How can I stop feeling jealous of other people's past lives?
February 8, 2010 7:11 PM   Subscribe

I had a miserable upbringing. Other people didn't. How can I come to terms with this?

When I was eight I was sent to a British all-boys private boarding school. I spent the next ten years of my life scared and alone. There were incidents of bullying (often - both institutional and by peers) and sexual abuse (very occasionally). I have no sisters, and barely spoke to a girl until I was in my late teens.

I'm in my thirties now, and thanks to therapy and a change of country have got the perspective to see my schooling for what it was - a very bad idea for the kind of sensitive vulnerable child I was. I'm on the whole moving on, and feeling good about it.

However, I frequently feel a lot of grief that I missed out on the experience many other kids/teenagers had growing up. I especially feel a kind of crushing jealousy when people talk about boy/girl teenage romances, and friendships - whether they ended well or badly. It makes me sad that I will never get to experience that part of being young. (Instead I had not very healthy unrequited crushes on other boys at school).

Therapy is helping, but I'm worried it's not enough to help me through these sad-attacks when watching movies, talking to friends, or listening to music, when the subject gets onto the stuff 'normal' teenagers get up to. Which seems to be a lot of the time.

My question then: what positive cognitive steps can I take to stop feeling jealous of other people's past lives?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Draw strength from the experience you've had that almost no one else has. You have something no one else does; hell, write or blog about those experiences, maybe, anonymously if need be.

For what it's worth, my teenage years weren't like yours... but I don't think well of them, either.
posted by talldean at 7:20 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, first, movies and songs are a horrible place to learn about real teenage experiences. They make so-called normal teenagers feel crappy about their lives, too. This is not to say that your experience was not sub-par...just that it may not be as sub-par as you think.

Along the same lines, in my experience, most people tend to recount idyllic and, most likely, idealized versions of their teen years. In fact, we change our memories with great regularity.

Essentially, what I'm saying is that, while everyone may not have had it as rough as you did, almost all of us had some really rough times during our teenage years, especially those of us who were sensitive enough to notice how messed up high school was. (EVERY high school.)

I have no idea if this will help you or not, but here's hoping! Good luck.
posted by nosila at 7:21 PM on February 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

Everyone has had crappy things happen to them at some time in their life. My childhood wasn't the greatest, but when I want to feel sorry for myself I think about the other people I know who had much worse things happen to them--one girl was driving her friends home from school after she got her driver's license, hit a tree, and killed two friends. Another guy I know watched his parents be killed in front of him when he was a young teen. A girl I went to school with was raped and impregnated when she was 12. So yes, you had some bad things happen to you, but like I tell myself...get over yourself. Whatever you focus on gets bigger so focus on the good things you want to happen, not the negative stuff. Move. Forward.
posted by MsKim at 7:40 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Your unique experiences give you unique insight into the human condition. A positive way to think about things is to consider that insight as a gift, blessing, or whatever and use it to do some good in the world. Maybe you can use it to help change the system so that other kids have a better experience. There's a reason why heros are often portrayed as troubled loners.

For what it might be worth, lots of folks have crappy experiences growing up. That's not to say "Cheer up, it wasn't so bad" but rather "Dude, you're not alone." Before I graduated from high school I had people close to me experience death by suicide, death by drunk driver, death by aircraft accident, death by cancer, drug addiction, physical and mental abuse, criminal conviction, and self mutilation. It's not a nice world. There's a lot of shit out there to deal with. I donate to youth groups.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:43 PM on February 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

I especially feel a kind of crushing jealousy when people talk about boy/girl teenage romances

I don't want to minimize this feeling, but I should point out that there are lots of people who went to coeducational schools, but had zero romance anyway. I think it is incredibly common.
posted by grouse at 7:44 PM on February 8, 2010 [24 favorites]

I often experience the same kinds of feelings you've described, and I find that it helps just to acknowledge them as valid. We don't have to dwell on our miserable childhoods, we don't have to walk around in a constant state of bitterness and jealousy toward others who weren't similarly afflicted, but we do need to give ourselves permission to acknowledge that it's valid to feel that way sometimes.

When I find myself in that kind of a funk, I think of the following lines from the movie "As Good As It Gets":

Carol: We all have these terrible stories to get over...

Melvin: It's not true. Some people have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that's their story. Good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you're that pissed that so many others had it good.

