So long old life! How to I really put it all behind me?
July 14, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

What suggestions do you have for helping me put the past in a box and filing it away?

I'm trying to put a lot of crappy events of my life in my past. I have a really hard time letting go of my memories and hurts and letting the past stay there.

Today is a new day! Move forward!

Right. It's easier said than done.
What ideas do you have for getting over things? A career path that hasn't turned out as you hoped, marriages that haven't lasted, unrequited loves, feelings of failure, a birth family who isn't supportive...stuff like that. I know it takes work, but I'm not sure what will start the gears turning.
I'm trying, with a therapist, to learn that my past doesn't need to define me. Sure I'm the product of it, but I can change the future, theoretically. I don't know how to go about that in any practical way either, other than simply implementing sweeping changes, and that seems incredibly daunting.
My (not 50th yet) birthday is in a couple weeks. I always see this as my new year, and the time to make resolutions (that get mostly broken two weeks later).
I want a new start. I want to go forward, and put many things squarely in my past. I also keep thinking there might be some sort of ceremony that would be meaningful, but I'm not sure about what it might look like.
Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by littleflowers to Human Relations (12 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I used to work at a school for troubled kids on a tiny remote island. There were lots of rocks on the beach. Sometimes I'd have a kid pick up a rock and make it a symbol of something he wanted to let go of. Then I'd have him throw it as far into the water as he could.
posted by mareli at 10:00 AM on July 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Something very similar to mareli's post - the thing I think that's hard about grieving and really letting go of things is that sometimes you're not sure what you're really ready to just let go of, and what you still want to feel sad about or hang on to a little longer. This is all about you and your pace.

About 4 years ago, I went through a period of radical change. Jobs, relationships, friendships, cities, everything changed all at once and I was in a completely new life. There were old hurts and crappy events that were still clouding my daily thoughts and my emotions and I wanted to be able to move ahead and it was very hard to separate.

I actually went to a local wicca store and asked about a grieving ritual. I was mostly just curious, because like you're saying, I felt like I needed a ceremony. Like a funeral, almost, for all of the grief I had over things that I had lost and never completely mourned. The woman there gave me essentially a recipe for a ritual but I decided instead to basically make my own.

What I finally did was this:

I bought a bunch of beautiful candles and nice smelling incense, and a nice, pretty box.
I bought some pretty paper and a nice pen.
I made a playlist of music that made me feel really connected to all of those feelings - good and bad.
I shut my phone off, locked my doors, and set aside a whole evening.
Then I listened to the playlist, and wrote down everything that came to mind on a slip of paper. It might be a name, a memory, a thought - all of these things that I knew I was carrying with me.
Then, I thought about it for a while. I thought - am I ready to let go of this or do I want to hold on to it? If I felt like I was ready to let go, I burned the slip of paper. If I wanted to hold on to it, I put it in the box.

I haven't done it again since, but I do still have the box and maybe when or if I feel like I'm in a place like that again, I can always choose to open it up and burn those things if they're bothering me...
posted by pazazygeek at 10:07 AM on July 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

Wow, good question, since I still struggle a bit with this, but less so as time passes.

My best suggestion include acquiring new interests. If you are spending your time with new interests, old (bitterly remembered) ones tend to get pushed out.

I ramped up my exercise regiment, broadened my social circle a bit while pruning away some not-so-loyal friends, and picked up a couple of hobbies after my marriage fell apart. All of these things have helped me immensely.

Good luck!
posted by PsuDab93 at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Change the direction you look in. I know some people who still think about high school, college, etc. and they are in their 40's. It's so weird to me as it feels like a different life to me, because it was so far in the past. I naturally am someone who, for better or worse, looks in the forward direction so much that there is no room for the past in my brain. I don't keep a lot of memorabilia, photos. I think I might have one photo of a past boyfriend, no keepsakes of any other kind.

I am so involved in my present and future that the past gets squeezed out. If I look back there, I get the creeps, really.

Look for what excites you. Fill your life as much as you can with it and the scales will change in favor of the future (or present, as that is the more zen place to be).

