WALLOWING IN THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

An endless recitation of woes are giving me migraines. It’s not that I lack sympathy. More like I’m emotionally exhausted. So many people are stuck in a pit of youthful misery. Bad childhoods, terrifying ex-marriages or other horrible relationships. Or worse, they want to write. They need to write, but they can’t. The words won’t come.

So don’t write. It’s not as if you are legally obligated to be a writer. If it isn’t working out, give it up. Do something else. Anything else.

Don’t they want to move on?

Apparently not. The quagmire of despair has become a comfortable, homey place. So they set up a desk, computer, and light and there they stay. Some of these bloggers continue exploring the depths of their suffering for hundreds — thousands? — of posts. Many are closing in on Social Security yet are still suffering from childhood trauma. So much for time casting a rosy haze over the past. Even if you haven’t solved your problems, it doesn’t mean you can’t just let them go. There will be new tragedies down the road and plenty more misery to come. I can pretty much guarantee it.

There ought to be an official cutoff date at which point you are required to close the book on whatever dreadful experience life dealt you during your wretched childhood and ghastly former relationships. Or at least after the passage of one full lifetime, you should be required to find some other subject about which to write.

we are not our mistakes

Sometimes I think it’s because they’ve found an audience for their posts about suffering and it’s their fallback position. Can they really be enmeshed in the same memories after thirty or forty years have passed?

I know lots of people who were abused as children. Hell, I wrote a book about it and because of that, I had total strangers telling me their stories. I suppose I deserved it. If you write a book on the subject and people read it, you can’t blame them for thinking you might be interested.

Now, let’s add in all those who had abusive relationships as adults. Isn’t that everyone? Who hasn’t had a terrible relationship or three? I plead guilty on all charges, your honor.

It was my first husband (before you ask, he died) who strongly suggested I might want to move in a different direction.  Of course, this was before my second marriage, the one in which I managed to step in front of the same bullet I’d previously dodged.

NOTE TO SELF: No one is ever too old to behave like a moron.

You have to want to move on.

It takes time and work, but I’m glad I (finally) did it. There have been plenty of new traumas to cope with. I doubt I’d have survived if I hadn’t cleared the decks. I’m overloaded. I cannot read another angst-laden tale of abuse and trauma. I’m know how awful it can be. Been there. I support all efforts to free oneself from the lingering effects of the past — but I’ve got a few problems and plenty of personal angst. If I can, I’d rather make you laugh than cry.

Cardinal, well-fed!

For all of us, it’s time to stop defining ourselves as the worst things that happened to us. We are not what others did to us. We aren’t our mistakes. As much as we have suffered, surely we’ve also found at least a little bit of fun, joy, friends, and love.

Misery is like a piano falling on your head; happiness just creeps up on you. The result? Long after the people who hurt us have disappeared from our lives, they are still beating us up and the only one getting hurt is us.

Got any good jokes?

Categories: Blogging, Marilyn Armstrong, Personal

Tags: , , , ,

43 replies

  1. This is a provocative post!!! One that actually jabs a bit at the heart of what seems to be the average WordPress blogger! I read this last night, but didn’t have time to make a proper comment since I had to go to work. I actually agree with you… although with the qualification that I haven’t really experienced anything truly traumatic in life and/or I have a very good system of distraction that allows me to brush off what bothers me. People can obvious write about whatever they so choose to on their blogs, and I’d never break down and be cruel enough to actually tell someone who hangs too much on their cross to just get over it already…. but the rehashing of the baggage from the past gets old fast and I do skip over a lot of it entirely. I’m not much of a shoulder to cry on for small problems, let alone for issues that apparently leave deep mental and emotional scars…


    • I just think that people get suckered into writing about their woes all the time because they get a “positive” response to the posts. So many people just LOVE pawing through other people’s mental garbage. We all have problems and some are much worse than others … but at some point, I think we all need to move forward. Not because our past is boring, though it can be that too, but because going over and over the same material doesn’t take you anywhere. There are no surprises in constantly staring at the same crap. I obsess on things that need fixing — until I finally fix them. THEN I move on. Sometimes things that seem impossible to fix get fixed fast and others take much longer. At some point, it’s like art — painting and drawing, for example (or for that matter, photography). At some point, you need to call the work finished. Even if it isn’t perfect. It will NEVER be perfect. Not until WE are perfect … and I admit it — I have never sought perfection. I don’t believe in it.


