Opening the Door To The Past: When things aren’t working, try something new

A few weeks ago, I wrote about opening the door to the past, and how I finally felt ready to do it. And then…nothing. I couldn’t write a post I felt happy with. It was so frustrating. But now I know why.

We all have memories which stand out, etched in perfect clarity, like video clips that loop in our mind. And every time I tried to write about my mid-teenage years, I would get stuck in this one loop. It goes something like this:

  • Standing in a ballet class in utter misery, feeling nothing but helpless.
  • Dancing through tears, silently begging my mom to come and save me.
  • Slapping myself -HARD- across the face out of sheer self-disgust.
  • Dancing with the flu, with streaming colds, with injuries because I was too scared to say no. Ignoring my body’s screams for rest and care because I was afraid of getting in trouble.
  • Going to auditions for teacher-approved schools that I wasn’t remotely interested in, and being so terrified that I could barely dance at all.
  • Being yelled at. A lot.
  • Pushing everything down. The rage. The pain. The sadness. The self-hatred.

(Just in case you assumed that a person who believes that everyone is a dancer must necessarily have no issues with dance…)

Over and over, around and around these memories went, keeping me from writing, keeping me from moving forward. It’s been this way for years. They’re stories of powerlessness and victimhood and smallness. I didn’t know how to make them into something constructive. And I kept thinking to myself:

I am so very, very tired of this.

So I let it go for a while. And the other day I sat down and did some journalling about these memories, this well of rage and pain and grief that sits in my gut. And I discovered something interesting: in the past month, my reaction to those memories has gone from “Oh, poor, victimized me” to “Yes, it sucked. A lot. But, you know, I could have said no, changed schools, or made my mom understand what was really going on. I know why I didn’t, but technically I could have.”

And I don’t mean it in a self-blaming kind of way. It’s more a realization of the options that were there. Yes, I felt small and helpless and completely victimized by someone who I’d known since I was tiny. Yes, I thought -because I was taught it- that this suffering was Just The Way It Was in Ballet. You Suffered For Your Art.

But I could have escaped from it. Even if ballet had been the right thing for me, this particular path wasn’t the only way.

Look at that list of memories. Those are not things that were done to me (OK, the screaming was, but nothing else was). Those are things I did in reaction to my situation. I mean, did someone else slap me across the face? No. I DID IT TO MYSELF.

All of that pain, all of that rage and frustration and grief and self-loathing and seething resentment? All of those memories? I participated in their formation. And that’s not something I’ve ever thought about before.

I’m realizing that, even though I didn’t use it, and even though I couldn’t see it, I had power in those situations. I had a choice. Something about that knowledge helps. And now I can finally write about it.

Earlier this year, Goddess Leonie posted a video that changed my life. In it, she said “if things aren’t working, try something new.” She was talking about business. But really, that can apply to anything. If things start to suck, you can either 1) keep slogging away at the same old crap and getting more and more frustrated…or 2) you can try something new.

It’s not about giving up when the going gets tough. It’s about knowing the difference between a challenge and a glaring sign that you are not on the right path. Those memories I’ve been cycling through? Those were signs that things weren’t working. And no matter how hard I worked, or how many hours a week I danced, or how many colds I ignored, things still weren’t going to work. I stuck with option #1 for years, and it SUCKED.

But now I can look at those memories and think “You know what? Screw that. From now on, I choose option #2.” Trust me, slapping yourself across the face? It’s about as fun as you think it is. Slamming away at a blog post that’s just not working? Also not fun (though significantly less physically painful).

There are better ways to live.

Is there any part of your life where you’re beating your head against a brick wall instead of walking through the door six feet to the left? Why not try something new instead?


6 thoughts on “Opening the Door To The Past: When things aren’t working, try something new

  1. I am the champion at beating my head against a brick wall. I’ve always told myself it’s because I’m “persistent” or “tenacious” or “not a quitter”. It’s only since I had kids that I’ve started (very, very slowly) giving myself permission to walk away from things that are making me miserable. I’m still not very good at it… but at least now I recognize the behaviour when it’s happening. I hold out hope that one day I’ll be strong enough to say “enough already!” and leave off slapping myself rather than waiting for life to interject and forcibly hold my arm back for me.

    • Yeah, I’m getting better at it. I’m just so glad that I’ve been able to process the past enough to shift from “I was trapped and helpless and the only way out was death” to something more empowering. Even if I couldn’t do it at the time, knowing the option was there is very helpful.

  2. Wow, I only wish you had found 5Rhythms yeaaaars ago. Stories like that make me glad that I never pursued ballet on a professional level, as much as I begged my parents to let me attend super-serious ballet camps.

    • Yeah, I wish that too. If I’d found 5Rhythms a decade ago, it would have been SO helpful. For one thing, it would have reminded me that dance can be fun and healing, and that I LOVE it. And then maybe I wouldn’t have stopped for as long as I did…

      I feel like the past 5 years have been all about slowly peeling off layers of hurt, releasing stuff that built up when I was training intensively. I’m getting really deep now…I have to remember all the progress I’ve made to get this far.

  3. You know what’s striking me as I read your posts? I don’t have baggage.

    I don’t have a painful past to learn to accept and push through and heal from. However, I don’t have ANYTHING of interest to look back on really, either.

    I thought about taking ballet classes when I was in the sixth grade. Did you know that? But I didn’t even ask my parents if I could because I was terrified about trying to deal with my period in a leotard. Isn’t that ridiculous? And yet, it’s true. So I never even MENTIONED the idea. My whole life is full of such stories: interest in something, but always some barrier (like the period that came way too early and was baffling to deal with, or a lack of money, or later, being in a serious, long-term relationship) stopped me from actually pursuing my interests or dreams. I’ve always, always, ALWAYS wanted to travel. But never have. You’d think I would have made it happen if I cared that much, but nope. I can’t even really say why. I guess that’s just how I am. Comes down to that passionless thing maybe?

    Anyway, my point is, perhaps there is something worse than having really pursued a dream and tried at something, even if it left you with baggage. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I suppose neither of us will ever know.

    • I’m starting to be grateful for my baggage…or for the experiences that created them, anyway. Because you’re right, at least I have crazy stories. I’ve had a habit of berating myself for *not* doing things or *almost* doing things (I almost went to Paris for a year, I almost auditioned for a BFA at Simon Fraser, etc etc), but really…I did do a lot. In an interesting twist, being grateful for my baggage…is sort of making my baggage go away… 🙂

      I think it’s easy to get distracted from the things you really want by the grind of every day. Especially when you have kids, it’s so easy to get caught up in Life In General and it’s extra-scary to add something new to the mix because it doesn’t just affect you. But it’s never too late. You’ll travel. Probably a good idea to wait until the kids are both potty trained though 😉

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