Whatever you do, don’t look behind you!
There’s a very scary shelf among my books. It contains words that make me cringe, shudder, draw back in horror – and that’s not from reading them, it’s from the mere idea of reading them.
They are my journals.
While they’re not all quite in order, they do stretch back quite a ways – to middle school, in fact. In it are not profound thoughts, deep reflection, positive wisdom on the state of the universe. No, instead there is insecurity, fear, jealousy, selfishness, lost dreams, abandoned hopes…
Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s why I don’t read them terribly often. A fellow journal-writer and friend said it pretty succinctly:
I suffered immensely at the hand of my past. Re-reading that is to relive it, invoke that shame and disgust. And it is hard to get past that.
Hard indeed. But worthwhile, if only for the whole idea that those who are ignorant of their history are doomed to repeat it.
One of the most practical reasons to re-read journals and blogs is to be able to read between the lines. You have a distinct advantage over the person who wrote whatever words you’re reading: you know what happened next. That means you can start to recognize cause-and-effect. Perhaps more importantly you may be able to recognize when an effect is not caused by something. Either way, you have new information from which to plan your future.
Of course, that’s another lesson you will learn from reading it: things don’t always turn out the way you expected. The things you feared? Didn’t happen. And if they did, they were likely not as apocalyptic as it felt at the time. Unfortunately the flip side is true, as well. Those things you looked forward to, that you worked diligently towards until you achieved them – likely they didn’t quite match up to the expectations.
Again, both of those are useful lessons to learn, especially when you’re trying to plan for the future. But the fact that a practice is useful and practical doesn’t make it any more appealing when you dread it. If that were the case, I’d be doing a lot more yoga in my day.
So how does one get past the paralysis of autographochronophobia, a word I just made up to describe the fear of one’s writing about times past?
Not Feeling Yourself
I can’t speak for my friend, but while I share his loathing for revisiting the past, I can say that like many fears when faced it turned out to be much less difficult than I expected. It took a while, but I realized why that was: I am no longer the person who wrote those words.
That person was still either in the middle of or just barely beyond whatever traumatic events I was writing about. There were still fresh memories; the images were connected to intense reactions of neurochemistry, emotional maelstroms of anger and sorrow and grief and whatever.
That’s not the case when you re-read it. Instead you are removed from the situation, enjoying the benefit of perspective. You have greater strength and resilience that comes from having survived longer than that person who wrote the words. Not only that, you get to remember that you did survive all that – a reminder of the simple and admirable skill of survival.
Perhaps you’re in a better place now – then you’ve got even more reason to celebrate! I know I’ve looked at some journals from about twenty years ago and just shake my head. How did that young man manage to do all that stuff? I’m tired just reading it! My life now is both more simple and more wondrous than he would have ever been able to imagine.
Riding the Changes
Your motivations and values have changed – either become more refined and clear, or perhaps changed completely. You can see what dreams you carried with you, and what ones you left behind or traded in for new dreams. The same applies to friends, family, food, and probably a few other words that begin with F.
You may still have some things in common with that person who wrote the journal. You certainly owe them a debt of some kind, whether that’s positive or negative, because it was their action that put you where you are now. Perhaps you want to let them know how that makes you feel. No, it won’t make a difference to them, but it certainly can make a difference to you.
That’s why it’s not only worth it to make a practice of journaling, but also of reviewing your journals. Take advantage of holidays, for example, and spend an hour just paging through your past thoughts.
It’s not as scary as you think. It can’t hurt you; whatever pain was possible has already been inflicted. Instead it offers a chance for further healing, for more strength, and for a better future.
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