I recite that last sentence to myself and I nod my head and I say "Yep, I sure as hell am feeling that way right now." I allow myself a few "woe is me" moments and then I do my best to move on. It's kind of a weird style of self-affirmation, an outlet for the sadness that helps it not build up to an unbearable level.
posted by amyms at 7:45 PM on February 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

You might always feel some sadness over your difficult past but we all do, even if our experiences were different from yours. Almost all of us experience some pain growing up because we are so vulnerable then. I think you have to shift your focus to now.

All grief takes time. You are grieving your childhood but its over, thankfully, and your future doesn't have to look like your past.

Even though my childhood was happy and filled with the experiences you crave, that has not guaranteed an adulthood free from trauma, abuse and alienation. In a sense my protected, care-free childhood did not prepare me for life outside that protective bubble. I was far too trusting, gullible and biddable; far too certain that people who became friends and family members had my best interest at heart.

I don't want to downplay the scars of a difficult past, but perhaps some difficulty growing up is not altogether a bad thing if we learn about how to take care of ourselves well for the future.

Envy is basically a projection. We idealize that life we think the other has - but life always fluctuates and none of us gets it all.

Here's hope for you now and in times to come.
posted by ofelia at 7:56 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please me-mail me. I'm not on the real Internet right now, but I'd like to offer you some insight if I can.

You're also welcome to setup a throwaway email and send a message to the email on my profile.

What you're setting about doing is necessary but difficult work. I am confident that you will find the serenity you want.
posted by bilabial at 7:57 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I frequently feel a lot of grief that I missed out on the experience

Ya know.. I've been thinking alot recently on the relationship between depression and "missing out." It might well be the root of the depression I've gone through, and it sounds like it's the crux of your depression as well. When I don't "get the girl" for example, I tend to wallow in the fact that I've just missed out. So what's next?

The isolation of the exact feeling that is causing your depression.. the "missing out" feeling... that is a hugely important step and it is your key to feeling better. You just have to reverse that one specific feeling, right?

So then how do you fix the feeling of missing out on past experiences? Well it's binary really. You can focus on what you've missed out on and be upset about that ad naseum, or you can accept it and really move on. For good. Forever. Make a pact with yourself and seal it with a vacation or a tattoo or a cake with candles that you can blow out.

The next step is to make sure you don't miss out on right now. This will no doubt compound your problem of missing out because during your wallowing about missing out on your youth, you've just missed out on everything else. Don't miss out on everything else. Everything else kicks major ass.
posted by pwally at 8:02 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let me first say that I'm sorry you went through this. In no way do I intend to minimize the impact of your experiences.

My aunt is a therapist. About 10 years ago, she was visiting, and as usual I ended up complaining about my endless problems with my mom and my place in the family. She listened, but when I stopped she sat back and said, "Let me ask you something. Suppose that they DID knowingly treat you unfairly. Suppose they actually did love your brother more than they loved you. What the fuck are you going to do about it?"

It may sound simplistic, but those things are done. They can't happen again, because even if other bad things happen, you're a different person now. One of the only things you can control is the way you react to things that happen to you.

Personally, I don't like to take the "horrible things happened to other people; things could be worse" tack of some of the other posters above. It makes me feel even worse because in addition to feeling bad for them, I now feel selfish for feeling like my own lesser problems were bad in comparison. But... they WERE bad! Especially to me, because that's still the worst stuff that I've known!

And as for the things you think you've missed out on, remember that other people have inner and hidden problems just like yours. You missed out on a party? You also missed out on the vomit and the cleanup. (I've used that one on myself...) The people who appear the most confident may be putting on a brave face to camouflage the things they're not so comfortable with. Remembering that can lessen your own worries and give you compassion to help others.

Some of the wisest, most genuine people I know have had horrible things happen to them. They appreciate the good things and let themselves feel the bad things. Feeling the bad things can be hard, too, because when you're used to spending your energy on just coping every day, the tough times become the norm and the easy times keep you glancing over your shoulder. Too many people spend time trying to avoid admitting that life does, in fact, suck sometimes and people do, in fact, lose the ability to solve some problems.

But being able to look life squarely in the eye for what it is and say, "Oh yeah? What the fuck are you going to do about it?" is a fantastic skill to have, and one you can develop at any time. Just be honest and walk on, and remember that your life isn't done yet. Not by a long shot.

