How Focusing on the Positives Helped Me to Stop Living in the past

Quote which reads there are positives in everything to find them all you have to do is look for them

Back in 2008, I tore the scapholunate ligament in my right wrist. Despite this, mentally I remained in a world where I could still use my hands without any problems. My mind was unable to compute even the thought of not returning to exactly how I was – two fully functioning hands. And so I fought non-stop to try to return to living exactly as I had prior to the injury.

I refused to give in. I refused to lose hope.

The result was every time I got better, I got injured again. This pattern repeated up until 2019. Things didn’t get better that year, they got worse. Due to a complete screwup by the doctors, I tore the scapholunate ligament in my left wrist. Due to further screw-ups by the doctors, then the coronavirus pandemic, during 2020 I lost virtually complete use of both hands.

Not just that, due to the health service being shut down because of the pandemic I had pretty much no medical aid or help. I was supported by my family, but I had no idea how to fix the problem I had. In reality, I was helpless. Broken and abandoned by the very system that was supposed to help me.

There is nothing you can do when you can’t use your hands. Try standing up. Try opening doors. Try eating food. Making food. When you have two hands attached to your limbs that don’t function, what the hell are you supposed to do?

I asked myself that question over and over. My inability to find an answer frequently saw me collapse into fits of uncontrollable tears. I would fight those tears, resist them. Refuse to give in to them. Try everything I could do to silence them.

I kept telling myself there was hope. I could get better.

This became a repeated pattern until something changed. And not what you think. What changed were the questions that I kept asking myself.

You can’t run from the past

I am massively against the idea of trying to forget your past, to me the notion is madness. If you try to forget your past, all you will do is spend your life running from something that you can’t run from, meaning you will spend your life as prey to a predator that will grow stronger with each passing day.

The past is what defines you, it is who you are, it is your present and your future. Or rather your present is what it is because of your past, as your future will be; therefore, it is impossible to run from what created your life as it is now and what will define your life as it will be tomorrow. Everything about you tells the story of your past. There is no escaping it.

How can there be? If something bad happens inevitably you don’t want it to happen again. Even if you try to pretend the past did not happen, you will fail. When bad things happen to us, we spend our lifetimes trying to make certain they don’t happen again.

That is why we have memories, to remember the bad things so that we can learn how to make certain they never happen again. How can you forget something that you are spending your life trying to make certain doesn’t happen again?

You can’t.

Your memories work the way they do for a reason, they benefit you – even bad ones.

If you fight against the way your body works, the way your mind works, you will lose. That’s why trying to run from the past is so foolish, your mind does not want you to.

The more you overcome, the stronger you become. When you go to the gym and you lift weights, what happens? You get stronger. The more you embrace your past, good and bad in all, the more weight your mind lifts, and the stronger you become.

That’s why should never run from your past, you should embrace it, no matter what it is. Because that’s how you move past it.

I didn’t used to believe that. I used to ask myself how I could escape from the past, it was the wrong question.

Traumatic events are not always the things that trap us in the past

Often people say that traumatic events can be the most difficult things to get over. In my view, that is not the case. It is not the event that is the most traumatic thing, it is what it takes from us, how it changes us from the person we were prior to it and makes us into the person we become after.

It is the transformation effect that is difficult to get over. You cling to the image of who you were in the past and can’t get over who you are in the present. You want the past back. But you can’t find a way to get it back.

For example, with my wrist injury, all I could see was the person that I was with two fully functioning hands. I could not let go of that person. I rigidly wanted the life that that person was going to have.

I was trapped by an image of a man that I once was and planned to be, but I could not see was the man that I now was and could be.

That’s because I was asking the wrong question. I was asking who could I have been if this had not happened. The answer to that question could never be beneficial to my mental state. That’s why I stopped asking it.

When you change the questions you ask, you find answers you never knew existed

I could think about the time that I first injured my wrists, and ask myself, what if it had not happened. If it had not, then when I finished university back in 2009, as planned I would have attended that job interview down in London that I missed out upon – and that interview was for a pretty amazing job.

But if I had attended that interview, how do I know I even would have got the job? Hell, I could have died in a car crash driving down to the interview. Maybe missing it saved my life?

But then maybe I would have got the job, and if I had, maybe I would have become a top investment manager. If I had, right now I could be sitting on a yacht as a multimillionaire investment fund manager, with a beautiful wife and a couple of children for company.

Even if I was, how do I know I would have been happy? Maybe I would have become so blinded by greed and ego that I was trapped in an endless cycle of unfulfillment. A world where nothing was ever enough?

When we think about questions that present a better past if only something bad had not happened, we always look at those events with rose-tinted glasses. We assume if only this had happened or had not happened things would be amazing.

They could have been worse. This is why it is pointless lingering on them. For all you know, the you you are now, because of your past, could be someone greater than any person you could have been under any other past.

The you you are today, could have the potential to be the greatest you there ever could be, if only you would give yourself the chance to find out by embracing whoever it is you are today.

The past exists only to show us how to be greater versions of ourselves in the present. That’s why when looking at the past, only one question matters.

The one question that matters

Never ask yourself what did the past take from me, you already know the answer. You will be surrounded by the evidence. Ask yourself instead: what did it give you, what did you gain. And more importantly, how can I use what I have gained to improve my life.

No matter what has happened, if you survive, you have always gained something. And something good at that. That may feel impossible, but it is not. I know it is possible because I gained much from my past.

I gained the humility of knowing what it’s like to need others to survive because you can’t survive by yourself because you can’t use your hands. I gained humility because I tried to succeed in getting better, and failed. I gained resilience because I never gave in.

That is not all. I gained the ability to adapt. To find new ways to stand. To open doors. Then when my wrists started improving, I learned new ways to protect them. To rehab them. I learned how to use technology to write this post – I don’t use my hands at all when using a computer. On and on I could go.

There is always something that has been gained, even from a terminal cancer diagnosis. A friend of mine’s grandmother proved this to me. That she gained something good from being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

She told me that what he had gained was a chance to live out her bucket list and the chance to say a proper goodbye to every person that she loved. She said that she had always been afraid to go skydiving – despite it being a dream of hers. She had always been afraid of dying. With her diagnosis, she lost that fear, and she went skydiving. She did a lot of other things she had been afraid to do.

She said to me if she never got terminal cancer, she would never have lost that fear, and would never have gained those experiences.

Whether she would have done or not is irrelevant. In the end who cares. What matters is what she believed. And that was what she believed. And she believed that because she asked herself the right question. What have I gained, and how can I use what I have gained to benefit my life.

Final words

Always look for what you have gained, not what you have lost. There is always something, even if it is just another day to live and fight.

I always used to ask what have I lost – along with questions like it. All I ever got from doing so was an unhappy life. That’s why I stopped asking such questions and instead started asking: what have I gained and how can I use what I have gained to benefit my life. The moment I started doing so, everything changed for the better.

That’s all from me, thanks for reading!

Published by David Graham

Sci-fi and fantasy writer, blogger and photographer emanating from the north-east of England.

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