I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek recently (discovered all the various series available in their entirety on Netflix, so I’ve been doing some shameless binging each night before bed). I only bring that up as a way of explaining the origins of the following thought process; I promise this isn’t going to be an essay attempting to convert my readers into Trekkies.
It was an episode of Star Trek Voyager, dealing with time travel (there’s always an episode or two for each series that deals with the concept of time travel in one way or another); specifically in this instance the captain of the starship met her future self, as that woman had come back in time to warn her of certain calamities in order to save members of the crew who would otherwise die. As I was watching this episode, and observing the way the older admiral was struggling on some levels to relate to the younger captain, I found myself wondering what my younger self would think of me if she were to meet me.
Maybe I’d just had a rough week…but the thought ultimately led to a breakdown and some serious crying ensued.
I imagined the woman I used to be; optimistic, ambitious, deeply romantic, and determined to succeed in life. And I thought about how ashamed she’d be of me if she knew what ultimately she would become. What mistakes she would ultimately end up making.
“I’m so sorry,” I found myself whispering aloud, rocking back and forth as I hugged my body. “You deserved so much better.” I was speaking to that young woman with the bright smile and the ambitious spirit, who believed in the best of everyone around her. I felt guilty; felt like I’d let her down in the worst way. And in the process of letting her down, I’d also lost her, never to be found again.
As I cried, I remembered how safe and secure I’d once felt; sleeping through the night with the certainty that there would be a tomorrow to wake up to. It’s a certainty I no longer possess; now my nights are restless, with certain noises causing me to sit up in bed, heart racing before trying to slowly calm myself down and drift back to sleep. I miss that feeling of safety. I really do. But PTSD will do that to a person.
I remembered how certain I was that I’d find my soulmate and live happily ever after; how I never even doubted it would happen. I dug out an old journal, skimming through some of the entries where I wrote about love and imagined what it would be like to be married and even having children some day. I mourn the loss of that too, since right now I’ve lost hope that I’d be able to let anyone in enough to really experience and enjoy true intimacy. It might not be logical, but it’s how I feel nonetheless. [Read: Illogical Emotion]
She had so much enthusiasm for life, that woman, even on the days when she was depressed. She believed ultimately everything would work out for the better, certain that even the worst days were merely stepping stones to greater things. Her swim coach and mentor had called her his ‘sunshine’, because she’d always smiled no matter what life threw her way. In her life, hardships were nothing more than material for the great American novel she’d write some day.
Where had that optimism gone? That fighting spirit? I found I missed her; missed her fire and her zest for life.
Unfortunately this isn’t Star Trek, and I won’t be traveling back in time to change the way things turned out. I can’t go back to the first moment I met Randall, and prevent it from ever happening. I can’t go back to the moment when he contacted me after we were apart for eighteen months and proposed a reconciliation, and stop her from ever responding. I can’t help her kick him out the first time he was cruel or abusive toward her, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth……
I can’t stop any of it. I’m powerless.
Then again, in the moment I also had to ask myself: even if I could, would I really want to go back and change things? Even as awful as I feel some days, even with all the sadness and the insecurities and the troubles and the mistakes and the blemishes on my life…would the benefits of changing the outcome be worth sacrificing all the knowledge and the wisdom I’ve earned through it all?
I’m not so sure.
And that line of thought forced me to be honest about a few more things too, like: there are certain things I don’t necessarily miss about that young woman. She was arrogant the way only young people can be; certain she had all the answers. Mistakes and experience have given me a humility that I’m grateful for at this point. Those same mistakes have also given me a deeper appreciation of family and true friends than I ever had before; helping me become more content with the small things in life; grateful for every good thing, instead of only spending time yearning for the things I don’t yet have.
That young woman I was didn’t always take time to slow down. She was always looking to the future and her goals. And while I still have ambitions for myself, I can say I’ve also begun to appreciate the passage of time a little more, and have come to understand the importance of slowing down to appreciate the moment too. I’m thirty. Three decades have flown by. There’s now a voice in my mind that whispers: “Slow down and smell the roses…they and your youth won’t be here forever…”
Maybe that voice was always there. But now…I have the wisdom to listen to it.
And then there is the most important lesson/change of all: I’ve learned that I am just fine on my own. The virginal, never-been-kissed, eager for love young woman I used to be wanted a partner. A soulmate. Someone to complete her, the way only Prince Charming could guide the heroine into Happily Ever After. Now instead I’m a woman who wants to be treated well, and loved precisely for who I am without having to change to please a man…and if I can’t find that, I’m perfectly content to be alone. That is true strength and power, let me tell you; to not be ruled by hormones or wishes or dreams, but instead to be empowered with wisdom and inner resolve.
So I suppose even as I miss that young woman, I have to acknowledge this is reality now; and while perhaps I wish I could erase a few of the scars I now carry, at the same time I’ve come to accept them as the price that must be paid for the wisdom and strength I now possess.
And anyway, she’s still there on some levels. I have glimpses of her from time to time; hearing her laughter or feeling her playfulness or her rebellious nature in the back of my mind, urging me to take a chance or have a little fun. I still feel the goosebumps on my skin when I hear a particularly beautiful melody, I get the itch to dance when the song calls for it, and I still feel moved by an incredible piece of poetry or a beautiful sunset. I still love to survey the stars each night; counting the constellations and tracing the lazy, elegant paths of the satellites crisscrossing over the heavens. Pink might not be my favorite color any more (now it’s a deep, rich sapphire blue), but I still appreciate it and wear it from time to time.
Some moments I even hear her whisper into my ear: “You know it’ll be alright. You know we’ll be okay.” That optimism and that drive to succeed swelling my heart from the inside out until I’m sure it might burst.
I love that young woman, I now realize. I wish I’d felt that love for her back then, instead of being plagued with self doubt and self loathing the way so many young women are…but I feel it now. I love her, and want to cherish the best parts of her; because she deserves the best. She deserves to be treated with respect and love. She deserves to be appreciated. And if no one else can do that, then at least I can do it for her myself.
I may not be quite what I thought I’d be at this point in my life; it’s true that I’ve had to let go of a few things I’d once thought to be true. And I’ve had to endure a few things that have made me a little harder and a little sharper and a little more cynical. But she’s still in there; the best parts of her. And that’s the victory. So I choose to embrace those parts of her that remain, and cherish her now the way I should have before.
None of us can turn back the wheels of time, it’s true. And most of us don’t truly appreciate what that means until we’re older; youth, as they say, is always wasted on the young. But that’s okay. Don’t live in the past. It’s okay to grieve for a little while, but then you have to let it go; let go of who you were, and embrace who you’ve become instead.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.