  2. AND my son’s coming home. His romance de-romanced. He’s happy about it, it would seem. And … OH JOY TO THE WORLD … he can COOK.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the main difference is I’m not stuck in the past. I talk about what is happening now or recently, but I’m not still talking about my miserable childhood. If we write every day about what happens to us, there are plenty of problems and difficulties to deal with. The thing is not to avoid dealing life, but to remember when to let THIS moment go and move on. There will — I can guarantee it — be another weird and crazy thing that will come up soon enough. Life’s road is bumpy. We all get banged around. I just think when you’re approaching the end of your 70s, maybe it’s time to let go of the stuff that happened in kindergarten. I suppose that mostly, I don’t want to hear the SAME story repeated and repeated and repeated. Life is ongoing. We have good times and difficult ones and you can’t smile all the time or pretend that nothing bothers you. Not only would no one believe it, but it would not reflect your reality. But I do get tired of hearing the same story all the time.

    EVERYONE who writes anything personal has issues. Physical issues, financial issues, family misfortunes. People die, dogs pass away, pieces of us get broken and then, with a little luck, repaired. That’s just the way it is. It took me a very long time to recognize not only that I needed to move on, but HOW to do it. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t a lack of understanding. What I didn’t know was HOW. But I learned. I had friends. They helped. And yes, I think fifty or 60 years of complaining about terrible childhoods is a bit much. Especially because old age has plenty of distress to offer to most people without hauling all the big heavy rocks of childhood with you. It gets to be one hell of a load to haul.


    • I guess that some people just need to write THAT blog as you need to write YOUR blog. I don’t think it’s up to you (or me) to say “It’s a bit much.”


      • And I am welcome to not read them and a lot of the time, I don’t. I do read people who talk about the issues and problem they face on a daily, ongoing basis. They aren’t dragging childhood’s issues into old age, either. They are simply talking about life and how they are getting through it. It’s not a writing style. It’s just the daily goings-on of life in the slow lane.

        I just counted 43 past blogs. 4 of which could be counted as complaints — Garry’s tooth, my nagging fibromyalgia, and the one you are writing about. And all of these were also intentionally instructive and involved finding usable solutions to issues. I avoid writing a lot of stuff because they sound whiney, but I went back through the entire list of posts for the past three weeks. There’s a shitload of other stuff going on that I’m NOT writing about because it’s annoying, aggravating — and it will go away at which point it will be funny.

        Among the many skills I’ve learned is finding solutions to problems that have no solutions. It can get extremely complicated, so if I’m going to write about it I wait until I figure out an answer. The solution isn’t always happy, but it’s as good as I can find.

        Regardless, I think there’s a point when everyone NEEDS to let go. it’s the ONLY healthy outcome. No one can haul all life’s problems forever. It’s a humongous weight. It does you no good and probably causes actual harm and additional (useless) stress — and does the person “hurting you” no harm at all. It’s a lose-lose for you and no problem for someone else. Especially when the person you are dragging with you is dead. I have a few of those, too.

        More than 3/4 of what I write about are photographic and most of the rest are some version of politics (or someone else wrote them).


        • You don’t have to defend your blog posts. Marilyn, my point is that we blog what we want to and, sometimes, what we feel we need to.

          As for everyone needing to let go — sure but only each of us knows when we are ready to do that. In truth, I don’t think I’ll ever “let go” of my mom and her cruelty. I hate her to the deepest core of my being BUT every day I also encounter some lovely thing I know or am because of her (such as the poem I posted a little while ago). I don’t find it interesting any more because the puzzle is now solved. The question now is more “What can I do about it?” Sometimes there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s frustrating and sometimes sad.

          Our lives are short from the get-go, but now we are totally aware of it. I think that can give a person a sense of urgency about understanding something related to their childhood. At the same time it’s why I didn’t read your book. It’s not because I’m not interested in you, it’s because that’s a fucking sad story and you’re not the only one among my friends who endured that.


