You can’t quickly kick aside the shadow you’ve earned, stuck to you, it seems, larger than life. Just because you know you’ve changed, it doesn’t mean everyone you’ve ever wronged got the memo. Even if you’ve written a book on change, there will be those who question if it’s even possible.
Can the tiger ever lose his stripes?
I’m not who I used to be. I feel that difference in my bones. Those closest to me are surely tired of the way I talk about those disconnected years as if they were lived by someone else, and as if someone else is responsible for my mistakes back then. I’ve written about this a lot – the lack of respect I had for myself, my finances, my relationships, my friendships and even my family. When I talk about the decisions I was making at that point in my life it’s easy for me to talk about those things as if they were done by someone else. I accept that it was me, that’s part of recovery. It’s why so many of us move after treatment. We want to be away from the knowing glances of those who’ve seen us at our worst, and of those who suffered because of our selfishness.
Consequences are lasting. You can stick a rose in a gun barrel and and call it a vase, but that poetry can’t stop every bullet already fired. For years I was a gun. I fired bullets. It makes sense that some of those who knew me then still flinch when they see me now. They’re waiting to be let down. They’re waiting for the next lie. They’re waiting to be hurt.
I say I’ve changed. They say I’ve just shrunk a bit, and that the tiger still has his stripes.
I’ve written about guilt a lot. The weight we carry from the lies we’ve told can’t be measured on a scale, and long after the pounds start coming off there will be reminders – often daily – that make us confront the impact we’ve had on those we love.
It’s hard not to think about that, and watch for that behaviour, and be afraid of old habits returning. it’s easy to stick your eyes in the rearview mirror too much, and lose sight of the road ahead. It’s easy to live in your head.
It’s easy to overthink after years of underthinking. Now, those constant thoughts of questing motivations and decisions can be crippling if you let it get out of hand. You go from being numb to oversensitive and suddenly you’ve just traded in your problems. You went from one extreme to the other. For a decade I felt nothing, and now I question if every thing around me is somehow my fault. You become polite, and accommodating, and diplomatic, and apologetic, and if you’re not careful you become a doormat, working toward the happiness of those you care about now, as if that somehow makes up for those left in your wake.
I know a tiger never loses his stripes. I still have the capacity to be just as disrespectful to myself and others as I was back then. I look in the mirror and see my stripes everyday. I see them stretched up and down my body and I know that I have done more than shrink a little. I have changed, and not a single person I’ve wronged owes me a second chance.
I can spend my time begging those people for second chances, or investing in the relationships I have now, trying to be who I want to be more than anything – someone honest enough to get the first chance right, and someone wise enough to never again have to ask someone I love for a second chance.
That’s acceptance, and for me that’s progress.