I don’t know who needs to hear this. Maybe just myself. So to whomever I’m writing for, I hope this finds you well. I hope what I say brings you comfort or insight. At the very least, I hope you know you are not alone.
During the first week of classes, I talked with a dear friend who was struggling with loss, guilt and forgiveness. I listened, I thought and I gave her my perspective. I often find that my ideas clarify themselves when I speak them out loud, more so even than when I write them down. So now, I will have done both.
Loss: oftentimes, we conceptualize loss as no longer having a thing, place or person in your life. But that isn’t always the case. You can lose more than just something’s physical presence in your life. Oftentimes, the most painful forms of loss occur when the thing is still in your life, just not in the same way. You can lose the image you had of a person, the relationship you had with them—your trust, love, boundaries. A person doesn’t have to die or move to the other side of the world for you to feel like you lost them, for you to be justified in your grief and mourning. You lose a place when you no longer feel at home there, when bad memories occupy the space you once did, when you can no longer move through that space like you once did. You can lose a thing in a similar way; it loses its function, or the memories or feelings attached to it.
Guilt: guilt is a voice. It is a set of feelings and thoughts. They’re often attached to an event that involved you. But, though the thoughts are connected to you, it’s important to recognize that these thoughts are separate from you. You are not your thoughts. What “Guilt” may be telling you at any given moment is not necessarily true. Whoever needs to hear it, you are not bad, you are not wrong and you are enough. How do you deal with guilt? The first step, I find, is identifying the voice as the voice of “Guilt” itself—what I call the “Bitchass” voice. When you are having those self-destructive, self-deprecating thoughts, simply acknowledging them as coming from the “Bitchass” voice—and not actually representing a reflection of who you are—is enough. That is the first step and one of the most important. In dealing with guilt, there are two options. The first is when you are emotionally able to logically and critically engage with the “Bitchass” voice. Is what it’s telling you true? What would a friend say about the situation? What, really, is the worst that could happen? How could you keep going from there?
The second is to treat these negative emotions like a horse (if anyone’s read my Tarot column, you’ll recognize these wise words from Mama Sullivan). If you try to put the horse in a small pen and control its every movement, the task will seem—and effectively be—impossible. The horse will seem too big and uncontrollable. However, if you let the horse out into a big open pen with a wide-open field under the great open sky with plenty of room to run, it will seem small in comparison. To put the horse into a large pen means to widen your scope of life. Get involved in schoolwork, “work” work, sports and clubs. Pick up a new hobby, make new friends or meet with old ones or maybe start a self-care practice. It’s not always possible to turn down the volume on the “Bitchass” voice, but you can turn up the volume on all the other parts in your life.
Finally, forgiveness. I’ve seen that people seek forgiveness in a range of ways.
Sometimes we want the other person, whoever that is, to tell us, “it’s okay, I forgive you.” Other times, we want them to punish us, to hurt us back, so that we can do the faulty mathematical calculations of believing that pain for pain wipes the slate clean. However, there are other ways. I’ve come to learn that forgiveness can mean divorcing yourself from the negativity an event caused you, while at the same time not condoning, accepting or approving the action.
If someone hurt you badly, you can find peace in eventually not feeling hurt from their actions or the memory of their actions, without simultaneously saying that what they did was somehow okay or unharmful; it was wrong, it was hurtful, but you’re less hurt by it now. I find that this process is linked with another method of cultivating forgiveness (after all, forgiveness is something grown over time, not attained instantaneously). That method is gaining emotional and temporal space from the event. Let time pass, let the dust settle and see where you’re at after. Every day that passes is another step further. You might find that the emotional aftershocks never flatten out—that the hurt remains loud in your heart and your mind. In those cases, it’s important to then turn up the volume on the other parts of your life: focus on your friends, your schoolwork, volunteering, clubs, hobbies, self-care or family. As much as it will make me sound like a fake yogini, there is truth to the saying “energy goes where attention flows.” If or whenever that external focusing seems too much, stifling, constricting, suffocating, remember that those aspects of your life are planets in orbit around you, the star. In those moments you must focus on yourself. The center is the only way those orbits remain. If focusing so much on the periphery will throw the center into chaos, let the orbits drop away; the center is essential. In times of suffering you must be your first priority. You must put your oxygen mask on before helping others.
You are strong, you are worth it, you will get through it.
All my love.
Nora Sullivan-Horner is a member of the Class of 2024.