I was once Catholic. When I was very young, my mother married her second husband, whose family was of Italian descent and I-almost-touched-Pope-John's-robes Catholic. As an aside, my step-grandmother made the Best. Pasta. Ever. By hand, people. Let us take a moment of silence to honor that food which is Awesome and Delicious.
Maybe my battles with guilt started prior to my introduction to Catholicism. Then again, I was four when my mother married Husband Two, so ... you know, maybe not. Oh, don't worry! This is not a blog about religion.
It's about guilt.
It's possible the attending of mass every week and my eventual enrollment into a private Catholic school and my feeling guilty about everything all the time are intertwined because I was young, and now I'm not, and it's difficult to pinpoint the origin of this particular and weighty baggage. This was a time in my life where 1. I was the outsider (especially after Sister #1 was born). 2. I was freaking four years old. 3. I was immersed into a religious world where I could only grasp basic concepts like "being bad is wrong and you will go to hell."
Man, that going to hell thing sounded sucktastic. I did not want to go there. Ever. So, I started to worry a lot about whether or not I was making the right choices. But I wasn't especially good at determining WHAT I should feel guilty about. I felt bad if other people did wrong things. I felt bad if I did things, even if they weren't necessarily wrong. I felt bad if someone in a movie did something wrong. I remember as a kid staring into my closet and trying to pick out clothes for the day. I was stalled because I felt awful about all the other clothes that wouldn't get worn. Process that for a second. I didn't want the other CLOTHES to feel bad because they didn't get chosen. I felt guilty for picking out a shirt and pants.
While I was in Catholic school, I had to go to confession once a week. So, I'd go sit in a big, dark booth, and tell some faceless guy on the other side about all the times I was bad. I had to think really hard some weeks about being bad because I was a kid, and generally, I didn't do much in the way of sinning. (That came later. Heh.) So, I'd say stuff like, "I hit my sister." It didn't matter that she hit me first, either. Self-defense claims didn't get me out of penance, so I had to say my "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys."
Throughout my life, guilt was a faithful, if unwanted, emotional companion. The first words out of my mouth, almost all the time, no matter the topic, was, "I'm sorry." I apologized all the time. Uttering those words so often devalued their meaning. It wasn't sincerity or sympathy that created the need to apologize; it was the desperate need to not feel guilty. I wanted absolution from people. I wanted not to feel bad.
I think, these days, I have a handle on the guilt monster. I'm much, much better at not apologizing, especially for crap I didn't do, but yeah, I still do it. But at least it's a more conscious undertaking than it used to be. And here's the thing about guilt. I understand it's purpose, which is to remind me about fortitude, courage, and owning what's MINE. That means letting other people own their shit, too. I remember it's not my fault if someone else screws up, acts grumpy, or fails. If this person is someone I love, I have to remember to step back and let them work out the issue. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you no doubt realize that my ability to let go of burdens that are not mine to bear is directly related to letting go of a bad marriage. Life lesson #241: If you want life to suck less, then do something different. It may be difficult, hell, it may make you feel like you got whaled on by Mike Tyson, but DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
So, yeah. Ahem.
Here's my theory about emotions: They're guides to decision-making. You have a personal moral code, a set of principles crafted by your experiences and what's important to you, and you have emotions. Then, of course, you have emotional deterrents, such as rationalizations. It's easier to justify certain behaviors to accommodate whatever course of action you've chosen. But after a lifetime of that bullshit, I don't want to justify anything. If guilt's job is to remind me to stay the course, then sometimes, I listen. But if I really want to go off the path, my thought is this: I will take the hit. I will own the choice. And I will not regret it.