“Guilt: Punishing yourself before God doesn’t” – Alan Cohen
Guilt has played a big role in my life. I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t feel it hanging over my head. I have guilt for so many things – hurting people who love me; hurting people who I love; guilt for not being motivated enough at work; guilt for lost friendships; guilt for breaking my marriage vows; guilt for not living up to my own expectations; for hurting myself and making wrong choices; for failing; for not being a better person. I know this isn’t healthy. I know that feeling guilt doesn’t solve anything.
I didn’t start abusing alcohol until close to the end of my marriage. I was feeling incredibly lost in my life – to a point where I really didn’t even know who I was anymore. All I knew was that I wasn’t comfortable being that person who I was. I started drinking to like that person more. But then I realized that my house no longer felt like my home anymore, and on the drive home from work I would sob uncontrollably, dreading walking into that place where I no longer felt like I belonged. So I drank to cover up that feeling. Finally, in a rare moment of courage, I made the decision to leave my marriage and moved into my own place. Even though I eventually left that unhealthy environment behind, my unhealthy habits remained with me and my brain found new ways to feed those habits. Now instead of drinking to deal with the turmoil in my marriage, I was drinking to numb myself to the guilt I had built up over the years. Yes, I had made a decision for myself, in divorcing my ex husband – but that didn’t make up for the extreme guilt I felt inside. I felt guilty for the 10 years I felt I wasted on the relationship. I felt guilty for hurting him. I felt guilty for not making the decision to leave before we married. I felt guilty for my friends and family investing in our relationship and the wedding reception. I felt guilty for all of the friends I lost due to who I became over the last 10 years. Most importantly, I felt guilty for suppressing my true self during the entire relationship. So I found some single girlfriends and continued my habit of drinking 2-3 times a week.
Two to three times a week out with friends turned into 2-3 times a week out plus 1 or 2 nights at home relaxing with a glass of wine on the couch. It became my solace at the end of the day, a way to relax, de-stress, forget about all of the regrets and guilt that I still felt from my previous life. But as we all know, alcohol is a depressant, so yes it numbed some of my pain and guilt, but it also magnified how lost I felt, and how sad I was that my life wasn’t going the way it “should have.” Each time I drank I became more intertwined in the cycle, and before I knew it I was spinning out of control.
For me, there’s no greater shame and guilt felt than the feeling that accompanies the morning after. The feeling of not knowing what I did or what I said…having to pick up my phone and cringe at the texts that were sent or the Facebook statuses that were posted. I still blush at some of the things that I did. Sometimes I would send nonchalant texts to friends who were out with me – prying for info, and hoping I would get a “don’t worry, you were fine” text back.
During one of the first months I tried to stop drinking, I drank so much that an ambulance was called and I was taken to the emergency room. My friends and family were justifiably freaked out. My mom had been on a business trip during the whole ordeal, so she had to suffer long distance, waiting for updates from the rest of the family. When we talked several days later, after she was home, she was honest with me and told me that her trip had been ruined because she had been worried her daughter was going to die. The guilt and shame that came up for me was impalpable. I was disgusted with myself. How did I get here?
Guilt piled up on me like a heavy pile of blankets. I had so much weight on me that even the thought of trying to stand up and shed myself of the heaviness took my breath away. My mind talked me into staying underneath it all many times. Sure, it was heavy and hurt a little. But it was also warm and familiar and sometimes the promise of familiarity can be tempting. I would think – “If I just lie here and drink and DON’T MOVE, I’ll be ok and no one will notice.” But it never happened that way. I’d lie there and drink and then invariably, I’d talk myself into driving to get more or start drunk texting, or even more scary – start to dwell on suicidal thoughts. The cycle continued.
Guilt didn’t help me get sober, especially guilt put on me by other people. In fact, it kept me down. I’m not sure people who support people like me understand that. One of the best lessons I learned from my sober coach when working with her was “F*ck it”. I know it sounds harsh and I rarely use that word. But for someone like me who thinks too much and cares too much what other people think of me – it’s just what I needed to hear. I had to let everything else go before I could begin the work of recovery. I had to put all my cares into one single focus – getting sober. I stopped going to functions that I didn’t want to go to; I said “No”; I didn’t make obligatory phone calls to family members; I only worked out when I wanted to work out; I stopped feeling bad for being lazy on a Sunday; I didn’t dwell on what that guy thought of me when I drunk texted him. I just let it all go. And slowly, the sober days began accumulating. As the days built up I became more sure of myself and sometime later, when I looked back to find the guilt, it wasn’t as scary. It was still there but it was smaller, and that made it easier for me to forgive myself. Being in the throes of addiction made guilt seem insurmountable and impossible to resolve. With clear eyes I now see that any mistakes I made that resulted in guilt were just steps on my journey, and got me to where I am today. Now, when I feel guilt creeping up on me I remember this post…and I picture my soul up in heaven planning my whole life out with God, years before I was born. Guilt was put in my life for me to learn how to overcome, to be strong and to be kind to myself. I’m learning more and more to accept that challenge.