• Kathleen Van Engen

Look back, move forward.

*There is some content in this post that might be triggering for some readers. If reading this post surfaces any uncomfortable feelings/emotions please reach out to an adult you trust*

Grade 11.

UGH. I remember it like it was yesterday (and it wasn't...it was a very long time ago).

It was the worst year of my life. As bad as it could get, as dark as it has ever been (I'm 31 now), the majority of my regrets lay here.

*Definition of regret: a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done*

I can't say that it all came out of nowhere and I can't say that everything happened TO me. Some did, and it shouldn't have. But a lot of it? I have had to take some ownership for. I made a lot of small choices from grade 9-10 that formed habits and became the big stuff. I built a road that became really hard to avoid in the times where there was a way less self-destructive route.

I'm impulsive by nature. I think with my heart, my gut tries to protect me, and then I convince my head to act on my feelings. That's a bad mix for a teenage girl who struggled with identity, people pleasing, and not belonging. I wasn't good at coping with rejection, confusion, conflict, or family turmoil. So what did I do when any of that came my way? I "got rid of it" temporarily. I numbed it with whatever I could find: alcohol, drugs, guys, "friends" and phases.

I was depressed, and I was in a lot of pain. I didn't know quite how much until it was almost too late. Self-control didn't come easily to me. I discovered later in life that I genetically have a very addictive personality (it runs in my family). So when I drank, I drank way too much. When I experimented with drugs, I did it dangerously. When you go hard with the whole numbing strategy there isn't time or room for logic, for reasoning, or for "but is this who I am/who I want to be? (aka self reflection)". As you can imagine, this is a road paved with regrets.

I bet you've heard someone older than you say this, "I have no regrets because they made me who I am today". I have to disagree with them. I have regrets, and that's okay, as long as you leave them and learn from them. I mean, sure I'm proud of who I am today, but who's to say I'd have ended up being less than I am now if those things hadn't of happened? I think you can have had good come from painful places and still regret the decisions that hurt either yourself or other people.

I regret breaking trust with my parents for years. I regret pushing away the people who would have helped me heal and keeping close people who only wanted a version of me that was a shell of who I actually was. I regret tanking my grades and letting myself believe that I was stupid (turns out I'm actually really smart). I regret nearly every "relationship" I was in in high school. There was no respect and no commitment. I was an object to them and I knew it. It only takes so long living that way before you stop feeling human altogether.

*DISCLAIMER: Consent is something that I didn't truly understand until recent years. I would have avoided a lot of shame and self-blame if I had of understood it then. I also would have felt empowered to have a voice. Girls AND guys need to learn what constitutes a yes and a no. Please reach out to a trusted adult if your no wasn't taken seriously.*

And so yes. I have regrets.

Yes my adult mind can look back now and see deeper reasons behind some of the choices I made but here is a lesson I learned back then that changed everything for me.

It was going to take more choices to get me out.

No one was going to get me off the road I was on except for me. Life changing help came shortly after, but initially? Those first few really hard steps? Those were mine to take. Those were on me.

Alright, now let's get to the less depressing part.

I made it. I got off that road and I didn't get back on it.

I faced a really important decision all by myself one night that year (grade 11). I had reached my pain threshold and I had to figure out who I was in that moment and where I was. What type of person did I want to be? What type of daughter, friend, human? Was I proud of myself? Did I add to the peoples' lives around me? Were the people around me only taking from me instead of pouring anything of real worth back into me? If my life kept going the way it was, where would I be in a year? 5 years? 10 years?

I answered those questions. And it turned out that who I wanted to be wasn't as far off as I thought.

Grade 11 ended with a lot of uncertainty. But it ended. And when Grade 12 came around, I did it differently. I stayed home more and went out less. I cut off some toxic friendships and invested into a few healthy ones. I started to earn trust back where it had been broken. I reached out for help and started seeing a counsellor (weekly). I went on medication for a time. I decided I would take a year off (which turned into three) before going to university/college after grade 12 so that I could gain some pretty cool experiences where I could discover passions and strengths of mine. I gave back by volunteering with initiatives I believed in. I stopped abusing and misusing substances. I stopped having meaningless "relationships" with jerk guys. I learned to love myself and other people well for the next three years.

People noticed.

People asked questions. And some people didn't understand. Some admired me and others thought I wasn't any fun anymore. I started to care less about what other people thought.

Those were the best decisions I ever made. So ya, I have regrets. But I have way more that I'm proud of. That's a pretty sweet place to get to in life.

Here's the thing I've learned about life. It doesn't stop. And things don't magically end up perfect as you get closer to a truer version of yourself. I had a tragedy happen in my life only 6 months after I made those hard but good choices. The death of a close friend hit me hard. It shook me in a way that only grief can shake a person. But here's the test of change. What normally would have thrown me into numbing mode I was able to navigate through. I had my tribe by my side who supported me (more to come on that later in this series). I had an amazing counsellor to help walk me through it. I had a better understanding of who I was and the value that my life held. And so rather than throwing away my days, weeks, and years, I kept climbing, and becoming, and when I needed help I sought it out like my life depended on it (because in my case it very well might have).

And so let me ask you.

Where are you right now?

Who are you right now?

Are you who you want to be? If not, hear me loud and clear. Don't you dare write yourself off. Being proud of yourself? It's closer than you think. Strength is in you. Purpose is in you. Overcoming is in you. It's the stuff we're made of. Sometimes when all we see is the painful stuff within us, we forget that. We forget that we're also made of the stuff that helps and heals and changes the world around us.

So go on, take a look back. Take a look at where you're at today, and make a plan for moving forward. Turn those regrets into reasons to do life differently this next year. Make those hard choices.

It starts with you.

forever hers,


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