Here! Have a hug!

posted by Madamina at 8:18 PM on February 8, 2010 [31 favorites]

Read about the experiences of other folks who've gone to that kind of school: Orwell's Such, Such Were The Joys, Stephen Fry's Moab Is My Washpot, Alec Waugh's The Loom of Youth – there's a ton of writing on the subject. Maybe it will help to know that other men suffered through that experience and yet came to thrive.
posted by zadcat at 8:33 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Know that by going through that pain and fear you are in a position to offer empathy and understanding to other human beings and insight into the human condition that people with happier upbringings are not. This does not seem like much consolation until you meet someone else who has experienced desperate loneliness or unhappiness and are able to offer them help, or by relating your experiences are able to convince others to offer them sympathy rather than contempt.

By going through that, and defeating it, it means you've also developed a great amount of inner strength. Channel that now into creating your own happiness--you know where the dark place is, you know how far down it can go, and you also have the strength to stay out of it. Be thankful for the strength you have and don't dwell and what your life might be like if you didn't have it.
posted by Anonymous at 8:34 PM on February 8, 2010

I think there's a place for acknowledging that some people have had things worse than you -- it's a good way to get some perspective and relate your experience to those of others.

On the other hand, the worst thing that ever happened to you is your worst experience -- you've had that experience, you haven't had the relatively worse experience that other people might have had. So, whilst that sounds ridiculously tautological, it's a way to acknowledging that, yes, you had a shit time and no one can tell you it wasn't shit just because someone else experienced something worse.

I had shit parts to my life that meant a whole lot of things were put off -- career, income, relationships etc. And occasionally I'm hit with the crippling feeling of the sheer unfairness of it all and I just feel helpless because I can't do anything to bring that time back.

But that last bit is my reality check because (and I'm sure this will sound really trite) I can't bring that time back, I have now and and the future to do what I want with my life and it's a waste of time to spend that now and the future time regretting my past.

I find that awareness really helpful in pushing through the feeling of unfairness about the shit parts of my life.

It's about being present and in the moment.
posted by prettypretty at 8:41 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Regardless of what people did, there are quintessential parts of "being young" they will never experience. A friend of mine dated a French guy who learned everything he knew about American girls from teen movies, and he was always asking her, "Were you zeh cheerleadair? Dating the quartairback? Did you go to ze prom? Did you take ze limosine?" Mocking but also serious. And she was like, "Um, no. And no. And no. I was a band nerd who went to mathletic competitions."

I was just at a meeting tonight where they were discussing athletics, and people kept asking me about my high school athletic experiences, which were exactly NIL.

Nobody can do ALL the quintessential experiences of "being young" and I think there's always at least some regret for what you missed. But realize that EVERYONE missed some of those things, and some of them probably think your experience was the awesome quintessential experience (particularly since they read Harry Potter ....)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:45 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Therapy is helping, but I'm worried it's not enough to help me through these sad-attacks when watching movies, talking to friends, or listening to music, when the subject gets onto the stuff 'normal' teenagers get up to.

If it's any consolation, it's hard for the normal teenagers, too. You actually had a fairly universal teenage experience. Being a teenager is traumatic. There are plenty of songs from the late 80s that can still make me cry; I remember listening to them when I was a teen and being so lonely. I was constantly being excluded and played by my female peers, having painful unrequited crushes and feeling broken and ugly because none of them would ask me out, and having some fairly fucked up drink related sexual experiences at parties because I had no idea what my own social boundaries were. I am dead serious when I say my first breakup with my first boyfriend nearly killed me; I ended up in a locked psychiatric ward.

And I was, you know, reasonably popular. I look back at some of the kids who fell at the bottom of my school's social pecking order and I genuinely wonder now how they survived. You could not pay me enough money to go back and do it again. I suspect very, very few people would take 20 million bucks to re-live their teenage years.

With distance, we look at them with nostalgia because we're better equipped as adults to deal with the situations we remember; at the time, it's just fucking awful, all the time. So basically:

Your teenage years were miserable? Congratulation - you are completely normal. Sorry about that.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:09 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

While not always successful, my goal is to worry about the things I can control and not the things over which I have no control. The past in general is not something I can change. I can learn from it, but alter it.

You seem to be on the path to learning from your past and living with it without it influencing you negatively. The grass is always greener. Teenage angst happens in some form to almost all of us. No need to be jealous of someone else's angst.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:15 PM on February 8, 2010

I frequently feel a lot of grief that I missed out on the experience many other kids/teenagers had growing up.

Many or most people were unhappy kids/teenagers. You might have been on the bad side of the spectrum of experiences, but you really aren't a special snowflake in this regard.
posted by Perplexity at 10:33 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Douglas Coupland wrote that we must "eat our parents" like a business expense, as the cost of being where we are. You could write off your experience the same way.

