When I realized I wasn't in love with my ex-husband, I felt guilty. Hell, when I don’t buy from little kid fundraisers I feel guilty so a realization like “I don’t love the man I thought I loved more than life” was a jackhammer of guilt to my being.
And it’s not as if I haven’t ever felt guilty before.
I went to college close to home to be near him. I didn’t move away because I felt guilty – “oh, he’ll be sad if I leave. I’ll feel terrible if I go far away.” And at just 45 minutes away, when I did come home, I didn't go see my parents, my grandparents or my brothers because “I’ll feel bad if I don’t spend all my time with him. He is waiting for me after all.”
When I got married, I felt like there was a "right" way to do things. I worked too late and drank too much because that's what all my friends did. They made me feel like doing it that way was ok yet I always felt guilty. Those behaviors carried over when I had kids so when I wasn't there for every step, smile or word I beat myself up. I thought if I did things the way people wanted me to I wouldn't feel guilty when in fact it made me feel more guilt.
Guilt swings me from loss of self-esteem and confidence to never putting down the glass to being afraid to look in the mirror.
The night before I miscarried my third pregnancy, we were at a spaghetti supper at my daughter’s school. As I packed two screaming kids in the vehicle, I mumbled, “What I wouldn't do right now for a drink and a smoke." Two days later I was in the fourth-floor birthing unit of the hospital awaiting a DNC the next morning. "This is my punishment," I thought. I married too young, took for granted what I had, made a comment about a drink and a smoke.
I caused this.
I deserved to feel this guilt.
I deserved to be devastated.
I deserved no support from him because I was a bad person. All the long-term guilt I ignored was wrapped up into this one tragic moment of loss, and in my mind it was punishment. It was guilt I deserved. I was in a bad, bad place.
I came through that place because of a miracle fourth pregnancy. I couldn't let things end that way and was blessed with a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed baby girl. But her arrival was a Band-Aid for my guilt. It was a temporary patch over the guilt I'd been feeling for years. I was inadequate I thought; an imperfect person, wife, and mom. I wanted everyone to think my marriage was perfect, including me. And for some reason, I thought I deserved to feel this way.
Well, I didn't and I don’t deserve to feel guilty. No woman does.
I don’t deserve to feel guilty or punished for decisions I make.
I doubted every decision I made and felt guilty for my actions. Why? I don’t even know! Maybe it’s my desire to be perfect or want people to like me. Maybe it’s because I’m a hopeless romantic who wants someone to love me and felt to be loved meant being what others wanted me to be. Especially what my ex wanted me to be.
I don’t deserve to feel guilty for wanting to be unconditionally loved.
My ex and I started dating when I was in high school. He and his fake ID went bar hopping with friends after he stopped by my house to get what he wanted. I was typically in tears because all I needed was cuddled. I thought I had to do something for him to love me – have sex, get drunk, use big words or make small talk depending on the crowd.
I lied to my parents and my friends that things were great. I made bad choices about drugs and alcohol because I felt guilty that if I didn’t fit in, he wouldn’t love me. And truthfully, this wasn’t even his doing – this was me not being me! I thought I had to listen to 1980's hair bands because he thought it was so cool I knew the words to all the songs. I felt like I had to make fun of people because my putdowns confirmed my worldview that I will be loved as long as I'm better than everyone else.
I don't feel guilty about making sure people know they matter, leaving stuff messy or saying no to my ex or my daughter.
I try to see the good in people. I tell people thank you more often and I check in more often just to see how they are doing. I am grateful every morning when my feet hit the floor and I get another chance. I visit my parents more, I let my brothers know I care, and I let my 97-year-old grandmother know she matters. I leave the bathroom a mess, laundry in piles, and dirty dishes in the dishwasher until not even another fork will fit. I say no - sometimes anyway - to my middle daughter when she thinks she needs a new pair of high heels. I ignore my ex when he talks baseball, motorcycles or about his ailments.
I've learned to believe in me and that I deserve good.
My ex can't and won’t take that from me ever again. I'm a better person because he’s in my life at a distance as their dad not controlling my decisions or making me feel bad for decisions I do make. If I feel guilty today, it's because I choose to feel that way; not because he or anyone make me feel that way.
I actually like listening to café acoustic music and watching documentaries. I still like to sling back a few drinks every now and again, but I know when to say when. And the next time I fall in love, it will be with a mutual understanding that making people feel guilty is not the way to make things work.