The heavy smog of guilt surrounds me…slowly, silently.
It suffocates my joy as I struggle to break free from the strangling noose it tightens around my throat. It’s hard to fight a ghost. It’s dark shape changes when I manage to catch hold of it, and it twists and turns in my desperate hands.
I can’t breathe.
Guilt destroys me gently. Sometimes I forget about its pain, the hot dull throbbing in the pit of my stomach. It lurks on the borders of my sanity, watching for a chance to whisper sweet poison into my tortured ears. My worst nightmares are brought to life as it torments me with all the things my heart dreads.
You are a terrible person.
You don’t deserve to be happy.
No one could love you.
I believed it.
I have done things, said things, been things that I am not proud of. I have hurt people I adore. I think we all have. Life happens. Grief happens. I have been selfish in the face of my own heartache. I struggle to let go of the pain I have caused, long after the wronged party has forgiven and forgotten. They still haunt me.
I wake from sleep with nightmares ringing in my ears, sweat drenching my wracked body as scenes from the past play over and over, an old horror movie, crackling in black and white. I realise that I cannot keep punishing myself this way. I cannot change the past, no matter how much I may want to, and so, tormenting myself does not serve my pursuit for peace. Guilt is a prison, and we must allow ourselves to escape in order to move onto the life that we deserve.
I decide it is time to let go. It is a process, and I am finally ready to begin.
During some self-work recently, something stayed with me: Good people feel guilty. The fact that I even have remorse says something about me as a person. It reminds me that when my actions are incongruent with my values or expectations of myself, it hurts me, and I ache to make it right. I acknowledge to myself what I have done and I own it. Many can’t, or won’t, yet it’s impossible to find peace with something unless you first accept its truth. Denial and defence are dire companions on the road to self-forgiveness.
After acknowledgement comes mitigation. How might I make amends? Perhaps this is an authentic apology to another. Perhaps not. The sad reality is that the one that I am cruellest to rarely gets an apology from my sorrowful lips. Heaven knows that they deserve one after all these years.
That person is me.
I might decide to take physical action to rectify my wrong. Or, I may just create an intention to never act that way again. Only you can know what feels true for you. But regardless of which I decide is right, I let that action soothe me. I allow it to propel me into a future where I always remember, but no longer berate myself for what I cannot alter.
Guilt is an opportunity. It is a gift. It is a chance to learn who I am in the silence of my own mind. A chance to be accountable for wrongs I have done and to stop beating myself up for them, choosing instead to learn from them. Grow from them. I allow it to shape me into the person I want to be. A person I can be proud of. A person looking forward to a bright future. If I look back, I am lost.
I will still mess up of course. And I will still feel the pain that comes with that. I am only human after all. My flaws and my reactions are what make me unique. My dark is a mirror to my light and it is my light that drives me ever onwards in the knowledge of my one truth: I am a good person.
When it is my time to die I will look back on my mistakes, but I shall hold no regrets. I will offer myself the same compassion that I give to others so willingly; I will forgive myself.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
~ Maya Angelou
Author: JoJo Rowden
Editor: Renee Jahnke
Photo: Hartwig HKD/flickr