Tag Archives: guilt

‘Wednesday’ Write-In #67

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

‘free sample’, ‘sear’, ‘clan’, ‘daytripper’ and ‘spray’

Image: shaman-dalie.blogspot.com

Image: shaman-dalie.blogspot.com

The Lifesaver

We spilled out of the bus straight onto the hottest sand I’d ever known. It was hard to keep my towel up, handle my backpack and struggle into my flip-flops simultaneously, but it was either that or sear off the soles of my feet.

‘Come on, love,’ sighed Dad, watching me struggle. ‘You don’t need that towel. Give it here.’ But my knuckles whitened around my grip, and he gave up. I’ve literally just come out of hospital, Dad, I snarled at him inside my mind. Leave me alone! No matter who told me the scars weren’t visible, or that ‘they weren’t as bad as all that,’ I knew the truth. They curled around my shoulder like a clan of thick, red slugs, their line marching straight down over my breastbone for good measure, and I hated them.

We stumbled to the sunbeds that had been laid out for us, the ones sitting beneath the sign marked ‘Daytripper,’ complete with a badly painted portrait of the Beatles. I allowed myself a grin as I thought about the song, and Dad jumped all over it straight away.

‘Smiling, are we? What’s rare is wonderful,’ he said, his voice like sea spray, light and cool. My smile dried up. I chose my sunbed, I laid out my things, I pulled on a cardigan and struck out for a walk.

‘Don’t go far! Do you hear me?’ cried Dad, but I didn’t even turn around. For a minute, I wondered if he’d follow me, and then I remembered he’d be torn between coming after me and staying with all our stuff, and I knew which one he’d pick.

I let the cool water splash over my legs as I walked in the shallows. People were really starting to arrive now, in their droves; the beach was soon full of accents, parasols, arguments, impatient children being slathered in sun lotion, tattoos and portable radios and noise, noise noise. I walked faster.

Sweat rolled down my back and coated my arms like a second skin. Beneath my cardigan, my skin prickled and flushed, but I just walked, and walked, the sun beating down on me like an interrogation light. Why isn’t your mother here? it asked me, even though it knew the answer. Where did you get all those disgusting, ugly scars, eh? They look like they came from a car accident. Were you driving? Was it your fault? 

I woke to find cool water washing up and over me, my arms and neck bare, my hair askew. I tried to sit up, wondering what had happened, but my head felt like it was being split, like a log beneath an axe. With tears in my eyes, I flopped back down.

‘No, no, no,’ said a gentle voice, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. It didn’t hurt, but I swallowed back a yell of pain anyway. I looked and saw fingers lying on my scars, as if they weren’t there; a hand helping me to sit up, as though I deserved it; a kind, gentle face looking at me like I was a normal person, and not me.

The person helping me wore a red swimming costume and a yellow jacket, and then it began to make sense. A lifeguard, I thought. No wonder he was being so kind. It was his job, that was all. He left me sitting, breathing, while he went to fetch what remained of my waterlogged cardigan, and then he began to lecture me, gently. I couldn’t understand his words, but I knew just what he meant. Silly to wear a cardigan in this heat! What are you, crazy? You’re lucky I was here, and that you didn’t drown! And your scars? They’re not so bad, right?

I started to cry and he frowned at me, his brown eyes full of concern and confusion. His words dried up. Then he threw my soggy cardigan to one side and held up a finger as if to say ‘just a minute – don’t go anywhere,’ before shrugging off his jacket and wading into the water. I watched as he bent, scooping up handfuls of tiny, wriggling fish, before turning around and walking back up the sand toward me.

He spread out his catch on the sand and picked up one fresh sardine, holding it out to me like a free sample, and he smiled. Then he nodded at something behind us, and I turned to see a pit full of coals dug in the sand about a hundred yards away, and a small crowd around it laughing and joking and eating the freshly roasted fish, straight from the sea.

I turned back to him and smiled, and I let him help me to my feet.

Just Like Starting Over

This morning, we woke to a refreshed world. Heavy rain fell in most places last night, washing away the dust and dessication of the last few weeks, and the air feels lighter and clearer this morning. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a too-tight hat made of red-hot metal, and a headache isn’t threatening to engulf me. It’s a nice feeling.

