The liberation of leaving my past behind

I was scheduling some of my daily memes for publication on social media today and realised that it will very soon be 2 September. ‘Oh no!’ I thought and started dredging through some of the more unedifying parts of my personal history. Oh no indeed! On Saturday 2 September 1994 I went from being Jeanette the negatively focussed communist art student to being Purkis – 102604 – prisoner. It is a long and sad tale….and one I am not going to write here. And this is why…

A few friends and colleagues have noticed me discussing my past and all that came with it rather more often of late. Two people I really value suggested that maybe the time has come to bid farewell to that part of my life. Not write or speak of it in any more in my advocacy work.  Put it to bed, lay it down to rest, give it a good send off by no longer defining myself by it.

I think this is an excellent idea, but a very challenging one. The first three slides in any presentation I give will include a Jeanette now slide (overachiever etc), a me then slide (prisoner, drug addict, homeless person) and how I got from there to here. It is my standard. But maybe my standard is tethering me to a place in the 1990s where I don’t actually need or want to be? Do I need to exist in relation to this period in my life where I was in fact very different? I may have succeeded in many ways by reflecting on the past and distancing myself from it, but maybe the time has come for me to let it go. I have spoken and written about it on and off for many years. It is an anchor point for my life and my work. I always thought of it as an example that people can change and grow, which it is. But am I changing and growing by constantly defining myself in those terms? Is my criminal history relevant to anything I do now in my paid or voluntary work?

I think I am in fact doing myself something of a disservice by focussing on this. Yes, I used it as a point to push off from but the period between my life of poor choices and even poorer behaviour and me now is between 18 and 23 years. The space between my criminal history and my recent history is 18 years old – the age of adulthood. At age 18 one can vote, drive and legally drink alcohol so maybe I should ask it to metaphorically move out as well?  Criminal Jeanette is a ghost in the past and the only house she haunts is mine.  I have the right to exorcise that ghost, let her go. I really do not need her living with me any more.

This approach to my past is very liberating but also quite concerning, My mature character has never lived without the ghost of my past floating around questioning my validity and capability. I don’t know if the exorcism will be a relief or an ordeal. All I know is that I have some amazing friends and mentors who see me as I am now. They don’t know that previous me. The only conduit between them and her is what I wrote in my autobiography – written in 2005 in another world – and what I speak of. My criminal history  has no bearing on what I do now and has in fact never stopped me from working or getting a working with children card or any practical thing at all. In applications for such things I write what happened, why it happened and why it will never happen again and then throw in a copy of my autobiography and some character referees and then be prepared to quite rightfully and understandably answer some questions. That is it. That is the only way my past impacts my present. If employers and licensing bodies can see past my past to who I am, why don’t I do that too?

So on 2 September I will have a little wake for my past. I will bid her farewell and leave her in my memory and the pages of my autobiography and go on to live my life free of her constant presence. It seems liberating and a little scary but I have friends who know me as me and Mr Kitty who sees through most things and my writing and work. I think I will like life as just me.

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Imagining that the path ahead is, well sparkly and shiny and quirky

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5 thoughts on “The liberation of leaving my past behind

  1. You have to do what’s right for you and I hope you find distancing yourself from the past helpful but personally I see nothing wrong with continuing to discuss your past and I think it’s tremendously helpful and inspiring to other people who feel defined and held back by the bad choices they made in the past. The real issue is if you feel shame over your past and it’s preventing you from moving forward in your present and future. It’s clear to me that you have moved forward in your life with all that you accomplished and the fact that you talk about your past doesn’t mean it defines you. It happened so it’s a part of your story but it’s not your full story and it’s not where your story ends. I’ve never been a prisoner or a drug addict but I do have a rough past filled with some bad choices and seeing examples of other people who have moved forward from a rough past and bad choices is encouraging, hopeful and inspiring to me. It motivates me to want to move forward and to believe that it’s possible to move forward. In my case writing about and sharing my past was what enabled me to stop being defined and held back by it. Shame thrives in an environment of secrecy and it cannot thrive in an environment of openness, acceptance and love. I know people with rough pasts full of bad decisions who have vowed to never stop talking about their past for all of these reasons. Sorry, I don’t mean to be preachy or judgmental, I just wanted to share my perspective. May your decision bring you peace and happiness.

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