Today is the second straight day I woke up with this feeling – no, it’s deeper than a feeling – that I had done something wrong.
Back in the days before I was diagnosed with depression and before I quit drinking, I woke with this feeling – sensation – every morning. Every single morning. A heaviness in my chest. My mind racing to find a wrong and them chomp onto it like a pit bull.
Often, there was a wrong. I drank too much the night before. I was a rotten mom. I had lost it with a public official I was interviewing for a story. If I could not find a wrong, I threw the back of my hand to my brow and indulged my impending martyrdom: my husband (now ex-) neglected, disrespected and ignored me; it’s sooooo hard being a working mom; must I do everything around here?
And if that didn’t explain the feeling in my chest, I could nibble on a resentment which marinated overnight: Will you look at those rich, thin, beautiful women? They are so ignorant and vapid!; Of course I would rather be home in an apron, backing chocolate chip cookies and watching Oprah but some of us women HAVE to work; Oh, great: They promoted another white guy.
This is what the brain of a dysthymic alcoholic sounds like. Constantly searching for the bad in every person and situation. Fuel for a miserable life and major depression. Then I quit drinking, began therapy and started taking antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
The clouds parted. I learned to identify rather than compare. I was taught how to stay on my side of the street and to make an amends. But the most important lesson I learned was the difference between guilt and shame: Guilt is the feeling that comes from having done something bad; Shame is the belief that you are inherently bad.
Guilt and shame were so tightly intertwined in my psyche that I often could not distinguish one from another. Did I do something bad or do I think I am bad? Hmmmmm. If I had done something bad I need to apologize. If I believe I am bad, I need to turn off that soundtrack. I am not bad. I am not bad. I am not bad…
So, as I lay in bed this morning with “Dog” imbedded in my side, I rewound the security camera’s tape from yesterday. I say a prayer and ask: I do something bad? Anything? Besides not trimming the hedges, no. I had not.
Which leaves me asking the question: Am I bad? No. I am not. This feeling my chest this morning is shame. Shame is just a feeling – not a fact. I am a good person. I deserve to be happy. I am not bad.
I am going to the park with “Dog.”
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Last reviewed: 31 May 2009