Because of all this freshness, several related things are on my mind this morning, things like: learning from the past and then leaving it behind, new beginnings, corners being turned and change being made for the better (hopefully, at least). Today’s the perfect day to think about things like this. The earthy, rich air is coming in my open window and the grass is sighing with relief outside, and everything feels new.

Image: flickriver.com

Image: flickriver.com

Nobody goes through life without making mistakes, or doing things that, on reflection, they would have decided against if they’d been given a second chance; everyone has done or said things which cause them to cringe with embarrassment when they creep into mind weeks or months or even years later. I am no exception, of course. Learning from your mistakes, allowing them to shape your future in a positive way, and eventually letting them go, is a very important life skill. I’ve always had trouble with the ‘letting them go’ part of this model; I find it very difficult, and always have. I tend to hold on to my regrets and my embarrassments, and over time they ferment into something more damaging, something which feels a lot like guilt.

Guilt can be a terribly corrosive emotion – I’m not even sure ’emotion’ is the correct word. Perhaps ‘force’ is better. It’s something which can erode a person’s self-belief and confidence, warping their ability to lay down plans for their future life, robbing them of any ability to move forward and keep going. I’m not talking here about ‘justified’ guilt – i.e. the natural and perhaps deserved guilt a person may feel if they commit a crime or harm someone else or break the law; I’m talking about the pernicious kind, the self-directed, self-harming kind, the sort of guilt that eats you up over mistakes made, things said in anger or in error, things for which you can’t forgive yourself. Things which you carry with you like a ball and chain. I think certain people are perhaps more prone to this sort of thinking than others; perfectionists, for instance, or people who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are carrying a burden of expectation, or people who are serious, and careful, and who like to be right. People, in short, who can’t deal with the fact that sometimes, they’re going to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that it’s just another part of life. There has to come a point, however, where this foundation-dissolving guilt is allowed to trickle away, and the person can be washed clean of it; that’s difficult, though, when the person can’t let themselves get past it.

When I make a mistake that causes me to be embarrassed by my own behaviour or when I engage on a course of action that I later regret, I tend to build a skin of forgetfulness over the whole thing; of course, like any skin, it’s vulnerable and porous and prone to being popped. I push away my mistake, I try not to think about my error, I don’t allow myself to deal with it rationally and come to the (inevitable) conclusion: ‘it wasn’t all that bad. What are you beating yourself up over?’ Instead, the memory remains, buried deep, ready to explode at any moment. Like a sore tooth or a niggling pain, though, the awareness of the bubble of guilt deep within me is always there. I might choose to ignore it, but I know exactly where it is. In that way, then, my attempts to forget it, to cover it over, to leave it behind, are all fruitless. It becomes the focal point of my mental life, and an insurmountable obstacle.

I’m not really sure why I do this. Perhaps I’m a bit of a weirdo.

Forgiving oneself, and starting afresh, are not always easy things to do – but they have to be done. You can live your life with a bubble of guilt and regret inside you, but you won’t take any risks, and you won’t do anything for fear of doing something wrong, and you won’t say anything at all for fear of saying something inadvertently hurtful or stupid or embarrassing – and what sort of life is that? I find it difficult to allow myself the space and compassion to make mistakes, to learn from them and atone for them, and to move on without the burden of them hanging around my neck, but as I grow older I am getting better at it. I’m trying to treat myself with more kindness and consideration, and trying to realise that I am going to make mistakes, sometimes, but that it’s perfectly all right. On a day like today, when the cooling rains have come to refresh my little patch of world and make it new, I’m going to make another effort to keep this lesson to the forefront of my mind.

A life of writing, where you are your own sole motivator, is a life incompatible with being handicapped by guilt and regret. You can’t keep moving forward if you’re afraid to move on, after all. It’s time to leave my regrets where they belong and allow myself the freedom to learn, and grow, and move into the future.

Image: guardian.co.uk

Image: guardian.co.uk

Happy Thursday, everyone! It’s almost the weekend. Hang in there…