If you're happy with who you are and where you're going, well, there you are.
posted by Sallyfur at 11:04 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

See it as a grieving process for the person you could have been, the life you could have lived. Let yourself grieve. Take your time with it. But also recognise that when you have, you will let go of it, because there are wonderful things just round the corner from you that you can only experience now, at this age and this place in life.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:37 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just to pick up on something in amyms' great post all the way up. Obviously different people have different kinds of 'terrible' stories to get over, some are in fact more terrible than others. The underlying problem, however, is often the same: the 'get over' bit. It seems to be very difficult for humans to deal with events in their lives that are - for whatever reasons - thought of as 'irreversible'. This can make people sad even if something good is happening.

After dealing with trauma and sadness, I have had my most positive experiences by applying ways of thinking that I derived from various books and lectures about mindfulness (I'm writing in the past tense, but it is, of course, an ongoing project, with its ups and downs). As just an example, Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You go There You Are comes to mind.
If this approach is your cup of tea at all (which it may not) it would help you to accept jealousy and sadness as parts of your existence (as opposed to thinking 'I wish I wasn't sad and jealous' which only suppresses - and perpetuates - these feelings). On the other hand, it would help you to make use of the time that's relevant for you (the present) and let go of the past.
posted by Namlit at 1:18 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I too had a boarding school experience that was a long way from Dead Poets Society but I’d like you to do something.

First, rent the film Scum. Watch it and get some perspective on the fact that no matter how bad your upbringing was, there’s an awful lot of people who had it so very, very much worse. Thousands and thousands of children are brought or dragged up in conditions that can be described as gladiatorial at best. Frankly, it sounds like you had a tough time but imagine your worst single day, every single day for five years.

Then, I’d like you to go and rent the film If… It’s about kids at a boarding school who don’t fit into the achiever stereotype yet still find a way to express themselves. Their joy in rebellion is palpable.

Presumably you enjoyed something about boarding school? The fact is that it is highly likely that you benefitted from experiences that the vast majority of children in the state system did not enjoy. Art and drama opportunities, access to musical instruments, darkroom facilities? You’d have had none of these things at one of Bad Alistair Campbell’s ‘bog standard comprehensives.’

Moreover, the chances are that your academic performance was considerably higher than if you’d been educated in the state system. This in turn unlocks further education which may be worth in excess of £250,000 in the course of a lifetime.

So then, turn the DVD player off for a moment and reflect on the fact that you’ve benefitted from advantages most don’t get while having had it better than a large number of people.

Then, consider how miserable you were then and make a promise to yourself that you won’t make the same mistakes when it comes to bringing up your children. You can’t change the past but you have agency when it comes to not fucking up the future.

None of the above is supposed to sound like an over-educated ‘man up, dawg’ but you are to some extent allowing yourself to be shackled by the past. Break free – you’re an obviously articulate, independent man living the dream overseas. Revel in your successes; don’t rehash your parents' mistakes.
posted by dmt at 2:56 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can't go back in time, but you can still have some "adolescent-like" experiences in your thirties. Intense friendships and romances, close-knit social groups, new experiences and discovery - these are all still possible, and you're much better equipped to handle them now as an adult.

Go to grad school, get involved in intense art or sports groups, take a trip around the world, join a start-up... No, you can't fix the past, but you can start filling the void with experiences and feelings just as intense as they would have been in your teens. At the very least it will distract you from dwelling on missed opportunities.

(Kind of speaking from personal experience here - grad school ended up being what high school and college weren't, and I think it did help me catch up socially. Or at least not feel like such an alien around people with more "normal" adolescences.)
posted by jetsetlag at 3:17 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your childhood wasn't 'lost'. You had a (relatively) unhappy childhood because your temperament did not fit in well with your environment. As a child, you had limited ability to change your circumstances, and somewhat limited ability to change yourself, thus causing hardship for you. Others, with different temperaments, flourished in the same environment.

Those same individuals who flourished in boarding school might find themselves lost at other stages in their lives. You had to suffer near the beginning of your life; they will have to suffer at other points.

You are now an adult and have your full faculties. You can change your environment to suit yourself, move to a different environment, or change yourself to suit the environment.

Also, as a man living in this day and age, you have the ability to 'start' your life at any point. You can marry someone at age 50 and live to see your children grow into adulthood. You also have unparalleled opportunities today to live your 'second childhood'; it is becoming more and more socially acceptable to be a fun loving, single "kidult" well into middle age.