          • When my father died everyone was waiting for me to grieve. I never did. I couldn’t. I was done with him. I was well into my early 60s when I realized I COULD let go. Until then, I couldn’t, didn’t know how. If you can’t, you can’t, but if you can, man, it feels really good. I had this mental image of him by the road being eaten by hyenas. I found great comfort in that.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I didn’t grieve for my mom, either. No one questioned it. Over time I learned that my aunts knew more about what had happened than I did. Thank goodness they did and were there to help me, tell me, support me, love me. Thank goodness they always had been. My mom is irrelevant to me but I needed therapy to see her for the person she was. I really had NO idea. And I had to go through some shit to get the point (Evil X) BUT my experience ultimately made it possible for me to help others who’d grown up the child of an addict who used them. It took me a decade to finally exorcise the witch. And I hate her and pity her (but mostly hate her). 🙂 Not actively or with any bitterness (she’s not around so active hate isn’t required) but my hatred will never die. It’s a teacher, reminding me to question, “Is this THIS or is it you throwing a beautiful blanket over a monster?”


              • I had a lot of therapy too. I’m not in therapy now, probably for the first time in about 30 years. By the time I finished my book, I was finished with my father.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yep. Catharsis. I wrote a LOT about my mom but no one read it. I wrote it so I could SEE it. Counseling others helped, too, especially after my brother died and I had fully understood that. It’s interesting how often our pain is a lighthouse to someone else.


                  • That was the point of the book. Because while I wrote it, I realized I COULD let all of that ugly stuff vanish. It wasn’t real. I really didn’t have to haul every miserable boulder with me wherever I went. Very freeing. I never really expected the book to sell at all, but it sold a few hundred copies over the years and people found it both funny and helpful.

                    A big part of it was Garry was let go by Channel 7 while I was writing it and he was a terrible mess. Alcoholic and depressed, all he could see was himself as a failure. In the process of making him understand that he was NOT the worst thing that had happened to him. He was all the things he had been through the years.

                    Out of making him see himself, I saw myself.

                    I don’t know why we seem to define ourselves more by the bad things that happen than by the good, but it seems to be a pretty universal response.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • We believe (and it’s to our credit) that the bad things are the exception. I have a lot of hope for the species as long as that remains our tendency. It’s like my Australian pumpkin who had no hope in hell of maturing a pumpkin, but she just threw fate to the wind. The frost got her but she’s STILL got one pumpkin trying to make it and it might since the roots didn’t freeze. She’s my hero.

                      Some of us DO define themselves by the bad stuff. Those people are not the survivors but people like my brother.

                      You are very fortunate. You are with the love of your life. You live in a beautiful place. You have a son you actually like and who seems to like you. You’ve had amazing experiences and adventures in your life. You’ve found a way to resolve your health problems pretty well. You have a functioning brain. I think we all get SOME of life’s goodness. Whether it’s evenly shared or randomly I don’t know, but my Aunt Jo’s lesson to me as a kid to count my blessings has been a big help to me all my life.


  4. You really wrote this post? Your own blog is a recitation of misery so often that there are many posts I don’t read. We old people all have annoying and/or scary medical problems, poverty, frustrations with objective reality (our house, insurance companies, “choose 1 for XXX” etc.) and I don’t even like writing or reading about my own — but I do write about them, much as I hate the posts. It’s a reality that some of the people who read our blogs are authentically concerned about our well-being as if they and we were neighbors. Sometimes a reader of our blog actually knows what we should do — as Dr. Steph and my hurt foot.

    As for a “statute of limitations” — I don’t think it’s always easy to recognize and then outgrow one’s childhood traumas. I think for many of us it takes a certain level of maturity (and leisure?) to look at it straight on for what it was. When we’re growing up in a fucked up family we’re insulated within it and it is our normal. Only later when we see how it has affected our abilities to make choices that we might understand what really happened there. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve see how my mom’s model of “love” (more appropriately called manipulative sadism) determined my choices in “mates” and led me to choose abusers rather than really nice guys who loved me (in a way I couldn’t comprehend). This model is why I’m alone today. Do I want to be? Not especially. Will I remain alone? Yeah. I WISH I’d understood this 30 years ago, but I didn’t — I was working my ass off and had no time and insufficient life experience to understand the essence of the problem.

