“You cannot change how your story started, you can always change how your story ends.”
For plenty of people, those are wonderful and hopeful words of wisdom. It is hard, and we often need help to do it, but it is possible to rise above our pasts towards a future we want. That is an empowering, terrifying, and beautiful thing. A hallmark of our intelligence as sentiment creatures is the ability to internalize what we’ve experienced and use it to make decisions in the future.
This can be both a blessing and curse. We learn from traumatic experiences as well, and healing from that is as much a (re)learning process as a spiritual/emotional practice. When things happen that really and truly shake you to your core, you can’t always just dust yourself off and go again. If you think you can, I congratulate you on your compartmentalization and/or sociopathy.
The truth is that, even if you think you’ve recovered from a difficult experience, there is no returning to the person you were before. It’s a “what is known cannot be unknown” sort of thing. Before, you didn’t know you could be hurt like that. You didn’t know you could fail that hard. You didn’t know whatever it was could hurt so much. It’s the price we pay for being thinking, feeling, loving creatures- but it’s a price we never consciously think we must pay until it happens.
When it does, we learn. We learn to wake up the next morning and keep trying. We recover, we hope, and we carry on. We also need to mourn the people that we were- because that is never coming back, and it’s something I’ve been wrestling with a lot recently.
It feels like way longer than just a few years since I wrote “Blood, Sweat, and Butter.” I remember publishing that book, mentioning it here and on Facebook and thinking “Huh… so I’m a published author now. A goal since I started writing stories as a kid in junior high has been accomplished.” I guess I expected a bit more fanfare and build up than clicking a button.
I’m still very proud of that book and I stand by what I wrote in it, but the years since have been more than a little trying.
For the first time in 7 years, I am 200 lbs. I have changed jobs several times over (though within the same industry), and suffered a mental health crisis that resulted in receiving medication and therapy.
I have gained 35 lbs since I wrote Blood Sweat and Butter, and the strategies I outlined in that book still work- but not quite the same as they did. Part of it might be the effects of my medication. It mellows my brain out. It keeps my anxiety and depression from being so dominant, but it also dampens my concern and drive as a whole. I no longer give so much of a shit about the same things that helped me get in shape and write the book.
On top of that, I can see the person I was and the way I felt looking back through the posts on this very blog. I’ve been doing this blog for over a decade, and its posts track my mental state as well as the evolution of my career, attitudes, and opinions.
I don’t know too many authors who own up to rereading their own work. I find myself going back over my old entries to see how (or if) I covered a topic before, and occasionally I find a Matt that hadn’t been through a pandemic yet. Who hadn’t failed at a business, hadn’t bounced from kitchen to kitchen yet, and who only knew how far there was to fall in theory. He could sympathize with those that were hurting, but it wasn’t him. Yet.
I don’t regret a lot of what I went through. It was that business failing that led me focusing on the blog instead, and thus writing a couple of books.
I may have gained from those challenges, but I most definitely lost something too. Unalloyed hope and enthusiasm. The eagerness that- frankly- comes from ignorance to how bad things can get. Reading back on those blog posts, and especially the ones that inspired others, I realize that the guy who wrote them is gone. That loss needs to be recognized even if it’s not regretted.
It’s only once we acknowledge and accept what is gone and lost that we can start moving forward with what’s left. What’s left of me then? If the Matt Who Was is gone, what about the Matt Who Is?
The Matt Who Is has seen some shit. He is the one that came out of the events that claimed Matt Who Was. He is scarred and wary, and he knows better what it is to struggle, to lose, and try again. He is learning that no strategy is good forever, and answers need to change for the person. He is quieter, gentler, less caffeinated and more patient.
I like to think that the Matt Who Is is a kinder, more empathetic if less brazen man who misses the courage of ignorance and is trying to find something like it again with the knowledge of a survivor rather than despite it.
We can never be all of what we were before we were touched by hardship, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be something else- or even something better. We still write our own endings.