When I was growing up and even throughout most of my twenties, I felt guilty a lot—almost every day, actually. Sometimes it was quite overwhelming, while sometimes it was a milder feeling that just didn’t want to go away. My religious beliefs were part of the problem; I didn’t really know how to be perfect yet (even now I sometimes don’t) and that bothered me a lot. And so, every time I felt this unexplained guilt, I would assume it had to do with something I did wrong.
I assumed it was my conscience, or God himself, pointing out how I needed to change.
I assumed it was my fault.
And so, seeing as how it was my fault, I did what I thought I needed to do: First, I tried to figure out what it was that I had done wrong.
Then, I fixed it.
I stopped swearing. I stopped being greedy.
And, yes—in case you were wondering but were too afraid to ask—I stopped sleeping with boys.
I told myself over and over that if I could just be a better person, the bad feeling would go away.
And, for a while, it worked.
Finally, I thought each time this happened, Finally, I am free of that constant guilt. It feels so, so nice to be good!
That is what I thought, every time.
Until, that is, the guilt came back.
And it did.
It didn’t take long, either—two days, maybe three on average. And then the cycle was repeated.
It was hell.
Then one night, while I was lying in bed overcome with this feeling of guilt and anxiety once more, it suddenly hit me: I didn’t do anything wrong. There is no reason I should feel guilty right now—none at all.
I was not dating anyone that I knew I shouldn’t’ve been dating. I was not lying or cheating or stealing. I was just going to school and coming home, mostly.
There was nothing I could change.
It was a revelation.
Maybe, I thought, Maybe this feeling of guilt that I’ve had for so long isn’t really guilt at all.
Maybe, it’s a lie.
And I realized something else, too.
I realized I didn’t have to listen to it anymore.