The last couple of decades have not always been easy. I’ve got more than my fair share of trauma to speak of. And just when I thought I was starting to get a handle on things, physical pain started to become an all-consuming reality in my life.
But one of the biggest plagues that has harmed me over the years is guilt. The ever-pressing feeling that I’ve done things and made irreversible decisions that have and continue to cause myself and others harm.
And it isn’t easy to live with yourself when each and every day these oppressive feelings swarm into your mind. It isn’t easy when you cannot let yourself have a moment to breath without negativity creeping its way back to find whatever little crevice it could crawl its way into.
And when moments of happiness are marred by guilty feelings, you know it’s time to make some changes. You know it’s time to look deep into yourself and figure out if there’s anything that can be done to either fix the past, or at the very least move on from it.
And it would be so much easier if the past only hurt me.
My decisions along the way were mine. Only mine. If they harmed me or continue to cause me pain, so be it. But when the aftermath spills out and burns others in my life, especially those closest to me, sometimes the guilt is just unbearable.
So I’m setting out with one of the more difficult tasks I’ve ever had to perform: Forgiving myself.
I don’t expect this to be a short and easy road, but it all begins with me putting one foot in front of the other.
The Past Lingers
One roadblock will inevitably be that the elements that caused me grief in the past are still around.
There is a Jewish teaching about someone who goes to a ritual bath to get purified while holding something that inherently causes impurity. They can immerse in the waters all day long, but every time they emerge, they are becoming impure once again.
Their Sisyphean task will never be complete.
And that is how I feel right now. I need to not only work hard to forgive myself for the errors I’ve made, but I need to work tirelessly to not allow things to enter my heart that will set me back. All that accomplishes is increasing the hurt exponentially, and the guilt comes pouring forward once again.
The Challenge of Self-Forgiveness
Why is it so hard for me to just look in the mirror and say, “You got this, Yitzchak. The past is the past. Let’s kick ass from here on out!” Why can’t I just let go and realize the blessings in my life far outweigh the challenges that have beaten me down along the way?
Because life is complicated. And the human spirit can only take so much before it is weakened to the point of submission.
I make no excuses. My failings are mine and mine alone. And I have by no means given up hope.
But I need to recognize the reality of the situation. No matter what I accomplish, no matter how good things can get, and no matter how much time has passed, there is one thing that still keeps kicking me down every single day of my life. And that is guilt.
Guilt marred my ability to be truly happy in the year before I moved back to Israel. How can I smile knowing full well that my children are an ocean away from me? How can I let myself even have even small moments of joy when I’ve made decisions that continue to cause grief to me and those closest to me?
Guilt Snaps Me Back
I sometimes see folk do a workout at the gym where they tie a resistance band around their waist and anchor it to a pillar or the like. Then they run forward. No matter how hard they push, ultimately the band will snap them back into place.
It looks like a fantastic exercise, but it’s a sad and unfortunate metaphor for the impact I believe guilt has on my life.
There is so much I wish to accomplish. And for certain I am not walking around without which to be proud. However, I don’t think I’ve accomplished a fraction of what I’m capable of. And I believe it’s guilt that’s holding me back.
Do I Deserve It?
Every time I move forward, every time I’m sure I’m going to get to some next stage in life, that exercise band just snaps me back into place. The feeling swarms me again that I’m not supposed to have great things. That somehow or other since people have had rough times because of the decisions I’ve made, there is an inherent limit on how much success and happiness I deserve.
Is any of this true? Is there a basis in reality for anything I’m feeling or experiencing?
Guilt is Poison
You might look at me with pity and tell me thoughts and feelings are silly or baseless. But they’re still there. They’re like a poison that seeps into my blood and crawls throughout my system whenever I feel like progress has been made.
And despite the philosophical knowledge that I can take all my guilt and let it go, when was the last time life were that simple? When was the last time anyone was able to take pervasive emotions and just cast them aside because on paper they don’t make sense.
And the guilt only makes the problems worse. The people who’ve suffered along the way, suffer more because of my guilt.
Fighting the Uphill Battle
I have an uphill battle ahead of me. I have so many years of being pulled in the wrong direction, that moving forward feels simply impossible.
However, the guilt can’t win. It doesn’t deserve to win.
I have all the tools in place to start fighting back. The next step is just to dive in and start learning how to forgive myself.
Today’s the first day of forever. And it’s going to be a good one.
It just has to be.
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