When Veronica Medina’s relationship of five years ended abruptly last fall, she lost her sense of self. Three months after her relationship ended, her mother passed away from breast cancer after a six year battle. For about a year, Veronica replayed this difficult period over and over in her mind. Could she have done anything more for her mother? Could she have salvaged her relationship? What should she have said, done, felt, changed so things could have turned out differently?
So this summer, when she realized her work had suffered and her friends had actually started avoiding her, she wrote two letters. One was to her mother, an ode to a beautiful person who will always remain in her heart and who she will make proud. The second was a letter to her ex expressing every single thought in her mind. It was 18 pages long. In the end, rather than sending them, she burned both letters.
While she hasn’t miraculously changed perspective overnight, the step has helped her break the cycle in her mind of constantly reliving the past. Every day since, she has done one new thing to get her mind off her broken relationship – one day it’s paddle boarding, the next it’s a piano concert at The Fridge in Al Quoz – and she’s found that, while some days are harder than others, she’s slowly letting the anger and resentment melt away. She’s also enriching her life.
After a weekend at the beach, Veronica sits outdoors at Lime Tree Cafe in Media City, showing off her tan and telling a silly story about her cab driver’s hat. When asked about her weekend, she only mentions positive things – mastering a difficult recipe from a cookbook and getting involved in a charity event on Saturday. Aside from a full-time job in the digital industry, she’s also started her own company on the side, so her work fills her time and she loves it. She is training her mind to focus on the positive, which experts say is the best way to move forward.
“I remember having a particularly bad night after seeing my ex out with a friend of mine and coming home, wanting to call nobody else but my mother – it just seemed like too much,” says Veronica. “Then I look to the side and I see a cockroach in my apartment... I had a choice, I could either completely break down, or I could find a way to climb out of this dark place. The cockroach was like the strangest, last straw, and I just started laughing for 15 minutes like a crazy person, I mean, really, it can’t get worse than this moment!”
The next day is when she wrote the letters and she found a way to forgive, seek positivity, and simply find a reason to laugh every day. Literally, in fact - she even signed up for comedy courses where she learns the art of laughter and of making people laugh for two hours every Saturday.
“What’s the alternative, think about it?” says Veronica. “Either I find a way to enjoy this life that I’ve been given, or I suffer. I’m making a conscious choice to be happy and move forward.”
The first thing to recognise about hardships in life is that they are largely unavoidable, according to experts. Every single one of us, at some point in our lifetime, will experience pain, suffering, and hardship in some form. It might be the loss of a job, a break up, struggles to make ends meet financially, or loss of a loved one.
VIVA spoke to some experts about letting go of the past and how to emerge with positivity, like Veronica. Adam Zargar, a psychologist and life coach at 2blimitless, suggests that being prepared with the mentality that life has ups and downs – and that you just need to manage downs well – will help.
“Visualise how you want to be when situations happen and put in place structures and plans that will make you be that way – calmer or more positive,” he says. “It’s when you are being dealt a bad hand in life that your true character emerges.”
Another point is to recognise that you are not alone and that thousands of other people have gone through what you are going through – and survived. They have made it through and won.
“Research some celebrities who have similar stories and see how they dealt with it,” he says. “Oprah Winfrey was abused as a teenager and then went on to have a great future on TV – that’s what happens when you don’t dwell on the past.”
He also suggests that in order to experience real joy in life, you must experience pain. People who appreciate good times in their life do so because they have been through tough times and came out stronger. When Veronica went on a Fujeirah trip with a few girl friends last month, she was the life of the party in the evenings and the first one to try snorkelling and water sports during the day.
“I just thought of all those days and nights when I would stay in feeling sorry for myself and for my situation,” says Veronica. “That’s not how my mum wanted me to live my life! I enjoyed that trip more than others because I was really able to appreciate the fun in everything, in the moment.”
So look at your difficult past experience and recognise that no matter how bad things seem now, the problems won’t last forever. Like all things, suffering is also impermanent.
“Remember this the next time you are going through some pain or hardships,” says Adam.
Taking a step like burning letters will help you to let go of the past and to forgive. Adam suggests making a list of who or what you need to forgive and write down the facts. Recognise who is being hurt by your refusal to forgive – is the other person lying awake at night burning with anger and resentment? Probably not, it’s just you!
“Stop playing the victim in your personal story,” says Adam. “Admit some of the responsibility to understand the problem, and, even more importantly, to make sure it never happens again.”
Writing an email and hitting the delete key at the end works as well.
Forgiveness, of yourself and others, is also key to letting go of the past. Refusing to forgive can be a major obstacle to happiness. It’s a power game, says Adam, that can only have one winner and it’s not you.
“It’s the kind of control that feels powerful, but the real power is actually just letting go,” he says. “You can only be happy now if you stop trying to change the past, but see it as a learning situation so you never need to suffer again.”
It’s also about learning how to deal with change. If we stayed in our comfort zones, we would get bored quickly. The truth is that we love to be challenged and hardships are part of that. Accept that change happens, prepare for hard times, and go with the flow.
Veronica admits that she gets nightmares sometimes and that the sadness creeps in around anniversaries or birthdays of those she has lost. Day to day, however, she does everything she can to keep a smile on her face. Plans for the holiday season? She’ll spend Christmas with her father and extended family in the UK before heading to Peru to hike the Inca trail. She’s training for the hike every day – one step and smile at a time.