When I was – maybe, when we were – growing up, parents, teachers, coaches would say, “If you could go back and do it again, what would you do differently so the result is better?” Or they’d say something like that, and the articulation, added to the idea of going back in time, was powerful enough to move me (I can speak only for myself here) to regret what I had done and wish I could do it again. Because I would do it better…not that I always knew what better meant or was.
Now this was surely not the hope of any well-intending adult, to cause strife and self-doubt. However, that’s what the idea of “If I could go back and do it again…” can generate.
The truth is, we can’t go back and do it again. When we imagine that, we tend to romanticize our role, our skills and talents, our foresight, and our access to whatever magic and miracles we didn’t notice the first time. We wave the wand of “It will be better because I am better,” and poof! 100% remake: an EGOT, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning occurrence that is ours to be proud of for life.
That sounds awesome. And is straight up nonsense.
When I was in “official” recovery, my memory wasn’t fully restored. I had been the person you call when you want to know who won the Oscar in 1994 for Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones, “The Fugitive,” which was something of an upset because Martin Landau was nominated for “Ed Wood” and the talk had been that he’d win, and as a viewer of the original “Mission: Impossible” on TV, I tended to agree) and what was the name of Revlon’s most famous lipstick before the company refurbished its product naming (Cherries in the Snow). At this time, I felt as though I barely had a thought in my head. I couldn’t remember important things that had happened within my family and with my friends from years ago and the previous week. That was truly awful.
If I couldn’t remember things, knowing, of course, that they had happened, and had I been involved? Did I play a role? Was I even there? If not, did I even matter?
Long story short (there will be more in the book, I promise), I went from self-hating to humbled to grateful. I took these steps by realizing I had access to a number of sources and resources. I could find emails. I could do research. I could risk being embarrassed (“You don’t remember? You were there, doing, hosting, receiving…!”) and ask someone to tell me about whatever it was.
As awkward and potentially embarrassing as doing this stuff was, I needed to restore things. And to effectively do this, because time was my gift, I needed to step back, pause, breathe, and refresh how I could do things. Once I realized that this was possible, I began to loathe myself a little less.
So I began to do this. Memories were returning. Sounds and ideas, knowledge and recipes are slowly coming back to me. I didn’t pat myself on the back and gold star thing, and I stepped into a place I still am every day: feeling exceptionally grateful for all that happens around me and for me. I call that re-feeling.
When I returned home to my apartment in New York City, I was petrified. What had I been doing for the last four+ months? Imagining what people were thinking and saying about me (which of course, was all in my head), I was overwhelmed with beliefs that people would pity me, coddle me, laugh about me, and the worst of all, ignore me. The first step in re-telling myself the story of my life was to reframe what had happened over the last several months.
For me, reframing is revisiting what I did with what I knew and what I had. To reframe is about being honest with why I chose to do what I did. And a successful and healthy reframing results in learning from what was done, applying a more aware and supportive perspective to those experiences.
When I reframe, I don’t give myself a pass; I’m God honest about what was happening and knowing that I did my absolute best, and never anything other than that.
One of the sources that helped me here is Russell Simmons’s first book, Do You! and I’m grateful forever to my dear friend who sent it to me when I was in the hospital in 2009. Thank you, Josh!
If you’re holding yourself too accountable for things that happened, take a minute and ask yourself, “Did I do all I could with all I had for reasons that felt right to me?” Chances are, you absolutely did all of that.
Refresh. Rethink. Re-feel. Reframe.
Reach out to me in the comments if you’ve experienced something like this. I know we have much to discuss, and celebrate.