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.