Disowning Regret

It stands out like a hologram from the pages of my journals:
Regret for being too innocent.
Regret for far surpassing the bounds of innocence.
Regret for being too shy.
Regret for letting boldness take over.
Regret for liking the boys I’ve liked.
Regret for rejecting the ones I didn’t.
Regret for being too melancholy, too low.
Regret for experiencing giddy highs.
Regret over my numerous emotions.
Regret over my compensating numbness.
Regret over being boring.
Regret over having fun.
Regret over every person, place, and circumstance woven into the fabric of my past.

I’m startled to see it pop out at me so clearly. Has it always been lurking between the pages of my past, waiting patiently for me to approach with open eyes?

An entire lifetime spent regretting myself…

This morning, I sat on the floor immersing myself in the ghosts of Bethanys past, laughing (at age 14, I decided I would marry my first boyfriend on October 20, 2003), aching (the Sunday my entire youth group stood in front of the church to promise abstinence for True Love Waits, I cried alone in the bathroom as the only teenager whose parents were unwilling for her to think about sex–even to pledge celibacy with all her friends), and wishing desperately for a time machine.

I wish I could protect the sweet little girl who learned about unfounded yet unrelenting, soul-crushing guilt at home every single day. I would tell her she was precious and wanted, that it was OK to smile and play and think that God liked her. I would show her that her beautiful little heart was anything but “hard, cold, and black” like she was told, that the daily accusations against her were untrue, that her deep little-girl wounds were not her fault. I would stop regretting my existence.

I wish I could give the excruciatingly lonely teenager a heaping dose of the love she lived without. I would tell her how funny she was in her blossoming creativity. I would hold up a mirror and show her how pretty she was, even (especially) with the freckles and red hair and too-long legs she hated. I would whisper to her about her intrinsic value and the luscious life ahead. I would give her reasons not to kill herself other than the sole terror of facing a God who, she was told, hated her. I would stop regretting how my goody-two-shoesness kept me from sneaking out at night to recapture my boyfriend’s attention.

I wish I could inject Valium into the college student’s frantically over-analytical brain. I would tell her to relax into the gentle process of learning, to enjoy each moment without dissecting it to death. I would give her the confidence to stand up to the guys who mistreated her and to unabashedly be herself with the ones who captured her affection. I would remind her to have fun dating, building friendships, learning, becoming an adult. I would stop regretting the fun and crazy side of my personality making itself known.

I wish I could extract the vast self-imposed disillusionment from the newly-inaugurated adult. I would help her see her fears and misgivings as the product of misguided childhood teachings. I would tell her that her perpetual doubts about love, capability, purpose, and belief were natural but not world-spinning. I would encourage her to enjoy rediscovering her identity, to face her life with courage and joy, to accept her new marriage as safe, to let herself feel at peace as a woman. I would stop regretting my imperfection.

I can hardly believe it’s taken me this long to realize that I’m a human and that that’s OK. I imagine most people realize this while they’re still in diapers or at least when their first smudgy fingerpainting is taped onto the fridge… not years after getting a minor in psychology or even more years of dedicated self-therapy or still more years of affirming friendships. (When did you find out it was perfectly OK to be you?)

Hello, my name is Bethany, and today I’ve stopped regretting Me.

I feel like a newborn being snuggled for the first time by ecstatic, weeping parents and thinking it the most natural moment in the world.

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  1. *tear* I wish I had the words to express anything else…

  2. Hi, Bethany! Welcome!

  3. hello, my name is michelle and i too am learning to stop regretting Me.

    i’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. this post really touched me. it could have been my post…change a few details and it could have been something i’d written…i related to so much of it. my grandfather is a southern baptist preacher and i was raised on this kind of love that was said to be unconditional and yet had the sharp razors edge of shame. i was told god loved me in one breath and in the next that i was a sinner who deserved death. the conflicting messages were so wounding and confusing…and it may take a lifetime to work through them…

    last week i wrote a post about finally letting myself cry and a lot of what you said in this post was what i was thinking/feeling when i wrote that post.

    thank you for sharing this with us! it is a brave and beautiful post.

  4. really beautiful. the true love waits brought back a thousand images. a thousand lies. thank you for this

  5. I came from Michelle’s link and I, too, want to say congratulations to you. What a beautiful and brave post. I truly believe that when you put this kind of love out into the Universe and announce it “out loud” to yourself that you can shift mountains. Keep up the good work 🙂

  6. Well that is just awesome – that you realized what you did and what you wrote in response.

    There are so many people who (I bet) can relate, including me. I have spent the past three weeks thinking about my life two years at a time, from birth to age 34. I have been asking myself what I feel guilty or angry or sad about, and who I needed to forgive. It’s been about making space, cleaning up, and letting go. I have needed to forgive myself for so much, including being hard on myself.

    Someone suggested that when I get stuck, and am being hard on myself, I ask: Did I know this or that then? What was going on with me/in my life? Would I make the same choice now? (every single time the answer has been no).

    It has given me the chance to really think about me at different ages, like you did in your post, and to be gentle, tougher, there for the younger me, empathetic. It’s been terrific.

    Thank you for your post. Thank you for helping me make this connection to the work I’ve been doing – for helping me slow down and feel the value in it.

  7. What a gorgeous, moving, inspiring post you’ve written here! I found myself with tears in my eyes, feeling just as you feel, having let regret and guilt consume me for so long. I am only 22, and am still struggling to discover what you’ve so elegantly expressed here – this learning to be human, this learning to be OK with oneself. I am forever grateful for your truths and your courage to share them here. Thank you.

  8. This post is definitely one that I relate to: I only wish I could say I’ve gotten as far along the path of stopping the regret as you have. I’m trying though, and I really appreciate how brave you are to have gotten so far. Inspiring.

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