WWMUD: How to live regret-free
One reader struggles with the weight of "what if" and regret
Dear MU: One of my big mental health drains is regret. Why didn’t I get married earlier, so I could have support now? Why didn’t I save more money when I was younger, so I wouldn’t be struggling as much now? These are the questions that keep me up at night and really depresses me, taking away from my quality of life NOW. How do I get rid of regret? –C.L., subscriber
I’ve had a lot of requests to write a newsletter about regret—specifically about regret over things that cannot be changed, and how it can sabotage us in the present. And I have a lot of feelings about it, because I’ve been through some painful things, yet I no longer spend time with regret. (I should also mention I’ve done a lot of therapy—I didn’t learn to navigate these feelings by myself.)
The earliest memory I have of regret goes back to fifth grade, when one of the kids in my new school told me I had a booger, so I went to the bathroom, but when I came back booger-free, Dawna Bewersdorf started a rumor that I had picked my nose. All the kids made fun of me for the rest of the day, and I spent all night crying in my room and wondering, “Why didn’t I just grab a tissue right there?” (I had picked my nose, but that’s not the point.)
That was the first moment that I realized one small decision could have a major negative ripple, and that the burden of “what if” was heavy and all-consuming.
Then in my early 20’s, I found myself fresh out of rehab and desperately clinging to my recovery. I no longer had the distraction of my addiction to numb the trauma I had experienced in my teens; I had to rebuild my health, career, finances, and relationships; and I had to face all of the less-than-upstanding things I had done in the throes of my addiction. I spent that year swimming in regret. What if, why not, why didn’t I, how could I? I constantly beat myself up and dragged my worth and value through the gutter before anyone could do it for me. When I relapsed a year later, it felt like my just desserts.