Giving Up Hope For A Better Past
I attend a weekly group meeting up at the VA for a specific source of PTSD and we discuss a whole range of issues. This phrase, giving up hope for a better past, is one that has come up a few times in the last couple of weeks. And so it is something I’ve been thinking about occasionally.
Obviously the phrase people are most familiar with is ‘Hope for a better tomorrow’ which has been around for decades (centuries?). This variation of that common phrase apparently has a much more recent origin.
The Past is the Past
No matter how much you want it to be different, your past is your past. There is NOTHING you can do to change it. You can’t go back and change things. Choices you’ve made, things you done, scenes you’ve witnessed, trauma you’ve received, abuse you’ve given, words you’ve said… all of it is unchangeably permanent.
As the original phrase points out, you can always have hope of making things better, of improving the situation created by your past, but your past will never get better. For example, if you stole a candy bar as a kid you can go back and return it, but you can’t un-steal it. You can improve the situation, but you can’t change the past.
If you survived Hurricane Katrina, that will always be with you. If you’ve been raped, you can’t ever undo that. No matter how you apologize, you can’t unsay those unkind words. And if you were in the military, you will always be a veteran.
The reverse of this is also true… you’re past will never get worse. You’ll have always won that race, gotten that promotion, won that spelling bee, and enjoyed that vacation. Whether good or bad, no matter what you’ve done it will always be there as something you have done.
What Would You Hope to Change?
As I’ve been thinking about this phrase, about giving up hope for a better past, I’ve mostly been thinking about what things I would hope to change.
In the group setting at the VA this is obviously focused on the trauma. We (I) would like to change the decisions we made, the places we went, or the people we were with. We wish we’d have turned left instead of right. Taken a buddy with us instead of gone alone. Wish we could have moved faster to someone’s aid. Wish someone else had been tasked with the duty for that day.
Outside the VA this still applies. We wish we’d gotten in that car just a bit earlier, or a bit later, to avoid that accident. Wish we’d made that phone call, not knowing you’d never have a chance to talk to a loved one again. Wish we’d made a different investment. If we’d have only chosen X instead of Y! Almost everyone carries some form of this thought.
But we didn’t make that call, change direction, apologize while we could, etc etc, and nothing we can do now can change it. No amount of regret will take back those last words you said (or didn’t say) before moving out. No amount of hope will make it so you don’t walk into that room. This is no way to make yourself move faster, to choose differently, to avoid what has already happened.
It Isn’t Your Fault!
Even though we can’t change things now, a lot of the guilt and self-hate comes from knowing (or thinking) we could have changed things then. But to have consciously changed things then is just as impossible as trying to change your past now.
It isn’t your fault! You didn’t do what you did KNOWING that something terrible was going to happen. You didn’t CHOOSE what happened. There was no way you could have known that a car accident was going to happen. There was no way you could have known that drink was drugged. No indications that a heart attack was coming. No way of knowing that the IED was set up on that street instead of the other one.
You didn’t choose to have a spouse die, to get raped, to watch a buddy suffer, to experience that trauma. There was no way to know it was coming. There was no reason you would have chosen differently.
And in the military it is doubly so. You don’t choose the duty you are placed on. Others choose your companions. The system chooses your location. There was no way to have chosen differently in order to change the outcome.
It isn’t your fault. You were where you were, when you were there. There is no way to choose differently now, and there was no way of knowing you needed to choose differently before hand. Stop hoping to change your past. You need to stop blaming yourself. You made the same choice that countless others made before you and countless more have made since and they didn’t have the trauma you did. There was no way to know that your choice would end the way it did.
What Would Change Do For ME?
I’m not sure. Do I wake up and hope that I never joined the Army? Am I wishing I’d chosen a different course of training? Done it the same but at a different time? There is no answer. Just as I didn’t know ahead of time what would happen, there is no way to choose a course now and know if it would be better. It could potentially be even worse. There is no way to know.
And to what degree is change good? What would it change and how much? Would I still be healthy and able-bodied? Would I not be as overweight as I am? Not have mental health issues? Still be as social and outgoing as I once was?
But what good things in my life now would be gone if I changed my past. Would I still have the kids I have now? How would my relationship with Julie change? What alterations in those things would I be willing to accept in order to remove the trauma from my past? You’re more of a sage than I am if you can answer that for yourself.
Accepting a Good Present
Perhaps “giving up hope for a better past” is also accepting the situation of the present, and be satisfied that you’ve done your best with what life has given you.
To be honest even that is a bit hard for me now. The present isn’t exactly what I would have chosen either. But even the recent past is beyond my ability to change. I know I have done the best I could, and so accepting the present should be easier, but it is hard not to compare it to what life was as recently as a year ago, and wish that the recent past was better. I suppose I need to do better about giving up hope for that as well.
I will not be giving up hope for a better future. That is still within the realm of possibility. Given the current state of the ‘present’ I suspect things will get better and easier every day. I know it is hard for me to see at times, but I know the present is actually quite good and wonderful. It’s going to be an interesting journey making it even better.
Thanks for following along with me so far!
I’ll keep you posted!