I like to multitask. I'm totally ADHD and it takes a lot to hold my attention. Which is why I sometimes have several books going at once: a hard copy book (whatever non-fiction book is tickling my fancy); an audiobook (almost always a novel I've read before and want to revisit with someone reading it to me); and a new paranormal fantasy on my Kindle (unless I'm in a reading desert and have opted for an old friend to keep me company while I find a new author/series). So it's always kind of cool when I notice a theme or plot device in two books I'm reading at the same time. In the most recent occurrence, I was listening to Kresley Cole's Dark Needs at Night's Edge while reading Gena Showalter's The Darkest Night. And the common trope in both books was a curse that caused one of the protagonists to relive, in a very visceral way, the worst night of their lives. Over and over again, the nightmare reel is playing in a never-ending loop of pain and anguish. Sounds fun, huh? Good thing this is fantasy and that could never happen in real life. But wait—that's not quite right, because, as we know, there is truth in fantasy and this is no exception. In Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Really?! Again with the supremely stupid titles), Naomi was a celebrated dancer who is brutally murdered by a rejected lover. As a ghost, she is doomed to experience her death each night of the full moon, preceded by a compulsive dance that she can't control—it's as if she is a puppet with someone else pulling the strings. It's horrific. In The Darkest Night, Maddox, who houses the demon of Violence, is condemned by the gods to be killed each night in the same way he murdered another —stabbed to death and escorted to hell for the night, only to be reborn in the morning to do it all again the next night. More fun than the law should allow, is what I say.
The common theme here is the idea that we are often stuck reliving the past—usually the most difficult or painful aspects of our history, and usually an event or moment that forever alters the course of our lives afterward. Anyone who's experienced a trauma knows all about this. But even those of us who have made a bad decision, like an extra drink before getting in the car, unprotected sex, just this once, marrying the wrong spouse or letting the right one get away—we have a tendency to put all of these actions or events on an endless loop in our brains and just hit "play." It doesn't get any more depressing or limiting than this, at least for me.
What do we hope to gain by pressing the "repeat" button over and over? We're not idiots, or at least most of us aren’t, so there must be some perceived conscious or unconscious benefit to all of this ceaseless self-flagellation. Perhaps we think we can gain insights from our repetitive analysis of the events in question. Maybe we believe we deserve perpetual punishment for whatever sins we've committed, even if the transgression involves being a victim of someone else's evil. Or maybe we believe that if we replay it again and again, we can change the outcome in the past and affect the trajectory of our future. It could happen, right?
For me, my endless loop involved my husband getting sick. I came home from walking the dog to find him unconscious next to our bed. Ambulance, hospital, tests, terrible prognosis (that was totally wrong, by the way, and who does that to a spouse?!). Worst night of my life. It was twenty years ago and I still replay it. I'm still paranoid about coming home to see that terrible scene again. I can't help myself, and I look for things he or I could have done differently, or what could have gone the other way for an even worse outcome so I won't do that in the future. It's all bad. But I watch that inner movie and I take it apart piece by piece, and then I put it back together and do it again.
For some of us, our endless loop is more like Maddox's. We have one defining moment—the point before which our lives were one way and after which they were a different way, and we replay that over and over again so that we can punish ourselves and feel the burn. Or maybe we'd stop it if we could, but like Maddox, who is cursed by the gods, we can't hit the stop button, so we suffer continuous penalty. Whatever crimes we committed, real or imagined, I can't believe a benevolent Universe would want us to suffer for an eternity. If we're feeling guilty enough to relive our transgressions, we're probably sorry we did it and likely willing to make any amends we could and surely never do it again. At some point, haven't we paid our debt—to society, God, ourselves? I can't imagine not. And yet we persist with the endless loop of misery.
And then some of us just want to change the past, which is, of course, a fool's task. The past doesn't change, no matter how many times we relive it. We can only change our present moment, and perhaps those of the future that haven't happened yet. But that other ship has sailed, and our attempts to alter what's done is pure insanity—doing the same thing over and over—in our minds no less—and expecting a different outcome. Just say no to that life-stealing, soul-sucking pastime. Enough said.
So how do we stop hitting "repeat" and play another song? Therapy comes to mind, of any variety that works for us in our particular circumstances. I'm a big fan. Talking to friends, meditation, journaling, bodywork, self-hypnosis… there are many paths to healing. Love is also an effective answer. For Naomi and Maddox, predictably, true love and a willingness of their loved ones to sacrifice for their benefit is the road to happily ever after. And that can be true in our lives as well. Love heals. Always, if we let it. Time makes its contribution as well. But the secret ingredient of success for all of these scenarios is the willingness to let go of our pasts, and the conviction that we deserve a brighter future, one where we're not condemned to relive our misery endlessly. Turn off the endless loop and reclaim the rest of our lives.