It was interesting to peer into my young mind and relive what was unfolding inside the words. Reading my journals dating back to 1987 has been an experience.
Combing through past experiences exposed how my all-consuming inner voice was formed. It’s pretty much an alter ego and her name is Guilt. She consumes me as a working mom, a friend, a wife, a daughter, and a sister. Better yet, she’s my arch nemesis and alter ego rolled into one. Beyonce doubles as Sasha Fierce, David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust, and Bridget the Bergen became Lady Glitter Sparkles. But I’m stuck with the not-so-glamourous and sparkly version of myself . She hovers over me like I’m her whipping boy, saying to me, “It’s GUILT Bitch!” which somehow doesn’t have the same chirpy ring of Britney’s fun voice. And based on pretty much anything you read related to motherhood, it would seem a lot of other moms also get bogged down by their feelings of guilt.
A few weeks ago, my husband gave me some advice. I was running around in a million directions, trying to clean with one hand, talk on the phone in the other, play with the kids with my left foot and eat with my right. After hanging up the phone, I griped to him that I felt all jittery and mega stressed. It felt like I had just finished beer-bonging coffee.
He said, “Look at yourself. Look at all the things you were just trying to do at the same time. You’re doing all these things because you think you should do them. You go through your life doing things all the time you think you should do, but do you ever ask yourself what you actually want to be doing?”
This must be a man thing because it would seem so many men can just turn off the stress and veg out in front of the TV. I do not not seem to possess this same gift of compartmentalization. As in being able to say to myself, “Now I will relax. Later I will do X. Tomorrow I will do Z.”
No way. It all is on fire and has to be done now. That’s is the way my brain always sees it.
Anyway, after I picked my jaw off the floor from his Dalai Lama advice sucker punch , I thought about what he had just said and he did have a major point. All of the things that were causing my stress to go into overdrive were self inflicted: 1.) I had answered the phone because it was someone I hadn’t talked to in awhile, so I felt like I had to answer; even though it was hands down the worst time of day to talk. 2.) While talking on the phone, I was feeling guilty over not interacting with my kids because it felt like I hadn’t really engaged with them all week. This thought is what led me to tell them I would play legos with them, but then I answered the phone, so actually I was half playing with them, half talking on the phone. 3.) Piles of laundry were all over the place so I was carrying the basket to and from the washer/dryer with the phone cradled on my shoulder followed by plopping down to fold the clothes right next to where we were playing legos. Yes, I thought I could fold, talk on the phone, and play legos with the kids all at the same time. 4.) The kids love to tell me how hungry they are whenever I’m doing anything. So I was making popcorn, cutting up apples, and pouring glasses of water upstairs, then going downstairs during intervals of folding clothes, playing with the legos, and talking on the phone.
I’m tired just writing this. This is the stuff I do to myself ALL. THE. TIME. And it basically boils down to guilt in addition to feeling like I am available to and owe everybody something at all times.
My husband continued on in his Dahlai Lama state of mind and asked me to think of all the decisions I’ve made in my life – both big and small -current and past. Are they driven by other people’s wants or my own? Had I EVER based my decisions on what I felt like I wanted to do for myself? Or did I just default to what my brain was telling me was the “nice” thing or the “right” thing to do at that moment. He pointed out that something bigger was likely driving my guilt.
Guilt manifests itself out of different experiences, fears, and beliefs we all have. Over time these patterns are hardened and then it feels impossible to break the cycle of that nagging voice.