Things About Guilt

Two things about me: 1) I live a guilt-saturated existence and 2) I am a compulsive confessor. Both of these things lead me to believe that I am an excellent candidate for Catholicism, and I am seriously considering trying it. I was raised with the deeply held believe that humans are fallen, hideous creatures. My favorite bible verse when I was very young was Psalms 22:6, when David says "But I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people." (KJV, Obviously). Why that verse out of the hundreds and thousands I read resonated so deeply with me, I do not know, but if you read any of my childhood journal entries, they basically say the exact same thing, but less King Jamesy. Self-loathing, self-blame, self-chastisement was the theme of my life. I have always considered myself the black sheep of my family, even back when I was a zealot wearing ankle-length denim jumpers and floral turtlenecks (know you know where the loathing comes from). I always considered myself the chiefest of all sinners, worse even than the apostle Paul who coined the phrase in 1Timothy 1:15 - and he was pretty damn bad.

David — Oh that I had the wings of a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest by Frederic Lord Leighton, P. R. A. (1830-1896)

I live my life now a little more guilt free. I have not identified whether that's because I quit caring, or I seared my conscience to the point that it became dysfunctional, or because I just decided I was a lost cause and not "fit for the kingdom" anyway. Mostly the last one I think, because if my conscience was seared completely I would not still have the abysmal fits of guilt and shame that overtake me from time to time, like when I drink too much and do stupid shit, or when I wear capri pants. Or when the dogs don't get fed for 18 hours. Dark, deep, guilt. With words like "why are you even alive" "what a waste of skin" (I learned that one from a friend), and "no wonder no one can love you" swirling around my brain for hours or sometimes days.

This is the product of stern, inflexible religion pressed into a developing brain. Like juveniles who learn to binge drink before their pre-frontal cortex is fully developed, I grew a brain groove, a natural addiction to guilt as a normal, necessary part of existence. Out of the guilt stems compulsive confessions. Of everything, and nothing - much of which this entire blog serves to deliver. If I can express in words EVERY POSSIBLE WRONG I have committed, admit, confess, repent in some eloquent fashion, or better yet apologize in the most literal way, then my guilt will be alleviated. Y'all are my priests. Didya even know?

Hester Prynne. So relatable. 
I would be willing to bet there are other kids like me who find themselves occasionally paralyzed by guilt and the knowledge that no amount of good behavior can atone for one sin. I'll bet there are even some of those kids reading this. Maybe we've learned over the years to turn our confessions into tongue-in-cheek exposes, or our self-flagellation into relentless physical activity and deprivation, or our penance into all-consuming community service. But it's still there, the guilt, the knowledge of absolute failure, absolute fallenness, absolute wretchedness. It's an ugly beast that rears its head in ultra-defensiveness or ultra-repentance, blame shifting or taking the blame for every.single.thing. That's my MO. I'd rather own it and eat it and be the responsible party if there is even the remotest question of whom is at fault. Give me the lashes. Give me the punishment. Like Hester Prynne, bearing the full wrath for the sins not just her own, I don't mind. Just please, please, give me the forgiveness too.

This is a monster that I wrestle with. Not one I have slain. One who lives in his cave and comes out when I least expect to try to eat me alive. Some days I can beat him back. Some days, he wins. But he's always there. Maybe one day I will find the right weapon to kill him, the silver bullet, the holy water. Maybe one day I will be strong enough to do it with my bare hands.

I watch my children as they grow and I think about how guilt influences them. I see the tell-tale signs from time to time but I think somehow, they managed to avoid the deep programming of their own evilness. Maybe because as they were growing their little brains, I was too busy trying to survive my own to press anything too sternly into them. Maybe because they watched the uncertainty that their grown mother faced life and every decision with, the overpowering fear of doing the Wrong Thing, which, inevitably, I always did somehow in spite of all my worrying. At least according to Them. The Others. The Voices who saw my monster in the cave and learned how to manipulate him. But looking back and seeing my amazing kids, it occurs to me, maybe I didn't always do the Wrong Thing, because all of those Wrongs could not have equalled four beautiful Rights. Get back in your cave, beast, you're not as strong as you think.



Shame - Max Klinger







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