Look back, don’t stare…

Look back, don’t stare. I was once told. It resonated with me as someone who spent so much time looking back with shame and regret. Fearful of looking forward and making mistakes, looking back over the myriad of ones I’d previously made. Completely oblivious to the here and now.

I recently went back to my home town to visit a friend. Me and my daughter arrived at this friends house. This friendship has spanned over five decades, which in itself is an achievement. As he marvelled at how tall my daughter was becoming since we last met, I was shocked at how his fifteen year old was now taller than me (which is no mean feat.)

The passage of time is an amazing thing. When taken in small chunks and analysed it becomes a beautiful trip down memory lane. An exercise in two people taking an imaginary walk back down our pasts, comparing perceptions and recollections and fine tuning some of the less well remembered experiences.

The following day when we left, we went into the town where I grew up. Here I explained to my daughter about my childhood, walking through the shopping mall with my mother. As memories of childhood flooded back, I was struck by how much had changed. The openly homeless people in doorways, so much more prevalent than when I lived here, than when I was homeless here. Change is inevitable, through life our experience is shaped by moments which define us. Here was I, now almost 2 decades later showing my daughter images of her father from my memories.

Before we left, we went back to Macdonalds for a quick visit to the toilet. Whilst I waited outside for her, a woman in her forties, clearly riddled with addiction, came up to me and begged for some spare change. She never recognised me as I gave her some change. Years previously, amidst my own addiction, she was known as a prostitute which fed her addition. An attractive slim woman in her twenties, it was clear to see how the passage of time had eroded her pretty face, it was now ruddy and bloated. As she stumbled towards the ladies toilet. I became aware of how much time moves us. How my journey is constantly changing. Here almost two decades later I was standing with my daughter, far removed from that lonely place, yet this woman, still trapped inside her demented idea, as John O’Donohue calls it.

We got back into the car, drove out of the centre and past the rehab where I went on September 11th 2000 and headed back home to North Yorkshire.

Look back, don’t stare…

it is often with clients, I find that come to a place in their lives where they may feel stuck and lost. Perhaps they’re scared by an ordeal in their childhood. Unable to forgive, believing that their problem is firmly rooted in an upbringing where the protagonist, the perpetrator is dead and restitution or resolution feels unattainable. Or their present life feels so damaged and flawed and pointless that the only time that appears positive is the halcyon days of the past.

My role in this aspect is to enable the client to find away to make peace with that past, to forgive or find a way to forgiveness that they are no longer bound to it, no longer held hostage by their ideas around it. The introverted values placed upon them as a child can be shrugged off or removed. They can in fact be replaced by new beliefs based on their own values.

My role may also be to help them see how they have already begun to heal these emotional time rifts as the ghosts of the past are laid to rest. Clients, through therapy are able to examine and look at these wounds, and begin to close the door on them. It Can sometimes be a painful process, but ultimately refreshing.

The past is not our enemy, only a record of where we have been. Whether that recording is good or bad, hazy or crystal clear. It is part of our experience and can help us to move in new and exciting directions. If we’re driving forward. The past holds valuable information about our lives, it can serve us or enslave us.


I’ve built four walls, a roof and a floor,

A cell of mine own, so I couldn’t withdraw,

I made it of bricks, and also of stone,

Built just for one, for me, on my own,

Woke up one day, and found myself there,

No memory of arrival, didn’t really care.

But now I’m awake, alert and refreshed,

Wondering how I got in this great awful mess,

For, there aren’t any doors or windows to see ,

No mirrors inside, no reflection of me.

Now I’m picking away at the bricks and the stone ,

I have to break out of this cell on my own,

Then at last I will know, what it will take me to be,

To be happy, to function,

And at last, to be FREE.

Look back, don’t stare.

Sincerely Yours

A Thirsk Counsellor

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