Living 100% guilt-free in the world only works if you’re a sociopath. It’s actually a good thing when I feel guilty. It only becomes a bad thing when I fail to do something about it.

Step 10: continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Thankfully, I’ve already tackled guilt in its most festering form, shame, back in steps four and five, during the housecleaning. Those were the big-ticket items: the flood-damaged carpet, the burnt couch, the broken windows.  These were the things that I would ignore and make excuses for year after year until, with the help of this program, I finally learned how to clean up my messes.  Over time and with some practice, useless and/or painful items were drug from my house out to the curb to await the junk man.

My load now lightened, I moved onto the day-to-day upkeep regarding my side of the street. While taking inventory of my day, any guilt I’m feeling now has a much better chance of being dealt with in a right-sized matter. I don’t need to call professional cleaners; we’re only talking about fallen leaves and candy wrappers. As long as I don’t let them accumulate, it’s all good.

But that’s as far as the metaphor will take me.  Because it’s not really a candy wrapper, it’s some jackass cutting me off in traffic. It’s yelling at my daughter for being a kid. It’s some work-related snafu that’s got everyone pointing fingers. These are the tangible life tangles that guilt sticks a tiny ref flag into as a marker to be revisited.  And just as candy wrappers aren’t candy wrappers, I don’t literally use a broom or one of those grabber things city workers use.  It’s willingness, humility and appropriate action that keeps my front yard clean.

But what about the garbage that I personally trash my own property with?  The water balloons of resentment I toss from my roof onto the driveway?  The soaping of my windows to obscure my vision? The dog poop bags of spiteful pride I light on fire, only to stomp out a very short time later while wearing my good shoes?  These are the sick guilty pleasures that nosedive directly into shame, because it’s all self-sabotage.  It’s all of my own doing.  There is no one to overtly apologize to: it’s just me and my stinking thinking.  It’s the perfect blame.  There’s no way out.

And that’s always the case as long as I keep it to myself.  Either I don’t recognize it, or ignore it to the point of misplaced rage – those seemingly random blow-ups which have actually been brewing for hours.

What has to happen:  When something’s got me uneasy, even though it’s silly or embarrassing, I need to deal with that specific fear the moment I sense it, before it submerges beneath my subconscious and grows bigger and faster and, most importantly, more ambiguous.

So why do they seem silly and embarrassing?  My guess is because they’re always the same fears and worries, more or less, and that’s frustrating and disheartening, to be constantly talking myself off the same ledge. And in the daily struggle, it’s tough to recognize that progress is being made, that my wrong-headed feelings aren’t as intense, and that I’m learning to actively do something about my disease.

That’s growth: addressing and releasing my daily interactions with guilt.

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