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Mistakes Can Teach Us

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Mistakes Can Teach Us

Lessons from the depths.
Robert Holden Ph.D.
Robert Holden Ph.D. More by this author
Apr 29, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Beechy Colclough and I have co-presented together at many corporate seminars and also at a public workshop called “Positive Change.” Beechy is a 50-something Irishman, a soft-spoken man, brilliant therapist, and inspirational presenter, who speaks with remarkable honesty about his traumatic story of abuse, addiction, and recovery. He touches the hearts of everyone with whom he works, but as he says, “If you had met me 30 years ago you would not have liked me.”

Beechy grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and he was the youngest of 13 children. From the age of 11, Beechy was addicted to alcohol, then speed, then dope, then prescription drugs, then cocaine, then LSD, and then heroin. He recalls, “My life was one big mistake after another; and I left behind a dirty trail of carnage, mayhem, lies, and broken promises.” Beechy was a gifted musician who played with Van Morrison and Alexis Corner, but his addictions ruined every good opportunity to grow his talent.

Beechy describes the first 35 years of his life as a “tortured, isolated existence in which all the low points got lower.” He lived homeless and slept at night in graveyards. He hurt anyone who got close to him. Beechy once fell into a farm trough full of pig’s swill after a sudden drink-induced seizure. “I literally woke up in pig shit. So if you ever think your life stinks, think again,” he says. Beechy used drugs heavily to kill his pain and the shame he felt about his life. He also nearly killed himself. “I had a priest read me the last rites at least twice,” he recalls.

“Every day I made the mistake of giving up on myself, and so my life got worse and worse,” says Beechy. Fortunately for him, he met people like Josephine, his future wife, who told him it could be different.

Josephine encouraged Beechy to attend a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, where he took his first steps to recovery. “Initially I sabotaged every offer of help, but eventually I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I turned a corner,” says Beechy.

In our Positive Change seminars, Beechy and I emphasize the importance of making an honest inventory of past mistakes. The reason most people won’t examine their past mistakes is that they are afraid to face their shame. But we explain that the reason to do it is to let go of shame. Unhealed shame causes people to live on the run. When people run away from their mistakes, they generally run into the same mistakes again until the lesson is healed. Paradoxically, running away is a form of holding on. What you run from you run into.

Beechy and I teach that positive change is about “picking up your own mess.” Our formula for mistakes is:

  1. Acknowledge the mistake—look at the mistake to discover the lesson.
  2. Learn from the mistake—so as not to repeat the mistake.
  3. Account for the mistake—pick up your own mess and clear the way for a better future.
  4. Forgive yourself for your mistakes—everyone has to forgive themselves for having a past.
  5. Let your mistakes go—shift happens when you let go.

“Let go and let God,” says Beechy. “No one punished me more for my mistakes than I did, but until I stopped punishing myself I was not able to make amends.” The future cannot be any different from the past if a person will not let the past go. Basically put, shame holds you back and forgiveness takes you forward.

“A person who won’t forgive his past is dangerous to be around,” says Beechy. “Shame can be an addiction, also, and a person who won’t forgive his mistakes will keep on making mistakes.” At best, shame can prompt the need for learning, but unless a person can let go of shame he learns nothing of value.

Beechy’s story is of a man who made more mistakes than most and has learned how to put his mistakes to good use. After being sober for two years, Beechy trained as a chemical-dependency counselor. He later became treatment director at Promis, a treatment center for multiple addictions. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology, trains therapists all over the world, and has a thriving practice.

Last year, I was present as Beechy, Josephine, and friends celebrated his 20th year of being sober. Beechy’s life is an example of how our mistakes need not be the end of our story. His life also teaches us that when we learn from our mistakes it is possible for others to benefit as well. On the other side of a mistake is a chance for growth. Therefore, as Beechy says, the only mistakes to avoid are those that eliminate the chance to try again.

About Author
Robert Holden Ph.D.
Robert Holden Ph.D.’s innovative work on psychology and spirituality has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, a PBS show called Shift Happens! and a major BBC documentary called How to Be Happy, shown in 20 countries to o Continue reading