"I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
(Macbeth, Act III Sc IV, William Shakespeare)
We all have things from our past we feel guilty about. Even yesterday we may have offended. Anyone who claims to not experience this form of shame is either lying or lost to this reality. It is a very human condition to err, after all each of us are only human. No one is perfect, no matter how we may try to be. No one is perfect, no matter what we may claim to be. The mistakes we make and the damage we have done are part of us. Guilt is like herpes, you can treat it all you want but it just won't go away. There is no easy fix. The thing about guilt is how it tends to eat away at us. Should we fail to deal with it, to terminate that sense of contrition or reparation, it lingers and often festers like some sore. Although one may never be truly able to rid one's self of the need to amend and repair, we can use our guilt as a springboard, a platform to stand on when we face the harsh world that we live in. We can use our guilt, not to fix the past, but to ensure the future. Consequence is the instigator. Guilt is the teacher.
Guilt is a necessary evil. Without it we would not learn, we would not evolve as a person. It acts as a protagonist, forcing us to pay attention to the root source of our feelings. Guilt is an agent of change, a tool we can use to move forward, to no longer continue in the manner that has provoked it. Human beings seem to spend their lives battling this constant. Some of the people I have taken the time to observe strike me as weaklings. They just can't handle most of what life hands them. They most certainly do not appear able to deal with the guilt that comes from their decision-making process. People don't just regret, they wallow. They don't understand that their guilt is a constructive element if they let it be. If life is a test, then our guilt is the manifestation of all our errors. We would not improve if we did not heed each state of correction. In the end, to survive, one must embrace the conscience.
"Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they're big, flashing signs that something needs to change." (Gretchen Rubin, American author)
When I look back on the years I spent with my first partner, I can see them. Some were not even subtle in their nature. The things he occasionally said, certain fixations he proclaimed, all were tell tale signs of what was to come. I never realized or understood what they really were. Of course, hindsight makes everything clearer. I never stopped to notice or pay attention to these warnings while he was alive. Once the deed was done, the guilt came. It consumed me. Like a flood it roared and left little behind but rubbish and destruction. I was so overwhelmed, so defeated, that I could not stand another minute of it all. I threw caution to the wind and tried to join him. I tossed myself onto his grave and faded away into darkness. The guilt was a powerful motivator. I kept telling myself, over and over again, if only I had been aware.
"Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal." (Robert South, English clergyman)
As I awoke in hospital a few days later, nothing had quelled my mission. The first words I said to my parents expressed what I was thinking. My proclamation was exact: "I murdered him. It was my fault." This was the mere beginning of my pain. I took the entire situation, from his suicide to mine, and I placed it on my shoulders. It was a very heavy burden to carry. I felt guilty about everything. I took responsibility for the doing and then blamed myself for the consequence. I was the reason he jumped. I put him up on the edge. It was because of me that he stayed with me. It was because of me that he shared our relationship. It was my fault that he was the way he was. If he had not met me, it would have been a much different world for him. I convinced myself that over six years together had given him little cause to remain. I even blamed myself for not getting back home that night to save him. If only I had been different, then Doug would have been different. I may not have given him the gun but I gave him every reason to pull trigger.
I am constantly reminded of how unfair life is. The anniversary of twenty years since his death has only cemented this recognition. Existence can be harsh and cruel and unjust, this does not mean our reaction need come from the same place. Just because we think God has forsaken us does not necessarily make it so. I find it rather ironic that the extreme guilt I experienced because I believed I had wronged him drove me to be better, to be different. I owed it to him to make the change. I woke up one day and realized that when the world has gone wrong, only oneself can make it better. All the voices, all the guilt and shame are merely calling out which way you should go. If you listen, each is a bastion of hope in the depths of despair.
"People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgements, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on."
(Eckhart Tolle, German-Canadian author)
(Eckhart Tolle, German-Canadian author)
Guilt can act as a catalyst for transfiguration. It can even accelerate any form of metamorphosis which may have been waiting for the chance to occur. I didn't even have to decide that there was a different path I would follow. I knew it right away, from the get-go. I didn't really even have to try. If we let change happen, it will happen whether we know it or not. It won't happen overnight. It is a process that shifts and wanes as we go through our existence. Although it may be more beneficial to recognize the changes as they progress, it is not necessary. We all may just wake up one day a brand new man. It will come, like Ray Liotta did from that silly cornfield.
It is guilt that runs the engine. It is a fuel that pushes us in a forward motion. Sometimes we stall. Something always seems to break us down. The guilt simply lies in waiting, waiting to move us, to point us in the better direction. Mankind has no difficulty in hearing this guiltiness. It is the listening to it that seems to be our biggest obstacle. When we feel guilty, we tend to take it at face value. We tell ourselves we have done something wrong and we even convince ourselves that we can make it go away if we mend the very thing which brought it forth. Why we feel guilty is just as important, if not more so, than any quick solution ever will be. We are the sum of our error, the house that we can build upon the rock or settle on the sand. The act is incidental. It is learning the lesson associated with the act that matters the most. We can use guilt to remake us, to reshape us into something we were not before. We don't have to repeat the same sorry state if we would just pay closer attention. If we heed its call, it can tell us. It is a warning of where we are not supposed to go.
"I'm just going to say it: I'm pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it's about our behaviour. It occurs when we compare something we've done - or failed to do - with our personal values."
(Brene Brown, American author)
(Brene Brown, American author)
Two decades later and I still battle the constant drone of fault and mistake and failure. Whether I am standing before his grave or recognizing a like situation, no matter the changes that have occurred, no natter how much things have shifted, I still feel much guilt over what happened. Apparently, it never goes away. I suppose one could argue when the person you love the most jumps from a building and lands on their head, it's hard not to feel some form of regret and blame, no matter how much time has passed. After all, he didn't abandon some stranger. There had to be a reason why he left the way that he did. I have spent the last twenty years of my life trying to figure out that specific question. Sometimes, I was desperate in the search. Sometimes, I was rewarded. Often, I came out from the trip with more questions than answers. Either way, back then, he left me all alone. I must have done something to justify his actions. Obviously, anything which may have made him stay was by no means good enough. I was just not a good enough reason for him to remain.
"Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt."
(Titus Maccius Plautus, Ancient Roman playwright)
I have learned to make these voices into a friend rather than some foe. I have listened and paid attention to that way they have directed me to go. I have adapted, adjusting myself and how they make me feel. All I do know is the effect they had on me. I am not the man I used to be. Doug wouldn't recognize me if he saw me on the street. If we did stop to chat, he would find my thinking foreign to the way I once thought and felt. Identifying his body on that cold metal slab, and the cascade of guilt that consumed me, was the catalyst it was meant to be. I turned guilt into purpose and shame turned into compassion. I allowed the negatives to form into positives. I made something from all the mess. Every time I have a tinge of the old days, whenever I am confronted by this past, I recognize that through it all, I have turned such a horrible thing into a such a useful thing. I have given benefit to what happened, even if only I can see it. Feeling some sense of guilt once again only convinces me that I did what I was supposed to do.
"I don't want to forgive myself. That's why I hate psychoanalysis. I think if you're guilty of something you should live with it. Get rid of it - how can you get rid of a real guilt? I think people should live with it, face up to it." (Orson Welles, American director/actor)