Guilt is a finicky S.O.B.
It sneaks up on us during inopportune moments, and for some pretty stupid reasons. Guilt shows up, starts fights with our mind’s inner dialogue, and then sits back in victorious splendor as the rest of our emotions try, unsuccessfully, to diffuse the situation.
When it’s all said and done, we are exhausted from this inner struggle and guilt continues to grow stronger.
Well played guilt, well played.
When I decided to switch to a vegan lifestyle, I could never have imagined the guilt that would accompany it.
I’m not talking about the so-you-won’t-eat-any-of-my-home-cooked-meat-casserole-that-I-slaved-over-for-hours guilt that I get from others. No, this guilt comes from me and my inner dialogue. It is the guilt that makes me feel bad for turning food down, or like a major pain in the ass when ordering dinner at a restaurant. This is the guilt that has overridden my inner dialogue (and gut) and forced me to just order the cheesy enchilada, because as long as it doesn’t have meat, it’s still kind of vegan, right? (Um, wrong.)
I have found that my vegan-guilt can be categorized as three distinctive, but equally obnoxious, types:
Buyer’s Remorse Guilt, “I Can’t Single-Handedly Save the Planet” Guilt, and Perfectionist’s Guilt.
If I were the gambling type, I would wager that every vegetarian, vegan, or anyone of similar dietary prowess has experienced one of these “guilts” at one time or another.
The Buyer’s Remorse Guilt:
Bacon. Need I say more?
The “I Can’t Single-Handedly Save the Planet” Guilt:
It is a fair guess to say that any person who decides to switch to a vegan-ish lifestyle has first done some research. And once you set your raft on the river of veganism, it always ends up in the ocean of environmentalism. It can’t be helped—all rivers empty in the ocean. And there you are: floating in this vast expanse of knowledge, trying to wrap your head around how terrible we humans are to the planet. You may cry, you may get angry, but you always want to take action.
That moment—when the call to action strikes—is the precise moment that “I Can’t Single-Handedly Save the Planet” Guilt sinks its claws into you. There is so much to be done! Take shorter showers; recycle everything; bike or walk everywhere; only buy produce locally; take sustainable vacations; eat a plant-based diet; go green…the list goes on and on. As just one person in the world, all these causes can be overwhelming.
The feelings of guilt come when you realize that it is next to impossible to do all of these things. Suddenly, when you throw a plastic water bottle in the trash instead of the recycling bin, guilt makes you feel like the equivalent of an environmental pariah. Every drop of water wasted, or farmer’s market skipped gives guilt more power until you feel the weight of the planet on your shoulders.
Damn you, guilt.
The Perfectionist’s Guilt:
I’ll admit: At times, the switch to a vegan lifestyle can be difficult to maintain with perfection. Sometimes there is no vegan option at a restaurant, or that pizza your roommate ordered smells too damn good to pass up. Whatever the reason may be, there are going to be moments when you hang up your vegan hat and eat that burger. Oh, but when you take that first bite, believe that Perfectionist’s Guilt is already licking its chops, waiting to shame you for every indulgence.
It can be easy to let guilt take hold and tell you how awful you are. “Think of the poor, dead animals!” Guilt screams at you. “How could you do this? Have you no self-control?” Now you feel wretched and guilt is smug. Any time you stray from the plant-based diet, guilt will be there, flashing images of baby cows and tiny, fluffy chicks in your mind. In guilt’s perspective, it’s all or nothing. Perfection or bust.
However, just as Achilles had his heel, guilt has a weak spot: forgiveness.
Forgiveness for still loving the smell of bacon sizzling in the pan (although you’d “never” eat it). Forgiveness for driving your car two blocks to the store on a beautiful, sunny day. Forgiveness for eating birthday cake with buttercream frosting—it’s cake for Pete’s sake! Guilt is crying in the corner.
After you have forgiven yourself, congratulate yourself for all that you are doing. You are making a difference and you are doing something great. Life is not about perfection, it is about balance and doing what you can with what you have. Remember, small choices add up to big changes!
Now, go ahead and flip guilt the bird. You know you want to.
Author: Sara VanDerslice
Image: Vivid Lime/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Callie Rushton