Go. Live your life. The world is your oyster!
posted by sid at 5:55 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

One of the best things about being an adult is that I can now be a teenager properly. Did I go on dates when I was a teenager? Go to the prom? Make out under the stars? Go skinnydipping? Travel on a whim to far-flung lands? Learn about things I was really interested in rather than stuff adults said would be useful? Date nice boys who adored me? Get drunk and ride supermarket carts up and down the aisles at 3 am? Did I hell. I was terrified. I was too busy surviving and trying to please everybody by being good. It sucked.

You can't change the past, but you have a hell of a lot more control over the present now that you're an adult. You have money and independence and perspective. You're also surrounded by tons of other people who missed out -- even the people who had apparently idyllic childhoods. (My bf did, and he says it was boring and sheltered.) Ask one of them to the prom.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:55 AM on February 9, 2010 [12 favorites]

For the record, I had a pretty reasonable childhood, loving parents, decent schools, etc. I was constantly afraid of being beaten up, had tremendous amounts of heartache with woman and no successes, and was mostly miserable. And I had wickedly horrible acne.

I'm just saying this because obviously, I wouldn't trade my position for yours, but it might appear that I had everything going for me, but I was pretty depressed and sad a lot of the time.
posted by sully75 at 6:00 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider is that while you might have a vision of a "better childhood" that is a dangerous slope because I guarantee those kids who did have the kind of childhood you are jealous of are in turn jealous of someone else who had an even better childhood.

For example, while I was pretty unhappy as a teen, I grew up in the upper middle class in a good neighborhood with a loving family and grew up in modest luxury thanks to a family that is somewhat well off. I should be fucking ecstatic about my situation right? Wrong...I am jealous of those kids who are younger than me and have trust funds in the tens of millions of dollars who will never have to work a day in their lives and get to sit on a private island all day.

See, the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side and to lust after it is an endeavor doomed to failure and extreme frustration. Learn to play the hand you were dealt and move on from there--at the end of the day that is just something you'll have to be able to do on your own because while it might help to discuss things in therapy, no therapist can flip a switch and make you come to terms with things.

I say that not to be negative but to help you realize that it is all subjective, and while a therapist might not have that power, it is indeed quite possible for you to wake up one day and decide that you no longer want to be jealous of that which you did not have and move on. Not likely--but possible. Strive for it.
posted by Elminster24 at 9:05 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

OFFS! Ignore everyone telling you that other people had it worse. Of course other people had it worse - you say you're sensitive, so of course you know that and it probably makes you feel like a petty ass for writing this question which, in my humble opinion is a worthy one.

I had a shitty childhood. Thinking about other people who had shittier childhoods doesn't help. What helps me is remembering what I can do about it NOW which, I think, was what you asked about originally.

Therapy is helping, but I'm worried it's not enough to help me through these sad-attacks when watching movies, talking to friends, or listening to music, when the subject gets onto the stuff 'normal' teenagers get up to. Which seems to be a lot of the time.

Here are the cognitive steps I use:
1. I am going to look back 5 years from now. Period. Am I going to regret this too? Find something exciting to do that you are going to look back at and say, "that was stupid/brilliant/changed my life and AWESOME! I am starting a business. I might fail miserably but I REALLY do not want to look back again and find that I've done nothing productive.

2. I agree with the poster above. I write about it. If you don't fancy yourself a writer, make a private journal. If you do, start creating your novel. Use experiences you had. Take a memoir class. Sometimes it helps me to get it out onto paper where I'm not just chewing on it like an old piece of gum.

3. Remember that you can always turn left. You know how your brain always goes to that one path? The path that feels like a sad-attack? That's the path your brain is used to taking. It takes practice to create a new brain path. Next time, rather than turning right to a sad attack, figure out a different destination and turn right.

So far, these things are working, to some extent for me. Hope it helps.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:29 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

These sad feelings are what I fondly refer to as "ghosts". They are from my past. They haunt me. Therefore, "ghosts". Ghosts can't hurt me, or you, or anyone else. They can only haunt.

