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Dear Abby: My brain keeps reminding me of unhappy events in my past

Dear Abby: My brain keeps reminding me of unhappy events in my past

DEAR ABBY: I’m a divorced woman, soon to be 60, who is often haunted by vivid memories of the past. I constantly recall times in my life that I regret or cringe about, and things I wish I would have handled better. They range from being embarrassed at my 7th birthday party to being bullied from the 5th through 8th grades to awkward moments in high school to parenting decisions I wish I’d made differently.

These memories play over and over like videos in my mind, causing me to feel the emotions again and again. I’ve been through therapy three times in three cities over the past 24 years. One therapist even used eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), all to no avail.

I know I can’t go back and change any poor choices or bad decisions, but how can I stop torturing myself over them? Also, would you say it’s normal for people my age to have such vivid memories of what others might have let go of decades ago? — PRISONER OF THE PAST

DEAR PRISONER: People of every age have been known to revisit the past. Some have “conversations” with deceased parents, divorced husbands, old loves, etc.

A technique that might help you would be to get up and move from wherever you are when those flashbacks happen to a new location. Take a 30-minute walk in the sunshine and smell the roses. Count your blessings. And say ALOUD to yourself, “That was THEN. This is NOW.” It is not possible to think of two things at once. Please try it. It’s cheaper than yet another therapist, and it works.

P.S. You are not a “prisoner” of your unhappy past; you CONQUERED it. Congratulations.

DEAR ABBY: I recently married a younger lady and want to know the best way to get her to put her phone down, because she’s texting about 10 hours a day. She works from home now, and if she isn’t working, she’s texting. I feel like I can’t compete, and I’m not sure what to do about it. Please help. — FIGHTING ABOUT THE PHONE

DEAR FIGHTING: Tell your wife you feel like you are in competition with her cellphone, and you don’t like coming out second best. Many people become so caught up in their electronic devices that their relationships suffer, which is why apps have been created that make the addicted more aware of how much time is spent on them. Using the “focus” and “do not disturb” features can also be helpful. I suggest that your wife start using one of them before your marriage deteriorates further.

DEAR ABBY: While driving our car to a babysitting gig, our teenage daughter was asked by the parents to stop at a pizza place and pick up lunch for their child. While pulling into the restaurant’s parking garage, she hit a post, which caused significant damage to the bumper. Should she tell the parents with any expectation that they should offer to pay for some of the repair or is this all on her? — WORK-RELATED IN THE WEST

DEAR WORK-RELATED: I’m sorry, but your daughter should not expect the parents to pay for her fender bender. She can certainly tell them what happened — if she hasn’t already — but with NO expectation that they will help her pay to have her bumper repaired.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: “Abby’s Favorite Recipes” and “More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $16 (U.S. funds), to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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Dear Abby: I refuse to kill myself making sure events we host are up to my husband’s high standards

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DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my wonderful husband, “Alec,” for five years. This is a second marriage for both of us. We raised children on our own and waited until they were out of the house to get into a relationship.

My issue is Alec plans events, and then becomes stressed because the house or the food isn’t perfect. My idea of an event is: My family comes over and we enjoy each other’s company. We usually do potluck, and everyone helps with the cleanup. My husband’s idea of an event is that we are the hosts and everyone sits down to a formal dinner.

I hate this! Why would I spend all my time serving my family and cleaning up after them instead of enjoying BEING with them? In his defense, Alec does most of the prep and hosting on his events because I refuse to kill myself making sure everything is “perfect.” But even though he does most of the work, he’s obviously irritated the whole time, and by the time of the event, we’re barely speaking.

These events are not fun for us, and the visiting family notices the tension, so it’s uncomfortable for them, too. I just want to enjoy my family — not impress anyone. Our house is always presentable. It’s not like I invite guests into a mess. To hear him talk, you’d think we have rats running around.

I have tried discussing it with him, and he says, “My mom was a perfect hostess. She made everyone comfortable, waited on them, etc.” You know what? I don’t CARE what his mom did. This is how I entertain, and I’m not going to kill myself and then have a miserable time. Am I unreasonable? — DIFFERENCE OF STYLE

DEAR DIFFERENCE: Remind your husband that families have their own traditions. If he wants to entertain his family in grand style, he’s entitled to do that — and they probably expect it. However, he has no right to impose his style of entertaining on your family because it is not fair to you or to them. Because you’re not going to change him, compromise by divvying up the entertaining — you do yours, and he should do his.

DEAR ABBY: I have an aversion to being hugged. My mother has told me that even as a baby and toddler I didn’t like being held or rocked to sleep. I just wanted to be put in my bed. Since I have been like this my whole life, I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with me. I do let family I am close to hug me if they wish.

My problem is friends or acquaintances who consider themselves “huggers.” Their right to hug seems to trump my right not to be. When I tell them I don’t want a hug, they press the issue. Over the last two years, our country has been in a pandemic and we have been advised to stay six feet apart — but even then, they still want to do it. People: If you are “huggers,” PLEASE realize that not everyone enjoys it. Always ASK first, and if someone says no, respect their right not to have a hug forced upon them. Abby, do you agree? — WITHHOLDING IN WISCONSIN

DEAR WITHHOLDING: Yes, I do. Some people are averse to their personal space being invaded. No one has the right to touch an acquaintance if asked not to do it.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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Dear Annie: I’m feeling pessimistic about current events

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Dear Annie: You have a lot of common sense, and I am writing to you because I am looking for an outside opinion about my sudden pessimism about current events. Normally, I wouldn’t care what is going on in the world, other than as an observer.

But it seems like lately, world events keep changing our lives, and not always for the better.

Obviously, the biggest change came from COVID-19 and all the tragic deaths worldwide. But that included lockdowns — a term used in prisons. Then I read about a study from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in which scientists examined a whole bunch of studies that concluded that lockdowns did almost nothing to prevent deaths.

I used to travel a fair amount, but I am reluctant to fly because I picture crowded airports, security lines and tightly packed planes with some passengers who no doubt have COVID-19, and we would all be breathing the same air.

It has been two years since this pandemic started, and I haven’t gotten the virus yet, so I figure I’ll wait a while before trying to get back to where I was before the pandemic. I am vaccinated and have one booster shot.

But then there is the news that Russia is invading Ukraine, and I can’t fathom how Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks he can recreate the USSR and control a free people in 2022.

What’s happening with China? I watched some of the Olympics, but the setting seemed like it was at an industrial park or a nuclear power plant. When the athletes would finish a ski run, they would immediately put on their masks while standing outside in the open air. It made me uncomfortable to watch.

Gas prices are through the roof, and I keep hearing about “supply shortages” when I go to the supermarket. I went to a pet store the other day and could buy only four cans of the cat food that my cat likes. That’s all they had left, and the employees said they have no idea when they will get more.

I am sure things will get better. They always do. But right now, I am feeling powerless because of what is happening all over the world. Do you or your readers have any suggestions for how I can cheer up? I am curious to know how other people are handling all these disruptions. — Feeling Powerless

Dear Feeling Powerless: For me, the best answer is found in the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Once you really embrace that philosophy, you will start to lighten up and feel better.

You are not alone in your feelings, and I would be curious to hear suggestions from other readers who are coping successfully these days, despite some pretty scary news from all over the globe.

View prior ‘Dear Annie’ columns

“How Can I Forgive My Cheating Partner?” is out now! Annie Lane’s second anthology — featuring favorite columns on marriage, infidelity, communication and reconciliation — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to