Monday, May 13, 2013

Rear View Mirror or Road Ahead?

Recently I made a crazy road trip through the Mohave Desert to a neighboring state.  Twelve hours of driving to spend the day with my son on his birthday, gave me lots of time to contemplate the mechanics of driving and to recall the lessons of driver's ed learned so many years ago.  Safe driving involves not only keeping one's eyes on the road ahead but regularly checking the road behind as well.  We look ahead and we look behind to insure that we arrive at our destination safe and sound.

And it occurs to me that the same is true of recovery.  I've had people encourage me to forget the past--it is done and I need to move onward.  Their "forgive and forget" attitude reeks of denial and doesn't set well with me.  If I deny the past, it feels like I am cutting off an essential part of who I am.  And yet, I see the danger of spending too much time lost in the pain of the past or mired down in the rose-colored memories of days long gone.  So the question that challenges me is:

Do I spend more time looking in the rear view mirror than I do at the road ahead?

And the answer comes from my driver's ed class--both are important.  A good driver constantly scans the past through the rear view and side mirrors but also keeps her eyes on the road ahead.  Recovery reminds me that my past informs my present but does not have to dictate my future. As I examine my past losses, wounds and relationships, I better understand how I became the person I am.  I learn why I developed particular coping mechanisms and I grow in compassion for the child, adolescent and young woman that I once was.  I become more comfortable in my own skin and have a better idea of who I truly am and where I want to go in life.

My favorite poet expresses it this way (sorry for the mixed metaphors):

"it wasn't just that she had to refocus.
she had to clean her lens.
that dust from the past was
giving her a fuzzy view.
she had some cleaning to do."  
(Terri St. Cloud, Bone Sigh Arts)

Looking ahead while driving a car also poses some danger in that if we focus on things too far away exclusively, we may miss potential danger directly in our path.  You've probably experienced this when driving, especially if you practice defensive driving.  Driving in LA is always an adventure and is not for the faint of heart.  Recently I was driving home and noticed that an emergency vehicle was several blocks away with lights and sirens on.  I was focused so much on where the vehicle was that I nearly hit a car trying to merge into my lane.  Someone once quoted an old adage that still resonates with me: "If we stand with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, we piss on the present."  It's a crude saying but it is true.

So the lesson I am learning is to stay present in this moment, savoring and understanding the lessons of my past and looking forward with gratitude and anticipation to the challenges and joy of my future.  By understanding where I have come from and what I have experienced; by knowing that I am a survivor and am far stronger than I ever imagined and by having a better sense of who I am and why I am here I can press forward.  Recovery involves cleaning.  I clean my mirror so I can clearly see my past; my window for today and my lens for tomorrow.  Where is my lens clothe?


  1. loved this! and what an honor you included my quote. thank you so much, brenda!