How do You Put Guilt to Rest?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs boulders of snow piled up at Cass Park skating rink.“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?

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8 thoughts on “How do You Put Guilt to Rest?

  1. Suzanne

    I love your grappling with the issue of guilt and remorse, Robin. It is true that I (and probably most others) associate you with a very positive, upbeat attitude, as a person who is able and willing to see the silver lining in most clouds. I do this in spite of the fact that I know you carry the same burden of pain over the loss of your daughter that the rest of us feel. But we all also do need to acknowledge and deal with, and hopefully put to rest, our self-blame and second-guessing. What could we have done differently to avoid this horrible outcome? Many who can not tolerate this question decide to blame others for their tragedy and consequent sadness, which is never a good solution. People often blame doctors for the illness or the horrible outcome. I have learned they are trying to avoid self-blame in that process. I love that you are able to advise us to accept our self-criticism, and then learn and grow from our experience. Bravo!

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well, I wouldn’t want to be a doctor fending off all the blame from heartbroken people, Suzanne. Hard enough just working as an individual guilt-laden person. When you’ve been mauled with your own self-blame and whatever people around are throwing at you, there’s not much else to be done but peel yourself off the floor, stanch the bleeding, and find some meaning in all of the pain. And hopefully grow wiser and stronger. Gotta have guts. Gotta have good friends around to keep you going in the right direction sometimes. Yow. It’s time for some chocolate. Cheers!

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well, carrying guilt comes pretty naturally for a lot of us. I write mostly about my efforts at doing otherwise. I don’t expose all the excess baggage I still cling to. Wise words, maybe. But when it comes right down to eliminating all the guilt, I’m a wuss. Baby steps. Have to be happy with baby steps. Thanks for being honest, Lynne.

      Reply
  2. Elaine Mansfield

    This is what I need to read, Robin. Thank you. Because my mother-in-law gets hysterical, we avoid the realities of her situation. No one mentions that her only child is dead, her last living sister died a few months ago, and that she’s running out of money to keep 24-hour-a-day health aide support going. I’ve accepted her avoidance to protect myself, but I’m sinking under the weight. After a preliminary conversation with someone at hospicare, I realize the charade has to end. I may have to ask the health aides to leave so I can be truthful a little at a time–but I can’t leave them with her hysteria so I’m stepping on thin ice. She has always avoided the truth. We’ve all complied to avoid her emotional responses.

    I printed a photo of Vic’s cairn (she’s been there once, almost 10 years ago and refused to go again. So she won’t go, but I have a photo. I planned to open this conversation for a few minutes this afternoon but woke up with a mild flu passed along from my NC family. The conversation will have to wait, but it’s time to gently tell the truth. I had no trouble being truthful with Vic because he wanted to know. His mom in her odd 102-year-old way has everyone terrified of helping her face mortality. A change is in the works. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much, but my fear of hurting her and having her strike out at me has to go. This is such a brave piece, Robin. You help me face what I must do or I’ll never forgive myself.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yeah, I’ve been keeping up with your story on your blog, Elaine. It sounds pretty scary. I mean, what can be done? And what part of change will Virginia have to adjust to? Is she going to go live with you in order to save money? Or does she become a ward of the state? And I wonder what not having an aide for her 24/7 will look like for YOU? I’m totally ignorant as to next steps but I will have to take all of this in one day as I have a mom who is only ten years younger than Virginia, and my sisters and I are terrified just approaching the subject of her giving up her drivers license. When it comes to facing her death, we’re completely petrified. She can be a great one for striking out at us and has already said she does not want to talk about dying. So, yeah, I’m reading your blogs about Virginia and feeling like I’m seeing our future. I always seem to be following in your footsteps. Well, kinda. I really think you’ve been a lot more brave than I have.

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I hope that’s a good “Wow,” Jill. I’m assuming you wouldn’t bother with a ho-hum wow. Or a “Wow” as in, I can’t believe she isn’t embarrassed to be revealing her complete cluelessness. Or a “Wow” like my son sneers every once in a while, as in Wow Mom, you just exposed yourself all over the internet.
      So, I thank you for that “Wow.” It really is great to hear from you. You’ve been on my mind as I return to all the things I’ve collected about writing book proposals. Can’t say I’ve gotten up enough nerve to actually query yet, but I have been inspired to prepare a proposal. And so much has changed since the last time I did all the synopses, marketing info, comparative titles, ….I seem to enjoy weird challenges these days. So thanks for getting me started on that years ago. Wishing you the best.

      Reply

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