I probably should have written this in the years 2014 or 2015, because after all, that’s how I spent the former (I did allude to it, in this post about my year 2014 in review, though). To give myself a little credit, I did indeed make a reference to it in 2014’s year-end post, but I think it deserves its own post, except that by the time I had gathered enough experience and insight to have written about it with competence, I had cut back a lot on blogging, so it just didn’t happen.
Well, I’ve decided that I’m going to remedy that today. 🙂
In this sense, the term “shedding” refers to the conscious, effort-laden process of seizing control over one’s past pain and resentment, especially in regards to other people, and deciding once and for all that you’re no longer going to let those people and those memories exert their power, influence, and control over you in ways that continue to hold you back, hold you down, limit you, or prevent you from living the quality of life that you deserve.
For me, this pertained especially to the dysfunctional aspect of my childhood, particularly where my dad was concerned. It also applied to pain I endured from other kids at school.
I’m not going to say that shedding the pain is easy. After all, it hurt, and the nervous system is designed to make note of what hurts and hang onto those memories in order to recognize the early signs in the interest of preventing a recurrence.
To be clear, the concept of shedding is not synonymous with forgetting or otherwise ceasing to remember. I’ll always remember what happened. Shedding doesn’t change anything; it doesn’t alter one’s past and erase the events.
Shedding, to me, is the act (or rather, the process) of deciding not to let the past rule my present. It occurs more subtly, personally, internally. It involves a deep forgiveness, primarily to set myself free. It’s not so much to let the perpetrator off the hook or excuse their behavior or their actions; it’s to let myself off the hook, to excuse me from that situation.
After all, I was small, and I was innocent. I have nothing for which to be on the hook or excuse myself, and thus there’s no point in allowing myself to remain bound to the situation.
As I mentioned just now, shedding doesn’t change the past; that’s precisely why I should shed. Because the past can’t be changed. It’s not going to change and thus there’s no use holding onto it as if it were still happening.
I’m an introverted, ultra-sensitive kind of person, who aims to people-please, and becomes easily hurt when I don’t. I always tried so hard to do everything right, and I took it very personally when my best wasn’t good enough. When criticized, I never knew to consider that the issue might involve a shortcoming, character flaw, or lack of tools within the other person; I automatically assumed that I was at fault, every time. After all, I was the one being criticized, bullied, made fun of. The person was expressing anger, irritation, dissatisfaction, etc, toward me. I was the butt of the joke, the target of the rage, the brunt of the–whatever. Insert your imagination here; whatever you can think of, it probably happened.
And these memories remained with me, like a shadow or lost soul, following me around, whispering in my ear, second-guessing everything I did, holding me back, year later in my adult life.
It was my counselor who originally brought this to my attention. He said, “who would you be, if you had not gone through that?”
I stopped cold and pondered that for a moment, giving his question the intense focus it deserved.
He had a (powerful) point.
Although not outwardly visible, I took action. Action on the inside. Inside is where it counted anyway.
I remember one day, I told myself that the pain I suffered before was no longer going to shape who I am today. I wasn’t going to let it hold me back anymore. It didn’t have that right. The perpetrators involved didn’t have that right, either. They didn’t have the right to do what they did, and they didn’t have the right to keep holding me in their grip 30+ years later.
Enough was enough.
I hadn’t seen the kids from school, but I did have regular contact with my father. And I could clearly see that he was doing some changing of his own. He was changing, too.
Fine time to change with him.
We began to see each other for who we really were, and who we had grown to be. Mutual understanding was reached, even if not perfected yet. Mysteries were solved, questions answered, riddles decoded.
Lots of “a-ha!” moments took place.
Tears were shed, this time from a place of healing. There was regret and grief, lots of it. Regret involving words said, actions taken, pain caused. Grief over time lost, the lack of an “undo” button, the inability to go back in time and have a do-over.
