06 Oct You’ve Still Got Time
I am 65 years old today as I begin writing this blog post. As it was on my 60th birthday, I feel the need to come up with something helpful that also addresses the reality of the passage of time. In preparation to write I asked myself what might be something that I and/or many of the people I work with would need to hear to feel a little more hope or at peace as time goes by. Here’s the thought that came to me. You’ve still got time.
In the 12-step program that has been used so successfully in Alcoholics Anonymous, the 9th step says made direct amends to such people (people we have harmed because of our drinking) wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. There is a lot to talk about in that sentence but the thing that struck me today is how much I love the idea that it’s not only right, but it is often possible to make amends for things done in the past. And the truth is, all of us have done things in the past that we regret and many of those things still linger in our memories.
I talk with a lot of parents who fear that they messed up their kids or that they weren’t as present or active as parents as they should have been. They regret being too harsh or too lenient. They fear that what they had to offer was not what that child needed at that time but kind of pushed it on them anyway. Perhaps they gave too much material stuff and not enough actual contact or presence.
Conversely are the adult children who regret what they believe they put their parents through. They see how they pushed, attacked, and criticized their parents who were trying to do the best they knew how. They remember the hurtful comments and the times they lashed out at those people whose sole purpose was help them. They now can see how they transferred their own sense of self-loathing onto the parents who loved them without condition.
Or there are the spouses who have seen their marriages drift apart over years of neglect. They know they have fallen into an unhealthy passivity. When they force themselves to look at it, they see emptiness or apathy that replaced the joy of that other person’s companionship. They see how they have contributed to the pattern by not addressing what needed to be addressed or avoided the tough conversation that might lead to conflict. Now they realize that avoiding the conflict has in fact created the deeper problems they were trying to avoid. Others see the damage done by substance abuse or infidelity or being a workaholic. They regret the harsh words and the toxic silence.
I’m certain that you have your own versions of these kinds of stories. There is no one besides you who knows what they are and how deeply you regret them. For some of you, deep shame comes from even thinking about them. Please consider this. It may be possible in some of these cases to go back to the people you believe you have wronged and make amends. In a very humble and honest way, you can tell them how sorry you are and how the ways you acted or did not act have no justification. I realize that this makes you very vulnerable as that other person may take the opportunity to say something hurtful back or dismiss you offhandedly. But it is also possible that a new pattern, connection, or clarity might be created. Why not give it a try? You’ve still got time.