“What if I forgave myself?...What if I forgave myself even though I'd done something I shouldn't? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn't do anything differently than I had done?...What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
Cheryl Strayed (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail)
Do all these ruminations sound familiar to you? I don' t know if it's just a Southern thing or not, but many of us have been trained from birth to carry a load of guilt for simply being alive and breathing air. It's a strange thing, I think, that we are born wild and free-spirited, and over time that part of us gets beaten, and collared and caged. I'm not suggesting that we go crazy and trample others under our feet like grapes in a barrel. But it seems to me that we, and by we, I mean most especially women, have bought into the conventional idea that we should walk the earth all our lives being responsible for the welfare of others. And if we don't, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Feeling guilty, unless you've murdered somebody, neglected your children, or been a predatory pedophile, is not a healthy, or helpful emotion. When the indiscretions took place in the past, you can do nothing about them now beyond making amends when that is appropriate. Telling yourself you should never allow the wildness within you any means of expression is a recipe for disaster. It will come out in ways that shock even you. On the other hand, finding some ways of expressing and experiencing your inner wildness, is a good way to understand its value.
One of the benefits of having had a wild past is humility. It's pretty hard to judge others when you remember your own embarrassing behavior, your careless words, your vulgarities and cruelties. Your yardstick for measuring the sins of others gets shorter. Humility softens one's sharp edges; guilt only softens the brain.
Ask for forgiveness, make amends if that is possible, and then let it go. Whenever guilt shows its ugly little head, punch it right in the mouth. It's not righteous to feel responsible for the whole world. It's just sad. One does far more good with a light heart than a burdened one. Redemption, after all, is a gift we must be willing to accept.
In the Spirit,