“What about regret or self-blame? Or remorse?” my friend asked, adding something like, “You never write about any of these.” I took that thought home with me. For a whole week I walked around thinking I had an answer:
I don’t focus on the issues that divide or isolate people. I’d rather write about the things that unite us, like loving, living, dying, losing, and finding life is beautiful anyway.
Finished. Done. This was what I was going to tell her. But then, I kept coming back to her question.
My mind drew a blank whenever I tried to get around to the far side of what was bothering me. I told myself, it’s best not to drag up old impenetrable boulders. That it’s not healthy to wallow in matters that can’t be changed. That everyone’s got some guilt going on. So, where was my guilt? When I tried to concentrate, I got an icky nauseous feeling. It’s horrendously ugly and uncomfortable to deal with regret, self-blame, and remorse.
Later, I dug deep into my most conscience-curdling thoughts to understand what I felt guilty of and regretful about. What I found was not going to fit into a 400 or 500-word blog. It mostly boiled down to my not telling my daughter she was dying, and not saying, I Love You. In trying to protect her from the painful truth, I’d been dishonest. It’s history now. Unalterable. But I need to kill the guilt. Or make peace with it. Here’s my recipe for coming to terms with guilt:
*Excavate your darkest buried thoughts to find it, and face it. Accept what happened, and acknowledge your part in it.
*Then comes the hard work of forgiving yourself. Give yourself the same empathy you would give anyone else. Be kind to yourself.
*Remember, our mistakes are part of living and growing. They make up the layers of who we are now. But our past missteps do not define us.
*Consider what this has taught you. Figure out how you can grow from this.
*Finally, bring it forward to the future. Allow it to change you. How will you constructively apply what you learned, to what you do from now on?
In the same grueling week my good friend challenged me, other friends read my blogs and praised me for being open and honest. It all encouraged me to be even more truthful.
Guilt and truth are both brutal. Yet truth can offer comfort. I lied to my daughter. But I could not have loved her more than I did. I’ve learned that speaking the truth is a gift of love, and facing the hard truth helps put guilt to rest.
How do you deal with guilt? What’s the most far-fetched list you ever wrote?