Shame for not handling my anger in a healthy way. And shame knowing that I was capable of acting in a venomous, immature manner that I vowed never to repeat. In all fairness, I should have given myself a somewhat of a break since I was 15 or 16 at the time. I’m sure we can all agree that precious few people are their best selves at that age. Unfortunately, as I said before, I was completely stuck in the past and consumed with anger, bitterness, guilt, and regret. Most troublesome of all was the fear of what would happen if I was faced with a similar situation. Would I make all the same mistakes again or had I actually learned from them?
I don’t think I can stress enough the importance of history education. After all, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” With that being said, I truly believe that statement to be true on an individual basis just as it is on a grand scale. The inherent problem with this is that in a history class, or any academic class really, there is a way to measure progress or comprehension quantitatively. In life, however, things are not that simple. I can say that I’ve learned from my mistakes and that I’ve changed as a person until I’m blue in the face but the only way to remove all doubt is by proving that when faced with a similar situation I will make better decisions.
So more times than I would care to admit, I would find myself in a situation where I was over my head. Where I would allow myself to be taken advantage of. Where I would be all consumed with gaining approval. Where I would find myself seeking attention from males who I knew were unavailable. I know I’m not the first person to admit this problem but for a very long time I played the victim card and bore very little responsibility for the dramatic situations I found myself in. It wasn’t until I found myself in outpatient therapy when everything started to click. The teacher in my favorite course had a couple lessons that I was able to internalize on a very sincere level. The first was that in life, we tend to have a pattern of behavior and we find ourselves in the same situations repeatedly until we learn how to correct the problem. The second was that you have to be able to give yourself what you need in order for someone else to be able to satisfy you fully in a relationship.
After mulling it over for days and even weeks, I had to learn to accept the fact that there was a reason why I kept finding myself in the same stressful situations over and over again ad nauseum. And that reason? I was searching for something. A dear old friend had told me I was clearly searching for something in life and I had, for some odd reason, gotten offended and probably overly defensive during that conversation. I was searching for something though. I was searching for understanding, for approval, for answers. And yet no one could fully give me what I was asking for because there is only one woman in the world who can and, for some reason, I wasn’t having enough faith in her. Once I realized that I only really NEED approval, love, and understanding from myself, I felt an indescribable level of freedom and a complete aversion to seeking attention in inappropriate places.
Whenever I have a moment of self-doubt, I look at my wrist tattoos and remind myself that I got them because I love myself. Whenever I have a moment of temptation to revert back to old habits of self-destructive behavior, I look out at my balcony and remind myself of the time I had seriously contemplated jumping over the railing. The truth of the matter is, that no one deserves the fate of Sisyphus: forever rolling a heavy boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back to the bottom. No one deserves to have to live through the movie Groundhog Day in real life. So if you’re finding yourself consistently prone to relationships or situations that are bad for you, sometimes you just need to take a moment to truly think about what you are looking for in life and how you can get it for yourself in a healthy way, of course.