But the truth is, we had/have the rest of our lives in front of us, and with our newfound revelations and tools, we could/can make the most of the time remaining.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. I wish I could say that everybody lived happily ever after from those moments on, but it doesn’t work that way. Humans aren’t infallible. We slip up, forget things, take steps backward, fall back into old habits and replay old tapes.
I realized that I was indeed half of the equation. I realized that my own words, actions, emotions, and attitudes were just as important as my father’s.
That was an incredibly sobering thought. I might have been hapless and innocent then–a bystander–but I wasn’t a bystander now. I wasn’t responsible for what happened before, but I was responsible now. I had no accountability back then, but I did now.
I’m sure you see the pattern emerging here.
What changed? Why would I be responsible, accountable, no longer eligible for mere innocent bystander status now, when I hadn’t been back then?
It’s because I’m an adult now. I’m now aware of the background behind the situation. I’m now privy to the details and I’m capable of understanding. I’m also responsible for my own reactions.
And I had plenty of my own back yard to clean up.
I couldn’t change my father or what happened, and I wasn’t responsible for my father’s own growth or progress. But I am responsible for mine. I don’t have to clean up his back yard–that’s his job–but the onus is on me to clean up my own. And his mess doesn’t absolve me of my own responsibility.
I had work to do, too.
Mom had always said that it takes two. Damned if she wasn’t right again.
So, in recent years, when we fell back into old patterns, I sometimes recognized it before my dad did. And I had to remind myself that the setbacks were part of the process, and imperfection was an artifact of the human condition.
Even during times when I felt like we were slipping back into old habits, and I began to experience the knee jerk reactions of fear and obstinance that went with them, I had to do the next-to-impossible: override my nervous system and remind myself that I was not that vulnerable little girl anymore. I did not have to prove myself or please anyone. I had put in the dues of being my childhood self years ago, and that was then, but this was now.
I learned to remain calm and rational. I learned not to let my emotions assume their usual place in the driver’s seat.
Time and again, I broke the cycle. I didn’t complete the routine. I didn’t play my usual part.
Soon, neither did he, because again, he was learning and evolving, too. It wasn’t I who was doing all the work, catching us in the old familiar routine every time. In fact, we grew to come to the realization that we were playing into old roles almost at the same time. And he would stop himself, too.
I worked on my past, too. Lots of work. I worked through the various memories from his point of view, with my newly-acquired understanding and insight. I acknowledged the fact that it hurt, and I allowed myself to feel the pain, but from more of the perspective of an outsider, a witness. I tried to view it with more objectivity.
I told myself that it didn’t have to hold me in its grip, that it wasn’t mine to bear and carry with me for life.
At first, I didn’t believe myself. At first, I kicked up a resistance of my own.
Ever the stubborn one, I kept going. I told myself that the past doesn’t have to matter anymore, and I told myself this over and over again until I believed it.
Eventually, I did come to believe it. I remember the first time I succeeded. I felt a liberation like no other. A peace, a calm, a contentment. I felt like I had arrived.
In those earlier days, that feeling didn’t last long. It was passing and fleeting, before reverting back to the old rut.
Determined, I repeated my new stance once again: past pain was not mine. I’m going to shed it, leave it behind. It’s nothing to me now.
Eventually, it sunk in. Rather than the exception, it became the norm.
I’m not sure I’ll ever say that the process is complete; to err is human, and we’re both still human. It is indeed not an event, but a process. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to cross it off the To-Do List of Life and say with certainty that it’s over, it’s done, it’s behind me.
But I can say that I have made much progress, and so has my dad, and I can’t speak for him, but I know that I feel freer and lighter, less beat down, less worn out, more capable.
As for the self-confidence and self-esteem that were lost back then as casualties of war, I’m slowly finding them. The self-esteem is revitalizing faster; the self-confidence is slower to come.
But that’s OK; after all, it’s a process, right? A work in progress. For most of 2014, the emphasis has been on the “work” part of that phrase. But these days, I’m seeing a lot of evidence of the “progress” part, too. 🙂