So you watch out for the ghosts. And when you realize you're being haunted, it's within your own power to give up the haunting. Change what you're doing, or at least, think about other things than whatever is bringing on the haunt. Better, if you really have a firm grip on what the haunting is about, confront the old ghost, and banish it. Take its power away. (Your therapist ought to be able to help you understand the mechanism of your spells of sadness).
posted by Goofyy at 10:21 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Writing about it may help. It doesn't have to be "good" writing or ever read by anyone else, but it can help process your thoughts and get them off your chest.
posted by greensalsa at 11:27 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oops. I meant "figure out a different destination and turn left." In case it wasn't obvious. Damn typos.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:21 PM on February 9, 2010

I agree with Sophie1 and Madamina that thinking about other people being worse off does not make you feel better. Actually, that's Schadenfreude and may work for a few personality types but not most. Does a broken toe hurt less because someone else broke their leg?
My 2 cents with regard to your regrets is that when you have developed a happier present your unhappy past will not seem as important. As long as the injury is having a big impact on your life, it will still hurt. When you have a good life despite the injury, you may not care about it as much.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 6:00 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I had a miserable upbringing. Other people didn't. How can I come to terms with this?"

It doesn't matter how easy or joyous someone else's childhood was in comparison to yours. The only thing that matters is what you do with your today and how you live your tomorrow. Yesterday is gone. Don't waste your tomorrow dwelling on it.

"I frequently feel a lot of grief that I missed out on the experience many other kids/teenagers had growing up."

You did. And there's nothing you can do to change that, so you have to learn to let it go. That's really the only option you have. You either let it go and find your happily ever after or you ruin your future by dragging your past along for the ride.

"what positive cognitive steps can I take to stop feeling jealous of other people's past lives?"

The only thing you can do is live your life and love it. And if you don't love it, find out why not and take steps toward changing that.

I know... I know... It's not that easy, but so what. You're up for a challenge, right? Well, the challenge is you. And the reward is you too, which only makes the challenge that much more worthwhile.

I've found that writing about it helps. Six years ago, I started writing my stories. As I wrote about them, I found that they haunted me less. I became the narrator in the stories of my past rather than the main character. It felt almost as if I was telling someone else's stories. I honestly remember shaking sometimes when I'd write that stuff. But then, when the story was finished and posted on my blog for anyone to see, it felt like... well... like nothing. It didn't feel powerful or embarrassing. It just felt like I'd told a story. I happen to like those stories because they're strong. They're emotional. They're great (awful, but great nonetheless). They're some of my best writing... but they're no longer ME. That's an important distinction.

Try writing your stories - but make sure you don't write them as a victim. Write them as a survivor because that's what you are. And then, once you've shared them, let them go.

Want to read my kidnapping story? It's a good one! Actually, you probably don't want to read it, and that's ok :)

The thing is, no one will ever be able to walk a mile in your shoes because you are the only one who can really understand what you've been through. And that's hard. But once you let it go, you'll find that a different future waits for you.

Never forget, those kids with their easy lives... they might have some awful stories too. Never assume you know more than you do. Trust me on that! I've learned that my stories really aren't so bad. My childhood was bad and so was yours, but so many have had it worse.

One more piece of advice from me: find new passions. I'm working on writing and photography. I tried to paint, but that was a disaster... but it was fun to try. What should you be trying? Try new things. Find new facets of your personality to enjoy in new ways. Find ways to be creative. Seek out things that inspire you. Find ways to embrace positivity. Seek positive change.

Buy a bike.
Start rollerskating again.
Fly a kite.
Learn to play the piano.
But a really nice pen and start writing the great American novel.
Go on a photo walk and post what you see to flickr.
Learn to dance.
Hell... I don't know! Just try all sorts of new things. There's so much more to who you are than you've discovered. And with each new self discovery, you'll find yourself becoming less and less of the person from your past. You'll become nothing more than the narrator in your own childhood stories.

I wish you the very best of luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 6:31 PM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have this feeling sometimes, when I hear stories from others (esp. my fiancee) about their normal, happy childhood and teen years. I had a (different than yours but still crappy) childhood, and I feel momentary intense pangs of jealousy and anger toward all lucky, happy, normal kids, including her.

But her past and my past are equally irrelevant except that they made us into two smart, caring and compatible people. How lame would I be if I let our pasts ruin the present?

Also, although I'm one of the happy lucky (boring) people now, it always comforts me to think about the Proust bio at the end of little miss sunshine:
Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap -- high school and everything -- just skip it.
Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?
Dwayne: He's the guy you teach.
Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he's also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh... he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you're 18... Ah, think of the suffering you're gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don't get better suffering than that.
So cheer up. you've been through a lot, and survived, and you should be proud of it.
posted by Chris4d at 11:58 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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