Also, declutter. Get rid of your surroundings that remind you of the past. They might not be a direct reminder, but they still affect you. For example, I have all these adorable shoes. I could keep them, but I wore them in my past and realized that I can get shoes that have no history, however subtle. Even things I really like, I let go of because it opens up literal space to be filled with your future.
posted by Vaike at 10:40 AM on July 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

The only way I've been able to let go of things in the past is to bury them in the future. Always having some specific short- & long-term goals to work towards has also been really helpful. Everyday, I try to do at least one thing that makes me happy, proud, etc. and spend a few minutes thinking about that one thing when I'm lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. When I'm *really* feeling down, I force myself to do 750 words about good/funny/awesome things that happened recently.

Also agree with Vaike about decluttering. Throw away/recycle/donate anything that pulls you back to unhappy things your past. I'm in the middle of a major purge prior to moving and I have found watching Hoarders while I sort through things has been very, very helpful because I have some pack rat tendencies. And despite my cluttered ways, when I do finish a decluttering campaign, I've ALWAYS felt lighter in mood and mind, and nothing I've gotten rid of has broken my heart or destroyed my life. Good luck!
posted by smirkette at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Change your jewelry, too.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:22 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forgive the people who hurt you. This does not mean that what they did is forgotten, or ok, but that you are choosing to forgive them, so you can move on and be the you you want to be.

Get a helium balloon or two and write everything you want to let go of on them. Release them into the sky! (even gentle applications of dull-tipped markers can sometimes pop the balloons. be prepared. Usually not though)

Fire or letting it float away is always cathartic to me.

My GF talks with her spiritual leader and has him pronounce her free of X issue. Shes already worked on X quite a bit, and so is ready to let it go.

Oh, and I find people often need to forgive themselves for things they have done. Sometimes you even need to get angry at and/or forgive God. Yes, most people immediately say 'God is perfect! I cant be mad at God or have anything to forgive!' but even so, you can still hold bitterness or grief on things you perceive God has done.
posted by Jacen at 12:07 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I sold a lot of the things my first boyfriend and I bought together on eBay, and in my selling description (after talking about how the action figures were near Mint in Box or kept in a smoke-free home, etc.) I noted that I was selling them to get rid of the physical reminders of that first relationship, which was pretty awesome at the time but ended in a really terrible way. Most people ignored the description, but one person wrote a response and said it was really cool to see someone trying to move beyond their past like that.
posted by TrishaLynn at 1:01 PM on July 14, 2011

Work on the smallest level possible. When you have a series of negative thoughts about yourself, stop and tell yourself the following "I acknowledge I'm having these feelings, but I am not required to accept them as true." Do it over and over again.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:14 PM on July 14, 2011

If moving house is not an option (maybe even to a new suburb or town), what about making as much of a change in your current house as you can? Paint it. And/or get new accessories in a different colour (pillows, towels, bed linens, rugs). Plant new things in the garden.

My mother made her 60th birthday party themed as "new beginnings" and invited a tonne of people (held it in a church hall). They were asked to bring a suggestion of something new for her to do with her life. A good friend made a scrapbook for the event and people wrote in or pasted in their ideas and thoughts.

Some people took that as a reason to bring gifts of things relating to new hobbies, or travel, etc, too.
posted by lollusc at 6:28 PM on July 14, 2011

Great answers, all of you! Thank you so very much! I love your ideas and the things you have shared.

Jacen, I love that you reminded me about forgiveness and God. I believe God sees all the bad stuff and is planning to reweave it into something more beautiful than I can imagine. Thank you so much for those lovely thoughts.

Ironmouth...perfect suggestion that I am implementing this very moment.

Fire and flight are perfect ways to get rid of unwanted ideas. I don't have many physical reminders of things...just a long and good memory.

I forgot to mention I am quite close to the ocean, should that spur anyone's thoughts.

Please continue to make suggestions!
posted by littleflowers at 8:27 PM on July 14, 2011

Similar to ideas already suggested, but might I suggest a "cut losses" jar. Get a big glass vase/fish bowl/etc and put it somewhere in your house that you'll regularly see it (kitchen/foyer/etc). Keep some index cards, a scissor and a marker next to the jar. If you realize something is taking up a lot of your mental energy and creating a negative vibe in your life - be it from ATT charging too much for cable to that asshole ex who cheated on you - write it down on one of the cards. Fold the card in half and hold it over the jar, then cut it with the scissors.

Make a rule for yourself that once you've cut something as a loss you are moving on from it. If it's something you lament about to your friends/family a lot, tell them you've cut it as a loss. If they catch you talking about it again you have to buy them beer.
posted by corn_bread at 11:34 AM on July 15, 2011

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