    Writing is also cathartic for many people. Should it be? It has always been. I believe this post is cathartic for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I have moved on through therapy and meditation, but I appreciate that not everyone is able to do that. Resilience does not seem to be handed out in equal measure. I find myself staying away from friends who do not seem to be able to heal,or to forgive themselves or others.

    You are an enlightened soul. Happy to read about your life.


    • I was lucky in my choice of friends. Mates, less so. Until Garry, relationships weren’t working well. But I had some good friends. One of them was a very serious Christian woman who helped me understand the nature of forgiveness. It’s not “okay, now we’re friends so let’s hang out.” It’s closer to “I still think you’re a miserable wretch, but I don’t need your weight on my back, so I leave you to the gods while I move on. I sure hope nothing more of me breaks.”


  6. This is a point on which we must (or not) agree to disagree. I’m probably one of those who ‘wallows’ in her angst ‘too much.’ I do my work (therapy) and I try to do my best to put all the mess of my life BEHIND me where it does belong. For myself only though (wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone else) the pain doesn’t go away. Perhaps it’s the depression I suffer from. Perhaps it’s ‘nuture’. Maybe that’s just how I cope with a world that, to me, is often too ugly to bear. Yes, I go outside and try to see the beauty in nature. Hell I moved somewhere where nature is right in my face, so to speak. And no, none of this is important exactly to YOU, because it’s not your story. I write and I happen to think I have a gift for it. Part of my therapy (as I see it) is to catalog the stuff that happened so I can heal. After 30+ years of trying to do that though, I suspect, for me, it’s simply not going to happen. So the next thing is to get comfortable with my angst and time to time let off some steam by sharing it. There’s a very simple solution for you – if those sorts of posts are irritating and cause you to feel burdened, don’t read ’em. That’s what I do for posts that to me are not my cup of psychic tea. It’s not as black and white as simply stopping the negative behavior and embracing the positive. It’s WORK. Sorry for the rant, but that’s a sensitive topic with me. Because I hear the same thing from my family and it’s b.s. from my perspective. But your blog, your choice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You’ve actually lightened up a lot recently. You may not have noticed, but I have!


      • I figure I should explain this better. When you say “forgive,” you aren’t making friends of your enemies or the people who hurt you. You are simply dumping their stupid carcasses by the road. Let the gods or the wild beasts eat them for dinner, but they are no longer YOUR responsibility. You aren’t going to be their friends and you will never love them. What you can do is LET THEM GO. That’s it. Dump the dead weight.


  7. Thank you for this post. I sometimes find myself writing about the same things because I was under the impression that because people followed me from my stories of past pain, that it was expected that I continue. So, now I feel free. I will continue to inspire people to know that we can past our suffering and move into thriving. But, I feel free now to move forward to what is good today. That may help even more. Your post was like the proverbial kick in the behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yep, letting the past woes rent space in you head is a bad idea. Forgiveness, especially of oneself, is no easy trick,but blessing it all and moving on helps. I live in today, and each one seems to have its own challenge that needs attention. It’s all part of life, and I prefer it to the alternative.


    • I don’t know how people who are stuck in the past manage to deal with the present. There’s ALWAYS something going on that needs attention for which you have neither time, money, or energy. i think you must wind up dead from stress in short order that way!


  9. Perhaps I have been lucky that I have never been in that position, but have been surrounded by many that have had those experiences. I seem to have the greatest challenge now in my age to manage everything that I always left to Mr. Swiss. I realise now how easy it was to leave things to others, whilst I was busy concentrating on the household tasks.


    • It was an odd time over there, too. I knew a lot of people — one of my sociable periods and more than half of us had lost a mother or father during the previous couple of months. There was a lot of crying going on for a while. it was healthy grieving, And, after a while, we all moved on and it was okay.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I work really hard to find solutions to problems. There are ALWAYS problems. As soon as one gets fixed, there’s another one ready to pop into place. If I had to drag that mountain of childhood boulders with me all the time, I’d wouldn’t survive.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Mental illness and scars don’t just go away with a smile and a good attitude. This sounds exactly like what you abhor about folks who say just smile and you will feel better. Writing is great therapy.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. IN THE SPIRIT OF DOING WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING … Marilyn Armstrong | Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

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