What was I Thinking??

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 2-9-2022

“My time, my freedom, and my peace of mind. No one will take these away from me again.” -EaE

There is not a human alive that has NOT had those moments where they reflected back and wondered: “What in the world was I thinking?”  Sometimes, we do things that feel so out of character, so against our very own instincts. Sometimes during these acts, we question ourselves, but continue to commit to questionable projects and relationships. It can even become a vicious cycle for years. Years and years of acting more than thinking things through, making compulsive decisions off of emotions and throwing logic out the window. Trying tirelessly to fight for things and fight our own instincts, only to fall short. But, it turned into a disaster. It wasn’t working out, it rarely felt right, and maybe it went against our values or our morals. It was a situation we never imagined we would be in, it felt desperate and chaotic. Many will sum it up to ‘character development’ and urge you to move on and move forward. Yet, you’re stuck now. With regret, and shame, and an endless amount of questions for yourself. The worst part? It’s hard to find the answers.

     As hard as it is to admit, even in the situations we regret the most, there was a part of it that we wanted. We were willing to put up with the bad things to get whatever it was that tempted us in the first place. We found reward in even the most horrendous situations that stressed us to the max. The slivers of reward was exactly what we were after. Then in turn, we stopped thinking much about the consequences, and put all focus on the reward. Many people in related situations will lose all sense of how they are hurting themselves in the long run. This could be eating junk food every day, taking in a harmful substance, being in an abusive relationship, compulsive behaviors in places like: your job, the gym, the casino, strip clubs etc. Humans are often willing to suffer for highs, lows, a sense of purpose/ meaning, approval/affection and so on. But sometimes, it does get dangerous.

      I found myself in the worst relationship of my life from late 2017 – early 2021. I became the primary financial provider, I step parented and helped provide for his child, I endured verbal abuse, I ignored red flags, I forgave him even when I caught him in lies. All to be cheated on and left for someone we were both ‘friends’ with. Shortly after the break up, I needed to promote my first book, so I downloaded and used the Clubhouse app and engaged in many audio chats. Sometimes, it became my therapy. My most meaningful clubhouse was speaking with a woman who survived a horrible divorce in which she was left for someone else. During the chat the listeners allowed me to open up in a way I never had. I admitted that the hardest thing about moving on was the rage I felt. I accepted it was the end. I accepted he was no good for me and that I was (am) better off, hell I even celebrated it! But, I could not let go of the rage. The rage of pouring my heart, soul and effort into another human being who ended up abusing and betraying me. Forgiveness will never be an option.

       The most important thing they could stress to me was how I needed to care about myself more than him. And to translate this onto every reader in regard to all situations we regret (whether it involves another person or not), this is what we need. We need to care about ourselves enough to heal. We need to care about ourselves enough to engage in proper self-care vs the self-destructiveness that we may be accustomed to. We need to care about ourselves enough to process everything and also allow ourselves new experiences, more joy. No one, (especially not the worst ex of my life) is going to alleviate the regret. No one will be able to answer all of the questions. And of course, there is no time machine to go back and do it all over. We are often times, left with our mistakes and regrets, and it’s very hard to process when we are in the midst of so many emotions.

        The questions and comments to yourself may get overwhelming:  What was I thinking? Why did I do that? I knew better. Can I trust anyone else? Can I trust myself? It wasn’t worth it. What are people thinking about me? I’m embarrassed. I deserved better. Or… maybe I deserved exactly what I got?  What was really going on behind closed doors? What did people hide from me? What did I hide from myself? Will I do this again? Do I even know what I’m doing anymore? I thought I had it all figured out…

         The questions and comments from outside observers may get frustrating:    What were you thinking? You knew what you were doing…. Why did you ignore the red flags? You should have known better. It’s your fault. Just learn from this. You will do better next time. Just stop doing it. Why can’t you just change? It was meant to be. It could have been worse. Why would you even think that would work out well? Just do it differently next time. You dodged a bullet, you’re lucky in the end.

      Hiding:  Regret gets swept under the rug quite a bit. When huge life mistakes are made, people tend to go into hiding. While everyone around them point’s fingers and judges. I can’t really blame anyone for this tactic. The unfortunate thing about all of this is that mistakes and regrets are a very normal part of being human, yet we get wrapped up in perfectionism and forget this very thing. We cave to the pressures and expectations thrust upon us, and then when we fall short, we have an existential crisis so to speak. Hopefully, in the future we can normalize these “What was I thinking” experiences. Hopefully, we can talk about them more. Hopefully it will lead us to seek out better mentorship.

     Attention Seeking:    Another option at our disposal, is attention seeking. This could look like blasting our dirty laundry on social media, or telling all of our friends about the personal details of what happened and why. This could validate our feelings on one hand, but the risk is that we are more likely to get judged and blamed. The deeper issue? Regardless of how people respond, it does not heal you per say. Much more work needs to be done, and this includes the necessary and vital inner work we must have with ourselves. Attention seeking that gets consistently validated may bring with it the risk of someone remaining in cognitive dissonance about their situation.

     Learning:  Both hiding and attention seeking can be tempting, but neither of those options spare us from the objective of learning from our past. The hardest thing about learning from our past regrets, is developing the ability to distinguish between what was NOT our fault, and what we must hold ourselves accountable for. And, let’s just be honest… when we are hurting, it’s hard to take accountability for anything at all. He (my ex) was abusive, he was wrong. He manipulated me and took advantage of my kind nature. And, this isn’t about letting other people off the hook, this is about owning what is in our control. So, what can I be accountable for? Especially when I’m NOT the abuser? I allowed him into my life despite my better instincts. I traded my safety and wellbeing for perceived ‘fun’ and adventure without proper vetting. I fell for the lies even when there was concrete proof they were in fact lies. I did not create the boundaries I deserved. I forgot to take care of myself, I betrayed myself. I engaged in way too many self-destructive behaviors both during the toxic relationship and afterwards in the healing process. It was messy. I can’t count on others to NOT betray me, but I should always be able to count on myself to not betray me. There is a lesson in even the most painful experiences, and if we do not slow down, we may not find it.

Concluding Questions:

  • Why was it harmful?
  • What about it reeled me in?
  • What/ who should I avoid?
  • What did I learn?
  • Can I change the outcome next time?
  • Can I put my health first?
  • Am I healing? What does this look like?
  • What was I thinking?? (Process it)

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

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