By Lauren Olsen, January 23 2020—
It seems like the latter half of 2019 was a real doozy. Of course, I can speak only for myself, but I have heard from many others that the last few months in particular have been exceptionally tumultuous and transitional. Maybe it’s the end of a decade that’s got everything going a bit haywire, or maybe ‘big change’ is just in the collective consciousness. Whatever it is, I’ve certainly been feeling it.
I was driving around doing some errands today and a song I haven’t heard in a long time came on — “Pioneer” by The Band Perry. I have always resonated with that song, but today a particular lyric stood out which said “Let your heart not be troubled.” It was like someone shot a dart between my eyes and I started thinking about what that really meant to me. My heart has felt intensely troubled, as of late. I’ve been riding a rollercoaster for two months feeling on top of the world one minute and plummeting into depths the next. I’ve wondered about feeling happy and when that might happen again one day and felt like I might burst with joy the next. I’ve been confused as all hell and I’ve experienced crystal clarity. In conjunction with lyrics about a troubled heart, what I realized is that all those unpleasant feelings came from the same source: guilt.
Guilt — we all have it. We all feel guilty for things. We all believe in it, hold things we’ve done against ourselves, and I’m pretty sure lots of us even think feeling guilty makes us better people. If we feel guilty at least we must have a conscience, right? But what if guilt is a big fat lie? Lately, guilt has been telling me all sorts of troublesome things that seem awfully convincing. Guilt has been telling me that I’m wrong for the decisions I’ve made. It’s been telling me that there’s something very wrong with me for feeling happy when everything in my life has been changing shape in an acceptably traumatic way. Guilt tells me that re-homing my dog makes me an unforgivably horrible person. Guilt says that I’m selfish for wanting to take time for myself and get my head sorted out and decide what I want. Guilt screams at me while I pack up my things and get ready to move into a new home. Guilt raises its eyebrows at me when somebody asks me how I’m doing and I tell them, honestly, that I’m good and pretty happy. Guilt is relentless.
I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve had enough of it. Imagine what it would be like to just not believe those stories? Imagine feeling guiltless and how freeing and light that would be. What if I could make a decision and say how I feel without feeling the need to explain myself? What if I believed that my own happiness is worth making tough decisions sometimes and that it doesn’t make me selfish, it makes me honest. What if I stopped judging myself for the mood swings and just allow whatever feelings to be there, without judging or indulging in them? That’s all guilt really is anyways, a judgement that something is wrong. Unfortunately, guilt also demands punishment because no wrong deed goes unpunished, according to the religious upbringing in my head. But the good news is that judgements can be withdrawn. I can decide to stop believing that I’m a selfish, bad, guilty person. I can decide to allow the happiness that I do feel — most of the time, by the way — to stick around and being happy amongst apparent chaos does not make me bad or wrong!
It feels fitting that I’d like to wrap up this past year of blogs with a reminder and intention to stop giving guilt so much stinking power. Guilt is just a story. It isn’t real. Giving it up won’t condemn me to Hell, it’ll actually ease the senseless burden I’ve been carrying. Somebody close to me said the other day, “You know Lauren, you’re allowed to have it all. You can be happy and do the things you love and love whoever you want and have everything you’ve ever wanted.” And it was funny how right now I think, “Yeah, duh, everyone can have everything they ever wanted.” But I don’t think many of us believe it nearly enough, myself, humbly, included. It’s because we’re so convinced that we’re guilty and sinful and therefore undeserving of the life of happiness that only other people get to have. It’s not true. Let the guilt go, little by little. I feel that I have the experience to guarantee that letting go of guilt will only yield a more positive existence and a happier life.