Hard Balance of Guilt

My Dragon Tattoo
My Dragon Tattoo

When I was about 23 years old I got my very first tattoo.  It was during my “breakdown”.  I went to get an armband tattoo but saw this beautiful dragon intertwined with a Yin Yang.  It covers my shoulder blade and I still love it to this day. I wore a Yin Yang necklace – looked for anything that had a Yin Yang.  The dragon in Asian culture is a symbol of wisdom, peace and strength.   Both of these were the things that my soul was scratching to get back to.   The guilt and shame I felt for being so sick, guilt of all the mistakes I made and was still making,  guilt of failing myself, my daughter, my family….it buried me.  There was not enough sleep or alcohol to make the monster stop.  It was eating away at me – so my tattoo – was one of the first strikes I made against it…the war had started.

Now – most would think that I believe that guilt is unnecessary.  On the contrary – without guilt we would have no conscious (or we would never had made mistakes to feel guilty about but we know that isn’t going to happen.)  You see – we as human beings – lack but strive for balance in our life.  Unfortunately when our balance is thrown off – we overcompensate and then slide into the ditch.   Instead of turning into the skid – we jerk the wheel and either crash lightly or keep rolling down the hill.   What we fail to recognize is first what we really should feel guilty for and then what to do with it.

I feel guilty about many things I have no control over.  At the same time I have felt guilty over things I completely have control over – and rightly so.  I recently recognized with the advice of a very good friend and mentor – that I “retreat” when things go wrong.  If I can’t keep in touch with all of my many friends (that I am so blessed to have) on a “timely basis”  I feel guilty – so I either don’t call or just text (wimpy!)  If I fail at a project or a goal I feel guilty that I let my team or leadership down – I back away – I retreat (hiding!)  If I get my kids to bed too late I feel guilty – like I’m not a good mother – so I brush it off and tell myself it will never happen again (unrealistic!)  When I am under pressure financially because of things in or out of my control – I feel like I have failed my entire family and those that have helped me along the way – so I stop balancing my checkbook  for a while until forced to (denial).  All this is driven by guilt and I handle it wrong.

Things I should feel guilty for – if I lie to someone about something important, hurt someone for no reason, don’t fulfill a promise simply because I didn’t “feel” like it, or just over promise knowing I can’t meet that promise !  We all have the things we should feel guilty for and those things we shouldn’t.  But let me tell you what we should actually use our guilt for –  an alarm system.  That’s it.  Put the batteries in and when smoke happens guilt should be our alarm then we have to decide if we need to take action to call the fire department or if it was a false alarm that we could have avoided.

You see guilt when held onto is nothing but destructive and actually is the easy way out.  We think that if we feel guilty that it means we are actually a good person.  If we hold onto the guilt then we are really sorry.  I call bull shit (and I call it on myself).  We hold onto it because we don’t want to deal with what it was that we did and change ourselves so that it doesn’t happen again.  We don’t go to rehab because we just feel guilty and don’t want to talk about it.  We don’t talk to our partner about an infidelity because we feel guilty so why would they need to know?  But guess what – unending guilt makes us worse.  It is harder to DEAL with our problems than to let go of our guilt.  It is harder to FORGIVE ourselves than to believe that guilt will somehow hang on a cross for us to rid us of our sin.

Now to the guilt over the things we can’t control.  Things we shouldn’t really feel guilty for but do.  That is a “false alarm” but it is one that still has to be dealt with.  If we let something boil over on the stove  – the alarm may go off in your home.  Do you just let it continue to go off?  Do you call the fire department even though you aren’t in danger?  NO!  So to continue to feel guilty over something that we logically shouldn’t is like calling in the Army to deal with a cockroach.  We need to figure out why we really feel guilty and use that as an alarm letting us know we need  to change the situation in a way that makes sense.  I, for example, feel guilty that I can’t talk to all of my friends all the time.  I am letting them down.  Well, you know what?  My friends know I have a big family, big responsibilities and that if they needed me to be – I would be there for them and give them a kidney.  No I don’t have time to call everyone or even see everyone but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them just the same.  If they don’t know that – then I just need to tell them – oh..just did.

