Last night, I read from Joe McQ’s The Steps We Took: “First, you have to give up on the old one.”
He was making an analogy about what the first step of buying a new car is–it’s not getting a loan, or deciding what kind of new car you want. No, it’s giving up on the old one.
Recently, I contemplated trading in my own car. I’ve had it for just 18 months, and it’s a nice car. It’s used, but in great condition; however, there are things about it that are maddening. For instance, the battery is in the trunk. There is no jack, nor tire iron should I get a flat. There is no dip stick to check the oil–it’s all electronically monitored from my in-dash display. And the built-in GPS, while very convenient, always takes me an extra 10 miles–never the most direct route.
I was done with it. I began researching it’s trade-in value. I contemplated selling it privately. I began scouring dealerships for what would be my next vehicle.
But I still have the car. And namely because I haven’t done what Joe McQ says is the first step: I haven’t given up on it.
It’s an interesting phrase: give up on it.
It’s very different from: give it up.
Give it up is the next step. Give up on it is the first.
Joe McQ talks about how the Serenity Prayer offers insight into how we can put every problem on one side or the other:
…a situation can either be accepted or it can be changed. If we are powerless over it, we have to first accept it–then we can do something about it. But if we have a situation that we need to change and we are trying to accept it, we are just making it worse.
I think Step One is all about acceptance and by acceptance, I mean giving up on the old.
When I read the line, “First, you have to give up on the old one,” I felt relief.
I have to give it up. This thing I’ve been clutching so desperately. This guilt and shame.
As Brene Brown writes: “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior…Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”
Being unfaithful in my marriage, leaving my marriage, leaving my comfortable life, and giving up custody of my kids feel like mistakes. And in turn, I feel like a mistake.
I wear this mistake like a warm coat on a hot summer day.
It would be much more comfortable to drop it and let go, but for some reason I cling to it. I imagine that others view me as a mistake–my ex-husband, his family, members of my own family, and perhaps those yet to learn my past. I fear that when someone wants to get to know me, they’ll only see the culmination of mistakes made, they’ll only see a heaping mess of me.
I wonder if I wear this guilt and shame to protect myself as well. There is a fear about being vulnerable. There is a fear about admitting powerlessness.
But I am powerless.
I am powerless over other people. I have been powerless over my own compulsive behaviors. I am powerless over the past. And that’s the hardest one for me.
Wearing my guilt and shame will not change the past. How I’ve often wished I could go back to certain moments and start over, do things differently. But I know now that even if I was still in my marriage, still with my children, I’d still be in pain. I’d still be choosing to express unrealized emotions in very negative and unhealthy ways. I’d still be stuck in the vicious cycle that had defined my life for years.
Maybe my wearing my guilt and shame has been trying to justify, analyze, defend, and explain my choices, my mistakes. To others, to myself. Real or imagined, wearing my guilt and shame has been a way to hold on to some kind of control. To hold onto the hurt. To hold onto the handicap that is codependency.
The idea of giving up on the past, on the old me, on the old way I did things–thought things–reacted to things–tried to control things–is a relief indeed.
Reading that line made me feel that perhaps I could finally take off that burdensome coat. And not just that I could, but that I should. I need to.
I’ve erroneously thought that holding on to that burden–living my life with the self-perpetuated idea that I am a mistake–was a way of surviving. But it’s not. It’s a way of suffocating.
By accepting my powerlessness, I’m stripping off that coat. By accepting that wearing it has become unmanageable, I’m letting go of my desperate control of others people’s perceptions of me, of my own false perceptions of me.
As terrifying as it is to let the coat go, I know that I cannot wear it anymore.