I have regrets.
Some of them I consider "regret-lite"--things that I feel, yes, but can dismiss as being fairly standard regret fare. You know. Things I said that I wish I hadn't, things I wish I had said that I didn't. Wishing I'd spent more time with my grandmother before she died. Lamenting the fact that I didn't study abroad when I had the chance.
But then there are the great, big, whopping regrets.
The ones that still hurt, or at least ache whenever I think of them. The ones that I still feel shame about.
All of these big, bad regrets seem to have something in common: they are all strongly tied to my eating disorder. Oh, the things I did (and didn't do) for my eating disorder.
For one, not socializing in college. I made a couple of very close friends in college, and I am thankful for that. But the "friends for life" group that comes together for weddings, baby showers, girls weekends? That brings up crickets in my life. I didn't like eating with others. When I was restricting, it was no fun to be around others; when I was bingeing, there was too much shame to be around others. Therefore, I spent a lot of time alone with my disease. I lament what I missed out on.
For another one, romantic relationships. Having an eating disorder and a boyfriend is like being in a three-way relationship, and not in a sexy-experimental Jules et Jim sort of way. My eating disorder was a wedge between me and the significant order in question, and it always came first. It chipped away at even the most saintly and patient of partners.
I regret that throughout my eating disorder, I always left too soon. I never wanted to overstay my welcome, so I always left too early. This ranged from small-time (leaving a party early) to big-time (leaving a city before I'd realized my potential; leaving a romantic partner rather than giving them a chance).
And then there are the regrets that are so close to me that it's hard to talk about them, even with people I love and trust. Moments where I truly regret my actions or decisions, and if a time machine was accessible to me, I would go back and react differently. These are the hardest regrets, the ones that when I think about them, I cry and cry and cry.
My eating disorder isn't responsible for every wrong thing I've done, but it certainly didn't assist me in being the best person I could be. Under the guise of disordered eating, I lied, I manipulated, I used, I abused. I violated my own moral code, more than once.
My eating disorder starved me while it fed on my life. It makes me angry. It makes me wonder: how would things have been different if I didn't have an eating disorder?
Oh man, I could go over that one over and over and over.
But here's the thing: while the "what if" game is seductive, it's truly not a good use of time. Not only because what has happened has happened, but because by obsessing about the past, I'm continuing in a vicious cycle of not taking part in my own life. New things, new relationships, new opportunities are still right here right now, and by spending my current time regretting the past, I am now creating a new situation where I will keep regretting the past because I was too busy regretting to take advantage of what was right in front of me. Deep, right?
I know that it's a much better idea to accept the past as fact, and to move forward in the future learning from mistakes, and hopefully becoming a bigger and better person because of them. But it's not easy.
So how does one deal with regret?
Part of me wants to shrug my shoulders, say "unuhuh" because "I don't know" is too hard to say, and keep on regretting my poor, tragic life.
But the braver part of me embraces the model from the lovely site Tiny Buddha. It seems like whenever I'm googling some sort of way to deal with emotions, I end up there. I'm going to outline the list of steps here, but to dig in and get to the meat of them, visit the website.
Identify and address your weakness.
Use your mistake as a teaching tool.
Use the opportunity to become better at adapting.
Strengthen your ability to focus on things you can control.
Evaluate your relationships.
Get better at accepting blame.
Challenge your thinking.
Maybe, one day I will gain a better relationship with my regret. When I try really hard, I can see a silver lining. I can see how the things I regret have made me more accepting of others, less quick to judge, more likely to have empathy. The silver lining is small, though--still a sliver.
Dealing with regret is not easy. On the contrary, it's exquisitely painful. My goal is not to avoid regret entirely. But it is to turn that aching, forever constant pain into a clean, clear pain. At least I can see that for what it is, and that gives me an opportunity to mourn.