What is regret (or remorse)? Generally defined as the emotion of wishing one had made a different decision in the past, it is often much more destructive and debilitating than mere “wishing,” at times chronic for life and impacting mental health.  And while there is no independent diagnosis of regret in the WHO classification for mental disorders, make no mistake: for those affected by obsessive regret, it is indeed an illness, keeping the sufferer from living fully in the present. Regret is a form of delusion: ideal life, perfect happiness would have been waiting for us at the end of the road we did not take, the door we did not open.  

In my younger and dreamier years, I would often see the same middle-aged, giant of a man, at our neighborhood bar, and invariably during football season he would drunkenly repeat the same story of his life’s regret, and I would listen as if hearing for the first time: While in high school, Ben had received a football scholarship to a big college, but his girlfriend became pregnant, he chose to marry, had the child and so, goodbye football career. He relived this choice every day, regretting this single, fateful decision that had kept him from becoming the greatest football guard since Gene Upshaw, and with it fame, wealth and infinite bliss. 

Now, in the bar every night to anyone who would listen, he replayed his dreadful choice and its final effect: an endless treadmill of a life with his “drab” wife Mary and “mediocre” daughter Marie, watching other men become football heroes on TV. I felt that big Ben was very ill, literally dying of regret and drinking.

At the time, I was somewhat of a lucid dreaming evangelist, passing out LD books and articles and dispensing lucid advice as if I actually knew what I was talking about. Ben was interested. He was interested in lucid sports; he wanted to be a football hero in his dreams, defending the line, overpowering the other team. With practice and incubation, Ben did achieve his goal, and in one dream he saved the game and saw the crowd in the stadium: fans cheering, lights flashing, cameras rolling. In his lucid dream, he had taken his other choice, followed the other road of his regret; he was a star, the greatest player of all time!  

The night Ben told me of this dream, I was ecstatic, but he was quiet, barely touching his beer. “Ben, you did it,” I said. “You made the right choice this time and became a hero.”  I was thrilled that lucid dreaming had allowed him to fulfill his deepest wish. “So how do you feel now?” I asked. 

“I feel OK,” he answered. “It was strange: after the game, I searched the crowd in my dream, but could not find Mary and Marie. It just wasn’t that great without them there. It wasn’t what I expected, I guess.”

I did not see much of Ben after this night. Over the years I heard bits and pieces about him—sounds like he quit drinking and was doing well and had another kid, another girl. I guess big Ben finally closed that other door, the one he never opened.

This article was released in issue from

September 2020

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