The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

“I have a good friend in the East, who comes to my shows and says, you sing a lot about the past, you can’t live in the past, you know. I say to him, I can go outside and pick up a rock that’s older than the oldest song you know,
and bring it back in here and drop it on your foot. Now the past didn’t go anywhere, did it? It’s right here, right now.
I always thought that anybody who told me I couldn’t live in the past was trying to get me to forget something that if I remembered it it would get them serious trouble.

Utah Phillips, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere”

Just about everyone who has been the victim of abuse, or has lived through something horrible, has been told that they need to stop living in the past. That they need to get over it and move on already, because things are different now.

But the past didn’t go anywhere. It’s still right here, right now. Everything that happened to you, everything they did to you – it all stays happened. And it never stops mattering. Because going through trauma changes things permanently. (and so does every other type of experience, for that matter. But not in the same way).

The past doesn’t have to stop mattering, and you don’t have to pretend that it doesn’t matter anymore. You can build a life, and make good things happen for yourself, even though the past didn’t go anywhere and it never stops mattering.

Even if sometimes you wake up terrified, even if you bear scars, even if you’ve lost a lot of abilities you once treasured, even if you’ve lost your community and everyone you once thought you could count on.

Life is still worth living, and good things are still possible. Even though the past didn’t go anywhere. And acknowledging that the past is still there and that it still matters makes it more possible to rebuild, not less.

Just like you can’t live in a physical abstraction and accepting the reality of your physical body and its limits makes life better, you can’t live in an abstraction of an imaginary theoretical mind that you might have had without the trauma. You have to live as the person you are, and build from there.

And your live is worthwhile, and important, even if some things never heal. The past didn’t go anywhere, but you can keep going.