Thursday, July 7, 2016

Step 8

I'm referring to step 8 of the 12 Step Program, but don't worry. This post isn't about drinking or alcoholism. It's about guilt and forgiveness. Although that may make you groan out loud just as badly. Maybe you were hoping for a post about training your cat to sit on your shoulder while you run. Well tough luck!

That wouldn't be comfortable anyway. Cats are heavy. Especially mine.

Step 8 says, "[make] a list of all persons we [have] harmed, and [become] willing to make amends to them all." I'm going to focus on making amends to one specific person though: Yourself.

Any time I write something like that, I always get this vision of a bank robber saying to me, "thanks for writing that! I totally don't feel bad about all the bank-robbery I've done! Woohoo!" If you're the kind of person who steals lamb chops from puppies, then totally: Feel guilty. Jump into a shallow canyon (I didn't have the word shallow in there at first, but I don't want anyone to get hurt).

Most folks, however, feel guilty over dumb things. I definitely do. My mind is a carousel of past misdeeds, mostly minor. It's especially bad when I'm in a cranky mood. I reminisce over things I can't possible change. Things that don't matter at all, and serve no purpose except to make me feel shitty.

I once stuffed grass down my brother's shirt, because I'm an A$$HOLE. Or I was, when I was like 11. I don't even remember. Sometimes I eat too much ice cream, leaving less for others. GASP. Stupid examples, I know. But they gnaw at me. It's ridiculous.

A plastic boat of guilt!

I feel guilty about friends that I feel like I've let down. They tell me, often, that I haven't. And I should trust that. They forgive me for things that I won't forgive myself for. In fact, they don't even consider that there's anything to forgive. In reality they're trying to help me feel better.

I feel guilty about Pixie. She used to come up often in previous posts. She doesn't anymore. Sometimes I feel like I made the right choice with her. Sometimes I feel like I made the worst choice possible. Sometimes I feel like I was thinking of her best interest. Sometimes I feel that I was deeply selfish.

The reality is that it was all those things. Real life is messy and complex. We want things to be simple and clear cut. But trying to fit people and situations into little boxes doesn't do them justice. It may help you feel better for a while. But eventually those things burst out of their ill-fitting boxes.

Step 8 is about acceptance. Accepting that you've hurt people: other people, and also yourself. It's about apologizing, and about forgiving. You can't hold on to regret forever, no matter how much you may feel that you deserve it. It will destroy you. Sometimes I feel that I deserve to be destroyed. But that's a coward's way out.

Because making amends takes hard work. You have to look inwards and think about things you don't want to think about. Not in a knee-jerk emotional way, but in a logical way. You have to let go of the things that don't matter, and do what it takes to fix the things that do. It takes strength. If you simply surrender to your guilt, you don't fix anything. And in fact you end up further hurting the folks who watch you suffer. The loved ones you feel that you've hurt.... You hurt them even more by wallowing in misery. They feel just as helpless as you do.

Don't do that. Don't do that to them. And don't do it to yourself.

Reading this you may think I've found all the solutions and that I live with a clear conscience. I don't. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert at life. Just yesterday a friend made me realize how little I actually know. But I write this as much for myself as for others. Because I need to take Step 8 as well. I've been dipping my toe into it for a while. Chewing on it. Appreciating the worth of it.

But those inner demons still circle around me, much like my cat when she's hungry.

Hungry. Always so hungry.

I work hard to improve myself. I quit drinking. I go to bed early. I exercise (very) regularly. But exercise is also an escape. While it helps make me stronger, it also lets me run away from my thoughts for a while. It makes me too tired to feel bad. That's not a lasting solution though. And it's a recipe for injury.

I'm trying to be more conscientious. I try to stop negative thought spirals before they take root. I remind myself every time that they're irrational. They do absolutely no good to anyone. There are plenty of people who dislike me. And no doubt they'd enjoy watching me suffer.

I won't say that they should forgive me. They may believe I don't deserve it. That's fine. But projecting hatred onto others is just as bad as projecting it onto yourself. In the long run it turns into a poison. There are plenty of people who have hurt me as well. It doesn't matter. I've moved on, and I hope they have as well.

I've found that sometimes when I judge another for some attribute of their character, it's because I see it in myself. And attacking them - even if it's only in my own head - is a way of ignoring that flaw in myself. Other times it's because I don't understand or appreciate their viewpoint, and being angry at them is easier than trying to see things through their eyes.

All of that negativity starts from inside of you. It's easy to blame someone else. But if you feel angry or hurt, then you are the one who has to endure that. It may sound like this post is a plea to someone in particular. It's not. It's a plea to everyone. To be forgiving.

And especially to forgive themselves.

"C'mon, it's just one little apple. No big deal."
Panting: Adam and Eve c. 1550 - Jacopo Tintoretto

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