Kit G. July 1, 1999
“Guilt upon the conscious, is like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does, which at last eats the very heart and substance of the metal, as the soul.”
I think I was an expert on guilt. For me, guilt died hard. Sometimes I think guilt is a sex-linked gene, meaning a seemingly close connection between feeling guilty and being female! I know men experience guilt as well, but women seem to have it down to a science. I took on guilt like a millstone around my neck. I took it on during and after my drinking career and for the same reasons! It made me the center of everything—it allowed me to illicit the “poor-me” persona which engendered sympathy. “Oh, it’ll be okay, wasn’t your fault, don’t worry about…” Deflecting once again the focus off the real problem—me!
Guilt is defined as: “the fact or state of having committed an offense or wrong; especially against moral or personal law; culpability; feeling responsible or remorse for an offense and commission of such wrongs.” Culpability meaning: “deserving of blame.” Remorse meaning: “deep and painful regret for wrongdoing.”
The remorse finally set in and the guilt became overwhelming when I started recovery. I was definitely culpable for my conduct and now truly remorseful. When it came to imposing guilt on myself I was right up there with the best of them. Even after being sober for a while, I continued to punish myself for all the hurtful, harmful things I had done in active alcoholism. Since the message of guilt is “I’m bad,” feeling guilty enabled me to feel sorry for myself again reverting to the expression of self-pity, evoking the “sympathy/compliment” reply that I craved.
Another “payoff” of guilt is that it seemed to please others if I wallowed in that state; I deserved too, you see, it made them feel justified if I stayed guilty. The more guilty I became, the better they liked it! I groveled because of the guilt and shame, walked on egg shells begging for forgiveness. By holding on to that guilt, and allowing others to continue to “make me feel bad about myself,” I prolonged the low self-esteem. It kept me stuck in that dark place that was so comfortable for me.
And looking at myself through the veil of guilt perpetuated the feeling that I was lacking. I was a disappointment to others, but mostly to myself. I wasn’t “there” when I should have been, I was a failure. I then took on the mantle of martyr, ever suffering. If my husband was feeling down, it had to be something I had done. If my kids aren’t doing well, it was somehow my fault. If something didn’t happen as planned, I should have paid more attention. And there were plenty of folks who were only too happy to support me in the illusion of feeling guilty. I could be easily controlled and manipulated through guilt. I continued to feel sad or worthless. I hadn’t lived up to my potential, whatever that was. I didn’t take risks, or action or do anything. I was afraid of change, so I hung on to guilt…it was safe, it was familiar.
The 12 x 12 tells me: “Our friend is still victimized by remorse and guilt when he thinks of yesterday.” Carrying this guilt made me angry on the inside which always turns into self-loathing. I was in constant turmoil and always on the defensive. It kept tying me to my past, trapping me. I didn’t know how to deal with it or get rid of it. I was feeling guilty about feeling guilty!!
When I finally realized that my guilt was without foundation and inappropriate, serving only to burden me with feelings of inadequacies and hindering my recovery, I had to move from the past to the present. I had to give up illusions and see the past realistically, I had to practice acceptance and forgiveness. If alcoholism was killing me, so surely was guilt. I was ready to rid myself of lingering guilt and become free of my past. If I truly believed that I was not my past, I had to truly believe that God had long since forgiven me. It was time I forgave myself.
I knew I could not change anything I had done or didn’t do, the past was done! I had to concentrate on letting go and over time I have been able to replace guilt with the peace of mind that I really am not the person I was. Through the steps and working with a sponsor, I was able to identify my guilt, own it, and begin to move past it. I chose not to squander my time and energy on things I cannot change. I’m getting pretty good at that today.
I’ve learned how to make amends for the past and move forward knowing the response I receive is of secondary importance. What did or didn’t happened is history, what really counts is how I live today. I can use the past as a benchmark, as a resource for progress rather than a source of pain or remorse. I have come to terms with my yesterdays and have no fear of tomorrow. Because I view myself from a new vantage point, guilt has no power to cause me pain or haunt me. The memories aid me in keeping the present in perspective.
Along the way, I began to understand and apply the spiritual principles which helped me come to terms with my past and move beyond the guilt. I forgive others as well as myself. My faith in God’s power to remove guilt, resentments and obsessions has released the chains that bound me to my previous way of living. I have been able to build a self-image that is in accord with the realities of today rather than the memories of yesterday. I am becoming the person God would have me to be. I need just to follow a few simple rules…
“Make it a rule of life never to regret, never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy, you can’t build on it, it’s only good for wallowing.” The same can be said for “guilt.”