Guilt can be one of the most debilitating emotions that we feel and can really REALLY hold us back from moving forward.
But what is guilt? How do you define it? In the dictionary, one of the definitions is: the state of one who has committed an offence especially consciously. I took a few minutes to think about this and after a while, it made even less sense than ever.
Guilt is so subjective. As are most emotions. But when we think about the guilt we feel when it comes to the suicide of a loved one, what offence have we actually committed?
The prison we put ourselves in, is entirely built by our own minds.
So let’s break it down a little. When my father took his own life, after the anger and the sadness had settled, this enormous sense of guilt came over me. I found myself obsessing about the time he tried to open up to me and I got upset so he brushed over it and gave me a hug. I found myself going over and over when he’d cried in my arms because he thought he had stomach cancer (He was 6' 4" and he'd never felt so small). Which in hindsight, was depression-induced digestive issues. I remembered the drunk phone calls where he’d call me to tell me he loved me in the middle of the day. Why didn’t I see the signs? Why didn’t I do something about it?
My actions were far from conscious. I didn’t consciously not do anything to help my father. So WHY did I feel guilty?
The reason why I felt guilt was that I didn’t feel myself worthy of being happy. I didn’t think it was appropriate to feel joy anymore. To be honest, I don’t know whether that was because I didn’t think it was appropriate for myself, or whether I thought others would think bad of me if I was joyful, but that was the root of my guilt.
When a loved one takes their own life it isn’t like losing someone to cancer, or a heart attack. It’s not even like losing someone to murder. There is an extra layer of emotional trauma that seems to envelop sufferers for many years after the death occurred. There is a barrier between those left behind and their possible selves. And how to break that barrier seems like an impossible process.
In the 20 years (at writing) since my fathers death, the journey back to joy has been a long one. It took me down some dark and destructive roads, which I needed to go down, to be able to come out the other side.
The one simple word that encompasses all the emotionally positive strategies and processes is FORGIVENESS.
When I was putting together The Well-being Gardener I interviewed a few people like me to find out their experiences with losing a loved one like this. And the word that came up time and time again was forgiveness.
Forgiveness is powerful. Forgiveness sets you free. It’s not easy and it takes positive intent, but allowing forgiveness into your life is one of the main ways to move forward. You need to be able to forgive yourself. Without that, there is no way out of the guilt-prison you’ve built for yourself. Once you’ve achieved that, your advancement can be speedy and exponential.
So how do you get to forgiveness and overcoming guilt? Have you ever been told any of these time honoured cliches:
Everything will be ok
There’s someone always worse off than you
Well, you can’t do anything about it, so you might as well just get on with it
Come on, chin up
Get over yourself
How frustrating was it to hear them?
Does time heal? No, it doesn’t. It makes strong feelings fade a little, but it certainly doesn’t heal anything.
Is everything OK? It is, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier, does it?
Does knowing someone else is worse off than you help? Not at all!
Should you just get on with it? Isn’t that what you’re doing every day?
Chin up? I’ll chin you!
Get over yourself. Do you feel the rage building?
I was once told I was milking it when I got upset about my dad. It wasn’t even 6 months after he’d died. I was incandescent with rage to think that someone could even say that.
In hindsight, I know that the rage did no good and you can NEVER make another human being understand what you’re feeling. It’s just not possible. To be honest, I don’t think you can ever explain to someone what the loss feels like when someone you love so deeply takes their own life.
My journey to gratitude took me down a path of mindfulness and awareness that led me to homeopathy and good nutrition. I learnt how to allow my grief, to forgive myself and
eventually forgive and appreciate my father for who he was, AND what he had done. For me it was a long road because I walked it by myself.
For others, I want to make it much quicker and easier.
That’s how The Well-being Gardener was born. So that I could share my skills, tools and experience to support those affected by suicide so they can enjoy their lives without shame, blame or guilt!
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