A few weeks ago, I shredded my old diaries. As in, with a paper shredder. Yes I’m serious.
I can hear you now: Why would anyone do such a thing? I know, right? Precious record of your past, snapshot of a point in your life, cherished document for generations to come, blah blah.
The Weight of the Past
Here’s the thing. Aside from the entries from when I was 6 (they were cute, and I scanned my favorites…like the picture on the right), those diaries were not me. They were negative, whiny, obnoxious, phony. And you know what? I knew the words were fake as I was writing them. I remember deliberately choosing what to record based on what I believed the record I thought I was supposed to write would look like.
The diaries lived for years buried in a big Rubbermaid bin in my parents’ storage unit. I unearthed them maybe a year ago while cleaning and brought them to my apartment, where I promptly hid them again. Out of sight, out of mind…right?
Not so. I knew they were there. I would think, What if something happens to me and the people I love read these diaries after I’m gone? The girl in those pages existed only between the covers, a construct of another girl who felt her diaries should have a certain flavor, a particular focus. I hated rereading what my other self had written, and it hurt me to think of others doing the same.
It’s Okay to Challenge the Norm
I finally took time to consider: Why was I keeping these journals? Because everyone said I should? Keeping something that causes you anxiety or pain just because society says you must is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It’s your choice. Only you know what’s right for you. In the never-ending battle with stuff — physical, mental, emotional — you decide what stays and what goes. Period.
I knew this decision was right for me. And yet, as I tore the first pages from the spine, I felt a jolt of panic. What was I doing? As I fed the pages into the shredder’s teeth, though, an unbelievable feeling of relief washed over me. I had chosen right. I could finally let go. I was free.
Do What You Have to Do, However You Have to Do It
So why didn’t I just toss the books into the recycling? Did I really need to shred them?
Yes, I did. Not because I was afraid some worker at the recycling plant would read my supposed innermost teenage thoughts. I needed to shred them for me. I needed them to be gone so I could give myself permission to let go.
Perhaps all of this sounds over-dramatic, stunt-like. I assure you that it is not. Sometimes things like this are necessary. Sometimes you just have to do it. And that’s one hundred percent okay.
You Don’t Have to Hold onto Everything Forever
I did not love high school, but there were some wonderful moments. I made good friends, had some inspirational teachers, and participated in a bunch of fun extracurricular activities. Yet these things appeared so infrequently in the pages of my diaries that you’d think they’d never happened.
When I look back on my childhood and teen years, I want to remember the good stuff. I want to look at my photo albums and flip through notes from my favorite teacher. I don’t want to hold onto the parts I hated, the person I felt like I had to be, even in private. By carrying those diaries around with me all these years, I was keeping that false shadow self close. I thought I had to.
Turns out what I really needed was to let her go.
Your turn: Have you ever had to go against what’s commonly accepted to do something you knew you needed to do?