Regret

Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 in Blog | Comments Off on Regret

Regret

Is this a familiar sentiment to you?  Most of your days are spent busied and distracted, but occasionally you think about it.  That thing you said or held back, that thing you did or didn’t do comes to mind and suddenly the emotions you experienced and associated with it flush your face, quicken your heart or hang your head.  Do you have real regrets?  These are not just mistakes, the fodder of live-and-learn, but thoughts that dog you from the safety of their temporal glass case, locked away with a key that seems to be buried deeper every time you are reminded of the inflexibility of the past.

What to do with these shadows burned against the walls of our minds?  As far as I can tell, we have few options.  Like initials scratched into wet concrete, there is an immediate, mutable moment wherein changes can be made or situations can be altered, but it is in the very nature of regret that we don’t realize the gravity until we are well removed from it.  By this time the slop has turned to stone and it’s there at the end of your driveway for you to see whenever you kick the curb.  We can wallow in it, ride the waves of feelings that arise when we go to that place.  (I’ll admit to this from time to time.  There is something to be said for sitting in the corner for a while.)  We can try to rectify our wrongs by offering new words, changing our course of action, but this is sometimes like trying to fit an old puzzle piece into a new puzzle.  The games have changed, the people around us aren’t necessarily in the same spaces we are.  Or we can become spin doctors and play 6 Degrees of Awesomeness and see how in 6 steps or less, events that transpired from or since that regret have led to a better outcome.

In 3rd year university I had hit a wall.  I was bored and had grandiose fantasies of myself as a globetrotter, floating through life with no ties to a home or a man, just me and my backpack and Henry Miller.  I got passport pictures taken on campus just because.  I was getting ready.  I applied to do my 4th year abroad at Griffiths University in Brisbane, Australia.  It was an arduous application process, including letters of recommendation from my professors and a lengthy thesis proposal.  My coworkers at the campus library were so excited for me, I remember us all going out to the Outback restaurant to celebrate what would be my last shift of the school year before the summer that was to bridge my departure.  And then it started.  I would be alone in my room and could feel the anxiety rising in my chest.  I can’t do this.  I can’t go around the world by myself.  For a year.  Without knowing anyone.  I created an entire story about what would happen if a family member died, or how this year may actually end up detracting me from my intended focus on anthropology of Western Europe.  I woke up in a sweat one morning and called the program office.  Before I knew it, words were rolling out of my mouth about how something had come up in my family and how my parents didn’t want me to go.  (I am cringing as I write this.  In fact, I first wrote this out without that line because I’m so embarrassed, but had to go back in and add it.  I can feel it all as if it were today.)  I felt my stomach drop as I lied.  I felt disappointment in myself climb. I hung up the phone and started crying.  I was relieved, no doubt, but also incredibly ashamed.  It felt like what I had needed to do at the time, but it really wasn’t.  It wasn’t.

I stayed in London, living at home, for my last year of undergrad.  I moved forward with my studies on Europe, contacted a professor I was so excited to work with at the University of Toronto, and finished my prerequisites as if nothing had happened.  But it did happen.  Occasionally I would run into someone I hadn’t seen for a long time and they would ask me why I wasn’t in Australia.  I usually lied and said that I had changed my mind, that staying behind and moving my studies in the right direction was the best move after all.  My 4th year professors who had written recommendations for me met my face in September with a question mark and then with a disappointed nod of understanding.  They confirmed in one look what I had been feeling about myself for months.  But staying in London for that year got me the best grades I had ever achieved in university.  It got me accepted into U of T.  It meant that I was hanging out with old friends when my husband-to-be happened to come out with us one night.  I got to save up the money I needed to move out of my parents’ house.  I could list all kinds of turns my life took by sticking around.  But that’s not the point, is it?

I regret giving into my fears.  I regret using up so much of other people’s time and energy.  I regret lying (oh, God, that one is sooo hard) outright to save face.  Years later even thinking about it would make me feel sick to my stomach.  I could pull up those old emotions like a switch had been flicked every time I heard the word “Australia”.  So when I thought about heading out in to the Costa Rican rainforest to study yoga… alone… without knowing anyone… I knew I didn’t have the option to sell myself out.  I bought the ticket and then nearly needed a straightjacket to prevent me from canceling.  Every instinct was telling me to pull out (this is proof that our deepest fears can sometimes be mistaken for instinct).  But I went.  I had to erase some of the shame I had accumulated.  I couldn’t change the past but I could choose a future that could make me a bit more proud to be me.

Here’s the end result.  I still feel sickened to play out this whole scenario in detail.  I’m still ashamed and know that I had acted as my weakest self.  But I don’t sweat it so much now.  I did end up learning from it.  I know how heavy those dregs of regret can feel.  It wasn’t exactly live-and-learn because it’s still part of my “live” to some extent, even though the intensity has faded.  I wish I could say that there is nothing I regret, but that would be naive.  Just because I was able to turn things around and build myself back up so that I could face myself in the mirror again doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.  I just pick up my socks and keep reminding myself that I need to do better than I did.

 

All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.