I am sooo not perfect and everyday I realize something else about myself and you know today was the day to DEAL with my guilt and to stop retreating without warning.  Its hard – but I’m a warrior and so are you.  Use guilt as a temporary feeling, deal with the emotions, change, forgive yourself and others and let it go.  Guilt doesn’t make you a better person – it just makes you a person.

Road to Crazy – The Beginning

It’s funny to me how people always talk about the long road to recovery from mental issues.  They describe it as a long, drawn out, painful, seemingly impossible feat.  It doesn’t matter what they are recovering from really – addiction, abuse, depression, obsessive disorders, etc.  What they talk about is very true don’t get me wrong – but I rarely hear them talk about the road to the actual thing they had to recover from.   Most people don’t wake up one day and think, “Man – my life is great – I think I’ll go ahead and get addicted to Meth – who needs teeth”  or “I’m so happy all the time – great childhood, great life – let’s change it up..I’m going to be really depressed today – so back to bed!”  No – it doesn’t happen that way (usually – there may be that odd ball statistic out there that says otherwise – but I’m going with my gut on this one.)  Typically – as it was with me – it is a very long road to what I lovingly call “crazy”.

Crazy is what I claim.  I know – there are all kinds of people out there really trying to get rid of that word because they believe it is too derogatory.  Well guess what – I’m going to print a t-shirt that says – I’M CRAZY BUT I TAKE ZOLOFT SO I’M COOL.  Do you have any idea where that comes from?  My defiance to bottling it in some “pretty” label?  It comes from the fact that I am so very NOT ashamed of my mental issues.  I have no problem with the fact that I had a nervous breakdown, that I struggled with severe anxiety and obsessive thoughts since I was 6 years old, that it took me years to finally find the right equation to fit my life to equal sanity (or my definition of sanity).  Why you ask?  Because mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of – but it is something to face head on – take seriously – not hide – and something we must actively work on so to  keep our minds as healthy as they can be.  You see – shame doesn’t help anyone to be healed or deal with their issues.  Actually it’s just a tool to keep people down.  Shame sucks.  So I threw it out the door – screaming.

From 2 years old to "nuts" was a very long road
From 2 years old to “crazy” was a very long road

My “road to crazy” started when I was born.   I was born into a family where both my father and mother’s family histories were wrought with stories of severe mental illness, addiction, abuse, suicide, depression, etc.  Now I’m not going to argue whether or not it is inherited completely.  I’m not a doctor.  However as much as my parents tried to shelter me from all of the issues of our family and their own issues – the “crazy” crept up on me – slowly.  The earliest thing I remember was trying to count to 8 before the refrigerator door closed – and if I made it to 8 – then the rest of the day was going to be ok.  Most could brush that off as a silly thing a little 6 year old girl might do for fun – I did it every day for quite a while – but at that age I didn’t know that I should probably let someone know that this was the way I would get through my day.  8 comforted me I think because I loved music and singing – so counting in “4’s” seemed natural.  Crazy right?

Flash forward 15 years when horrible, unwanted thoughts were crowding my head.  It was like a cloud of Hell over my head and in my soul.  The “real me” was there – fighting  and exhausted.  I withdrew from the ones I loved for fear of hurting them.  From morning to night I had the same, awful, intrusive thoughts over and over and over.  I stopped caring for my 3 year old daughter when it happened so my parents had to take over.  They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “snap out of it”.  However I didn’t tell them how vivid and terrifying fears had become.  How I couldn’t even imagine giving the little girl that I loved so much a hug because in my mind my hands and arms became razor blades.  So even imagining being near her was terrifying.   I drank to make my mind slow –  had sex to numb my body.  All I really wanted was to be the mother I was before I broke completely.

Now from 6 years old to 21 years old – I didn’t live this perfect, untarnished life.  It was my road to crazy – a very long one.  One that I will share bits at a time.  My recovery however was a leap onto the highest mountain – screw long roads – sometimes you just gotta take a bull by the horns.

me with glasses