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Dealing With The Guilt Trip: The Man In The Mirror
FROM RASCAL FLATTS
“I've dealt with my ghosts
And I've Faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your
Moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame
Trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on”
Talk about the power of music. Those lines from the song “Moving On” by Rascal Flatts hit me right between the eyes back in 2001. They must have been written for me.
I know today that we all have ghosts and demons, but I did not realize that fact for a good many years. I carried guilt upon my back like a backpack with shoulder straps that were permanently attached to my shoulders. I could not lessen the burden of that backpack and in fact, the more I moved forward the heavier the burden became.
The ghosts and demons were of course produced by yours truly. They were hard-earned and I was deserving of them, and interestingly enough I came to appreciate them, feed them, and find solace in their proximity. I suspect that there are many out there who understand that statement. Guilt and shame over our past actions are natural responses, but if they are not dealt with they become leeches that suck the very life blood from our veins. We identify with them, as though they are an integral part of who we are, rather than a glimpse into who we once were.
When I first heard this song I cried. Eleven years later I no longer cry, but I do still listen to it as a reminder of a life I no longer embrace nor wish to embrace.
You see, this pilgrim has finally moved on.
THE COURT OF LAW
In the court of law there are sentencing guidelines, a parameter if you will that gives judges some framework when it comes time to hand down punishment for crimes. For example, the sentencing guidelines in a state might be five to ten years for involuntary manslaughter. Some states might have the death penalty for first-degree murder while others have life imprisonment without parole.
Unfortunately, there are no sentencing guidelines for guilt and shame. We are the judge….we are the jury….and we decide how long we are going to penalize ourselves for our shortcomings.
Prior to 2001 I could find no way to forgive myself for the pain I had caused others, and myself, in the past, and so the backpack of guilt increased in weight with each day. I had made amends to all of those I had hurt. Many forgave me; some did not. However, I never forgave myself, and in that omission I had sealed my fate and condemned myself to a life of unhappiness.
THE SEED HAD BEEN PLANTED
I would love to tell you that overnight, after hearing that song, I came to my senses and changed my life, but that transformation would take five more years. Finally, in 2006, faced with a certain death if I did not change, I remembered once again the words of that song and decided to cut the straps and rid myself of that backpack.
I took the greatest step in my life and I forgave myself.
I did regret my past, and in truth I still do, but I have found contentment in the fact that I am a spiritual being having a human experience, and as such I am and always will be prone to exhibiting my human frailties. In other words, I am not perfect nor will I ever be perfect, and today I find solace in that fact.
DOES ANY OF THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
And you? Are you living with shame and guilt? Is that shame zapping you of your very life blood? Does that guilt bring you to your knees and prevent you from standing tall and looking in the mirror? Do you understand just how self-defeating it all is?
The demons slink in the shadows. They are a different shade of gray, barely distinguishable in a certain light. People who know you may not even see your demons, so adept are they at blending into their surroundings. We are, after all, the consummate stage actors, able to deliver our lines flawlessly and appear, to all who witness our performance, as though all is well in our world. We play our characters to perfection, and when the performance is over and the curtains have lowered, we go back to our secret place and the demons come out again, always ravenous and always exacting their pound of flesh.
What is this fear that is mentioned by Mr. Sewell? Why would guilt spawn fear?
I can only speak from personal experience, but I know in my case I was terrified that people would find out that all was not well in Bill’s world. I was terrified that people would find out I was not who I appeared to be, that there was a serious chink in my armor, and if there was a chink then I could be harmed in some way.
We are only as sick as our secrets and my biggest fear was that my secrets, which caused so much guilt, would be found out.
And so I continued my performance on stage all the while I was being eaten from the inside out by the overwhelming guilt and shame. Needless to say, this is not a healthy way to live.
It seems to me it all begins with loving oneself
THE ONLY SOLUTION IS TO DEAL WITH THEM
I’m not sure we ever completely banish guilt. Still today, during those quiet times at night as I reflect upon my day, I can feel it close by, near but untouchable, like some distant memory. Like some former lover, the scent on the sheets, the last remnants of energy still moving haunted through the shadowed rafters, guilt steals away and eventually slips outside my door, allowing me to sleep once more.
Such is the nature of guilt, even when it has been, for the most part, vanquished. Now, like everything else in my life, the guilt of days gone by serve as a learning tool for me. Yes, their muted voices can still be heard and yes, their ghostly eyes can still be seen, but they are just specters now with no substance, like wisps of smoke that dissipate in the wind.
They are secrets no more, and that must mean, by extension, that I am no longer sick.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)