- There has been so much sadness in my life. So much hardship. So much anger.
- You've survived it.
- Oh yes, I've survived it, sure. But it's too late to be happy now. I'm eighty-one.
- There's always time to start being happy.
- No. I saw a movie recently, about a woman who couldn't laugh. Couldn't smile. That's me. I see happy things, I can't smile.
- You have to try, Ma.
- Too late. He took all that away from me. Self-centered bastard. Never a thought for what I might be going through.
- That's in the past. Bury it. You're free now.
- Free, ha! I'm so tired. My head hurts all the time.
- You're free of him here, now start acting like it. If you choose to suffer from the memories, he still controls you. You're still letting him control you.
- What else can I do? My head hurts all the time. The pills don't work. I couldn't sleep last night, now I'm going to be tired all day.
- You can do plenty. You're taking English classes.
- And doing quite well if I recall. Top of your class, a regular teacher's aide.
- It's always too long. Two hours, I can't even get up to get a drink of water.
- You're learning something new. The world is opening up to you.
- My head hurts all the time. That self-centered bastard. He never did a thing for me. Never a thing.
The post sparked an interesting discussion in the comments section. What is the difference between those who have the resilience to bounce back from life's disappointments and injuries, versus those who spend months … years … suspended in grief or bitterness, sulking over the sins of others?
It's an important question – especially to those who feel haunted by their pasts, imprisoned by memories of thoughtless and hurtful people. To be sure, there are those who (consciously or otherwise) are in love with their own dark histories and choose to wrap so much of their identity around their injuries and scars that they are effectively inseparable.
But for the rest of us who have a genuine interest in decoupling from the demons that may haunt us, what does it takes to break free from an unhappy past? To move on from the betrayals, deceptions and disappointments which visit themselves upon us?
One of the most effective mental tricks I've employed in combating my own demons and occasional spells of depression is to treat my life as if it were an open-ended adventure simulation game; every morning, I imagine that I am assigned this character (me), who has [X] in the bank account, a job at [Y], and [Z] people as friends, enemies and acquaintances. Here is your list of skills and these are your attribute scores in Strength, Dexterity, Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom.
Now go forth, and explore in this world.
Should you walk up and talk to that pretty girl who's been looking at you in at coffee shop? An old friend called you this morning and invited you to a party this evening – do you accept? Oooh, that ice cream looks mighty tasty - should you splurge and go for a scoop? Ok, fine - now how about we take a nice hour-long run to burn it all off?
Employing this perspective is liberating; since it divorces my decision-making process from whatever residual grudges, baggage or emotional barnacles may be attached to specific people and situations, it focuses my attention on what is good for my 'character,' and thus, ultimately, what is good for ME and those I choose to befriend.
I've trained myself to disallow bitterness and brooding emotions much purchase in my mind; while I may feel sadness or grief from some immediate disappointment, taking a step back and viewing my life as if it was avatar of a simulation-adventure is a powerful bit of psychological legerdemain to put them into perspective. If you are lied to, swindled, or assaulted by a computer-controlled character in a game, how much sulking and anger is appropriate to sustain over that incident?
Seeing yourself as an avatar of an adventure game also helps in dealing with difficulties and challenges. After all, gamers know that no matter how 'impossible' any given puzzle may appear, there always IS an solution (however convoluted and counterintuitive). While it is true that in the real world there are situations that are genuinely unwinnable, the attitude of believing there is always a workaround to every impasse, the faith that there exists an answer to every impossibility is the fuel that lends ordinary people the power to accomplish superhuman things.
And who of us couldn't use a bit more superhuman mojo in our lives?