Guilt Is My Alter Ego- Part 1

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.

The Paths We Take

One of my favorite movies is Sliding Doors (1998) with Gwyneth Paltrow as the lead role. The movie takes us through her life in two ways. One half of the film shows how her life unfolds when she makes the train, the other half of the movie is what happens when she misses the train. I think the reason I love this movie so much is because it’s both timeless and incredibly thought provoking.

It’s fascinating to think about the many different paths life can take. Recently, I had the pleasure of  hanging out with various old friends whom I haven’t seen in awhile. The conversations were some of the most interesting I’ve had in a long time. I felt an immense amount of admiration while hearing some of their stories. Career accomplishments they’ve made these last few years, some had bucket list trips they had taken or are about to take, others were growing their families or had just bought their first home.  Some of them had started out with very little and have ended up quite successful. Others needed some help along the way due to the economic crash and had finally felt like they’d turned a corner. Some were living back under their parent’s roof and have now purchased their own homes and are more appreciative than ever of what they can now call their own. Watching people grow over the years and seeing who they become is one of the beautiful things in life.

Most people don’t see themselves as extraordinary.  Meanwhile, if they only knew how far they’ve come! As the listener, hearing these stories made my heart grow two-fold. People are out there working hard at life and damn, I want them to know these unique paths they’re on are all a pretty big deal! People need to take a moment and reflect on where they were 5 years ago versus where they are now. Be proud. Seriously. You’re killin’ it!

I look at my husband and how hard he has worked on his business. The path he chose actually lead us to Connecticut. That was my Sliding Doors moment: to stay in Chicago or not to stay. My path forked and while I was unsure about starting over again, I was sure I was in love, so I took a leap of faith.

These paths we all take aren’t 100% ours though. In part we owe thanks to the supporters that said the things we needed to hear or maybe the things we didn’t want to hear to make it to where we are.

Looking back on the night before I moved, my mother said some words of encouragement to me. She was probably wondering how I would be across the country, on my own with my boyfriend of only 5 months, no job lined up, a roommate I didn’t know yet, and so much uncertainty that lay ahead of me.  As it turns out, if she was nervous about my choice, she did not let on that she was. Instead she was excited for me, she told me she was convinced I would marry this guy, that she felt it was the right call, and that it was pretty awesome I’d be living near a beach and not too far from New York City. She 100% supported my decision. It was just the boost I needed to go forth and see what was in store for the next chapter of my life.

So here I am on Chapter 37 of my life and that little decision I made turns out to have been one of the best.

It got me thinking about the decisions my sons will make and where their lives might take them.

The other day I pulled into our driveway and both my sons were dancing out front. They had a little speaker set up (thank you bluetooth) and a sign taped to the speaker that said “Please give us Money”. After I stopped laughing at their cute creative way to make a dollar, I quietly watched them. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I tried to encapsulate the moment.

I took in their blonde fluffy hair, their face expressions, and their moves while jamming out with wild abandon. I thought about the men they will grow to eventually be. How will they choose to spend their days? Will they live far away from us? Will they want to call us or have nothing to do with us?  I wondered if they would choose to be married or stay single, to travel the world, or settle down and have families. Most of all I wondered if as their parent I could somehow bottle this carefree happiness that they embodied in this moment and make sure it stays part of them into adulthood.

For now, while they are young, it’ll be fun to talk about what they want to do or be or what they like and don’t like.  And then of course when they’re teenagers I can look forward to making them watch Sliding Doors with me. I’m very much looking forward to that.