"That's not what guilt is for." my counselor said as she looked across the room with a straightforwardness I wasn't used to. People I knew usually danced around topics of self worth, shame and guilt.
She could see I was affected. I had been talking nonstop for 20 minutes about how bad I felt for not being able to get it "right" in my marriage, before she made this statement. Now, I was staring at her, speechless.
"Guilt is for when you rob a bank. Guilt is for when you do something wrong." she expanded. "You haven't done anything wrong."
I knew I needed to hear this. My heart felt stunned the moment I head her words. I told her to tell me again.
"Guilt is not for trying and not having it work. "She said again.
The idea of not being guilty for the collapse of my marriage was a life altering thought. It took my breath away.
I felt my story begin to unravel right there in her second floor office.
My guilty thoughts were relentless in my mind. Thoughts of how I got my marriage all wrong kept pulling on me like a noose around my heart, clenching tighter and tighter until I couldn't function. I was killing myself and I didn't even know it. I must not be any good at relationships. I don't know whats good for me. I can't make anyone happy. I can't get anything right.
I thought it was my responsibility to fix what was broken, and I thought I was broken. I believed the problems between my ex and I were all my fault and I felt guilty because I couldn't fix them. I felt I deserved every attack and every punishing comment because I wasn't worthy of anything truly good.
"That's not what guilt is for" she said again.
Hearing the truth in her words, I began to unravel.
My thoughts had been so caught up, tied tight like a ribbon on a package that you have to cut loose. My therapist's words broke that string and I let my blame fall to the floor right there in her office. I had felt at fault for so long, as though I was I to blame for our martial failure, but in this moment, I opened up. I thought to myself, what if I had just tried to make a relationship work that was never an easy fit?
That question felt easy. I like it.
I had come to a stunning realization the day I left my husband that what he wanted I could not give, and what I wanted he could not provide me. It was simple really, like a math equation, we just were not a fit. There was no one to blame. We were just two people with different values and points of view. No one to blame. No shame.
I notice my thoughts began to tighten as the guilt for not being able to make my marriage work came back to me, trying to tie me up again. I thought that I could change myself, mold myself enough to fit into the world he said he wanted. I thought if only I could become his vision of perfection and that would make us happy together. No matter what I did I was never able to fit that image of perfection. I tried everything I could think of. If effort or trying was the factor that made a great relationship, I would have had the perfect marriage.
"That's not what guilt is for." she said.
Her words gave me permission to allow new ways of thinking to come to me. The thought of not having to be guilty for my actions, opened me to a world free of self judgement. From that space of openness I could unravel the noose of self judgement I'd been hanging myself on.
I let new thoughts arise. Perfection was too lofty a goal to reach. I didn't need to feel guilty because I wasn't perfect. No one is perfect anyway. We are all human and therefor imperfect in some way. And doesn't that imperfection allow us to access compassion and goodness and love. Doesn't lack allow us to give to those in need. Maybe being imperfect is ok. Why did I aspire to perfection anyway?
My old way of thinking came at me one more time. I felt like I was drowning again this time in sadness and desperation. I couldn't make him change. He never valued me as me. I couldn't make hime see me, listen to me. I felt devastated not being honored in our relationship. It felt like I was always giving love to a black hole. I always seemed to give more love and it just got sucked away into a bottomless pit. Never returned. Was this my lot in life? To give my heart best I could and have love sucked into nothing?
"That's not what guilt is for." Her words echoed in my head.
I unraveled again. Another layer.
We are not meant to change one another. I couldn't change him and he couldn't change me. We were not meant to change each another. We were both made to be uniquely us. We were both made to be treasured and honored. I could not honor him. He could not honor me. We could not provide a safe space for each other. So together was not where we were best placed and that is ok. Again there was no judgement no shame, no guilt just pure acceptance. These thought were accompanied by new feelings, calm and serene, like a clear glass reflection of a mirror pond.
I left the office that day and began a new practice. I knew now that I had the power to redefine my beliefs. I knew that having a new thought was accompanied by having a new feeling. And I liked the feeling of peace. I liked the feeling of freedom. I loved the feeling of joy.
I knew that with the power of allowance, curiosity and faith I could wipe clean the self judgement that had mired me in sadness for so long. I knew that by redefining a word I could change my experience and therefore change my life.
When the tightness of my old belief systems would pop up, I allowed my beliefs to have space to show up. I'd let the thoughts breathe for a moment. then something interesting would happen time and time again, by allowing myself the space for my limiting and judgemental beliefs to be seen and honored somehow they would melt away into a space of pure love and light. Time and time again, I allow a challenging belief to pop up and I am left in a space of peace after i just sit with it for a while.
Through this practice I have learned that I don't need to be "right" I don't need to get it "right" and there is no "wrong". Things happen. Lots of things happen in a life lived on earth. Most things that happen I do not have control of, yet I do have control of how I respond. I know I can never control the reactions of beliefs of another and it is exhausting and disrespectful to try to change them. To honor their uniqueness is to honor life itself.
The more mindful I am of my thoughts the more I can design the life I desire. If I want Joy and peace then I can choose thoughts that align with that reality. If something happens and I want to get upset I can find evidence to support my discontent. If the same thing happens and I want to feel at peace I can choose that too.
No matter the experience, there is evidence for any feeling under the sun. There is always a choice to be made. I know how to make choices I enjoy now. I can even make a life-changing diagnosis a blessing.