Collateral damage — learning to live without regret: Part VI

See also: Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V

Part VI: Accepting reality

By Daisy . . . Looking back on our impossible journey, I see now that it was the accrual of tiny little steps—just minute little decisions—that sent us on a trajectory that involved future full-time employment, completed education, home ownership, savings for retirement, and friendships. It’s not everything that I expected as an arrogant and entitled youth, but I have come to accept the path my life has taken.

One thing I work on daily is grappling with regret. Gone are the days of the “why” questions:  Why did he even download those five photos? Why didn’t he think about what he did and destroy the computer’s hard drive? Why didn’t he set it on fire, burn it, beat it with a hammer, and bury it in the forest? Why didn’t we find money to pay for a lawyer instead of resigning ourselves to a series of unhelpful public defenders who each knew nothing about Alan? Why didn’t we try harder to get the judge to give him a lighter sentence? Why did this happen to us? Why are we so stupid when I thought we were smart? Why? Why? Why?

Sigh. I have played that game countless times and it always ends up with me feeling powerless to do anything about my future since I’m so focused on my unchangeable past. My realization came when I opened up to my friend who calmly listened and proceeded to pass not an ounce of judgment on either Alan or me. I realized that at least one person can appreciate the honest and raw pain of my story—despite the troop of people before her who did not—and that was good enough for me. She was a bright light in a dark forest as I made my way through alone and stumbling, trying to make sense of life and how I got to where I was.

Part of my realization was that I had to accept the reality of my life. I obviously had to accept it because it was either acceptance or suicide—though I was not averse to the latter. While deep in thought about the terrible, dark pathway my life had taken, I had an “Aha!” moment. Because I had to accept the reality of the situation, I therefore had to accept myself with no regrets. I simply could not regret the path that I took, the person I had become, and the opportunities that I had lost. When you fail, you learn. We failed majorly but we also learned and grew and developed in a way that I’m completely certain we would not have done had we not had this experience. Because of this, I am far more centered and grounded than I ever was. I am more empathetic and patient with others. I am more understanding of the fact that everyone has different life experiences. And I have a better sense of what it means to live an authentic life with purpose and meaning through helping others. I am happy with the person that I have become, and I would not be who I am without this experience. I must accept myself and my past—warts and all.

I slowly began to understand the importance of at least attempting to live without regret after we moved back to our original city and into the house that would eventually become our first real home. In late 2012, I ended up finding an excellent job in social services (a far cry from my original science-related goals). At that same time, Alan had graduated from a community college with two degrees in a promising technical field after I gently but persistently cajoled him into enrolling in 2010, and he was poised to enter the job market as well. One month after I took my first “real” job, Alan was also hired at his first real job—despite his criminal record. We were both around age 33. At 33 years old, we were finally taking entry-level jobs that we should have taken ten years ago. We were finally earning money. We were finally gaining confidence.

The clouds began to part, and that elusive silver lining became sunshine after the storm. 

Part VII, the conclusion, will be posted June 28.

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