Stop Living in the Past

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"Stop Living in the Past"
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A young man nearly 40 struggles for years, living with a dark secret. He fails in relationships, work, finances, and in staying on the right side of the law. When he thinks he has things under control, his health fails, and he eventually loses his wife and children. The way he blocks it all out is with alcohol and street drugs. He fails to take his prescription medication as directed by his physician. He lapses into blackouts, hallucinations, and paranoia. We look for the reasons behind his troubles and realize he has never moved out of the past. Until he deals with the rubbish in his young life, he can't move forward into his adult life.

His life is out of control and has been for a long time, and it all looks so hopeless to him. He has given up on himself and has no trust in others. He dwells on not just his own failures, but other things, too. He focuses his energy on the past and the wrongs that were done to him. He keeps the secrets until he forms a new relationship and trusts this person enough to begin to talk. He finds the strength to seek psychological help without being ordered to, finally. The secret comes out in a therapy session, and he begins to improve in some ways almost immediately. It seems like a weight lifted off his shoulders.

His therapist asks a simple, straightforward question: "Have you ever been sexually abused?"

"Yes," is his answer.

This is the first time he has ever admitted it, although he's been in counseling and therapy before but not of his own accord. He has been there because he's been sent by a hospital, or by a judge. He's been living the nightmare of his past each day and night, but nobody knows. He has denied being sexually abused in the past. Now the story comes tumbling out, almost by itself.

"Three different people," he tells her.

The therapist registers no sign of shock or emotion at all. This is her job, her training. His girlfriend is with him in this session. The next day, she tells me about the session. She won't reveal the people involved, but they are all family members. All are living. I'm amazed because he's been asked before and has protected the people involved, whomever they were - the girlfriend keeps her promise not to tell his story or reveal the characters. I understand and I don't push her for details.

Living in the past is much of what has ruined his life. Every sort of problem imaginable has touched his life in some way because he's been haunted by what happened to him. At nearly 40, he decides to open up about it. Many of his young years are wasted because of his lack of self-esteem and self-confidence caused by shame and guilt. We consider his mental and physical health at some length, and the possibility that weaknesses in both areas could be the result of his childhood experiences. My background helps me put some more of the puzzle together as I apply it to his situation. I try to put it all in perspective, and now some things finally begin to make sense.

In the past few days, he's regained a more youthful appearance and doesn't look so wrung out and worried. We see the smile that has been missing for so long, that is so endearing on the face under the red curly hair that it would melt your heart. It's been hidden by a constant frown and a sullen, moody look for way too many years.

There was the young man who lived in the past for so long, and here is the young man who is finally out from under the cloud of secrets and shame. His heart can beat without stress now; he can be the person he was meant to be. His drugs and alcohol were gone some time ago, and maybe he can stop smoking eventually. His ego can recover and he can put his God-given talents and skills to use with confidence. He's bright. He could go far, unburdened by a conscience that never should have been burdened in the first place.

He's already realizing the benefits of no longer living in the past. He looks forward to his next therapy session - a radical change from the past. As the days go by and he moves forward with his therapy, his outlook on life will change. He'll hopefully be able to forgive the people who hurt him. Hopefully, he'll use his energy looking toward the future with optimism instead of looking at the wrongs of the past, and perhaps he'll have more trust in others. More importantly, by moving away from the events in his younger life, he'll have more faith in himself.

Living in the past keeps us stuck there, unable to distinguish the difference between then and now. Until hurtful experiences are dealt with and put to rest, it is impossible to move forward in life with any degree of success. Like creatures of habit, we continue to cling to all those memories, beating ourselves up for any part we think we took, even as children. We must relegate the past to where it belongs, for it has no energy and serves no purpose in our lives today. Only by doing this properly, can we begin to see the signs of hope for a happier present and future.

More about this author: Dr. G. A. Anderson

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