“I, I’m waking up the ghost
Not digging up the memories that were dead to me
Now, now I’m getting close
Closer to the enemy that’s inside of me”
- “Waking Up the Ghost” – 10 Years
You can’t bury it if it’s not dead.
Our lives are a series of short stories cobbled together into a larger novel.
There are some stories we don’t share, however.
Some stories elicit such guilt and shame, because they symbolize parts of our lives where we made bad choices, choices that harmed others, whether we meant them to or not.
And, many times, without hesitation, we don’t publish them beside our victories, for fear that they will take away from us as a person, for fear that we didn’t properly hash out all the mistakes, all the self destructive behavior.
Because, let’s be honest, talking about the bad stuff, really getting our skeletons our of our closets, is a painful process that many of us don’t want to go through.
We are flawed creatures, we do shit we shouldn’t and know it, and then, like a small child who’s done something wrong, we try to hide it, deflect from it, lie about it affecting us, until the monkey on our backs is a seething gorilla seeing red.
The guilt and shame demands a response. It’s just going to keep sitting there beating on you until you say stop.
The largest goal of any person feeling these things should not be to stop feeling them, or push them down, or ignore them, but to unload them.
This was the dilemma I was facing a few weeks ago.
The gorilla broke down the damn closet door, demanding to be addressed. And I had to do it. Regardless of what mistakes they were, they needed to be looked at, sorted through, confessed to, and let go. This was a process that I had to adhere to if I truly wanted to forgive myself for my past indiscretions. And that was the goal.
But it mattered HOW it was done.
I was racking my brain thinking about this very process, how I was going to come clean with myself to the world, and I was wanting to write a blog post confessing my sins to EVERYONE. That was my plan.
As many of you know, this blog is my journal, and it’s almost always based on some song or music that I listen to. That’s why many of the titles are those of songs that I really enjoy, or songs that have touched me in one way or another. And while confessing my deepest, darkest sins on here might have done something for me, it would have done much more damage to those I either intentionally or unintentionally hurt with my actions. By bringing up a sore subject, I would be letting off a nuke that could irreparably damage many more relationships, even the ones I don’t think would be affected.
This blog will be referencing a particular song, “Waking Up the Ghost” by 10 Years, that perfectly encapsulates my situation of letting go of my guilt and shame, and forgiving myself for my past.
We have to get this shit off our chest, we have to throw the gorilla off our back, but not at the expense of so many other relationships that we value.
In short, silence is golden to those words would hurt.
“Under the skin, the soul of the guilty
Under the surface, lonely lies
Under the weight the sin is
Eating me alive”
We’ve all done shit we aren’t proud of. We’ve all fucked up. The problem is we don’t want to address these mistakes so they become a part of us, dictating our actions far after the die has been cast.
We might let things slip when we’re drunk, when we’re sad, we might scream because we can’t tell the world our secrets for fears of what they might think, for fear of being shunned or accosted by those we care about, for rejection, or even betraying every thing we say we stand for.
But we have to resolve it by addressing it, or it will eat us alive, it will affect every relationship, every interaction, every piece of our lives that we didn’t intend for it to.
“Why are you doing this, man? Why now?”
“No one knows the secrets that I keep
No one knows what’s in my head
I can’t control the other side of me
I have lost my breath”
The timing wasn’t special, but the weight of the guilt and shame was. I needed to get this out, my last skeleton in the way of an empty closet, the last sin that I had to confess.
I did it because if it was out there, released from inside of me, I didn’t have to hide anymore. I was so ashamed of these past discretions that holding them in wasn’t going to be an option any more.
I had to talk. And I was prepared to talk to the world in the form of a blog post.
But I was stopped. I was preempted by those who cared most for me, the men of my fraternity, the men and woman of my men’s group, to think before I spoke into the megaphone.
I had to dig up these feelings again, to get right with the man in the mirror, and the best way to do that wasn’t to napalm the entire landscape, but to have a “controlled” explosion in front of those I respect the most, who’s opinions, support, and pointed criticism have guided me through this uncharted journey the past two years.
So, taking this sage advice, I decided to sit in front of a jury of my peers, confess my sins, and get right with me.
“No mercy, no forgiveness
Condemned to my own hell”
I truly believed that I was not worthy of forgiveness. I touted myself as a man who wasn’t good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell. I was in purgatory, and I chose to live there knowing that I wasn’t going to be forgiven.
I’ll be honest, I was terrified of talking about my past failures, my sins, in front of a group of men.
I thought I was going to be castigated for my mistake, having to relive the pain of my choices.
But the men of the Fraternity of Excellence rose to the occasion. Instead of scorn, I got support, I got comradery, I got men who, like me, have made mistakes and understand that bearing your soul to others, even in a small environment such as this, can be overwhelming.
I was told I was worthy of love. I didn’t have to hide anymore.
It was a cathartic 2 hour session that took my shame and lifted the gorilla off my back by just telling myself that I didn’t have to carry this anymore. I didn’t.
As the men uttered the words that they too have had to live with guilt and shame, that they too felt scared to talk about their transgressions.
So to have a group of men who were there to listen made the whole thing much easier to get out. The “controlled explosion” went off, with very little fanfare, but with huge implications to my mental health.
And with the confessional, I also decided, with awesome help from Dr. Taylor Burrowes, to have a ceremony to let go of my past guilt and shame and forgive myself. With my children’s help, I bought two balloons and a 3×5 card with a message to myself. I tied the message to the balloons, took 3 deep breaths, forgave my past self, and let those fuckers go.
“Breaking the pulse of a steady beat
Pleading for sanity”
I couldn’t have done this if I didn’t have the support of the men and women in my life.
I hid this for years because I knew I didn’t have a safe space to detonate this bomb.
I had people surrounding me who had the same or more skeletons in their closets, and they had resigned themselves to holding their secrets and not truly being authentic to themselves.
And that’s the bottom line, I was portraying myself as a man who couldn’t get forgiveness, who was living in the shadow of his mistakes, who reveled in the role of outcast. It was an act, an act I was sick of playing, and I had to throw off the makeup and costumes to become the man I want to be.
After the very light fanfare of all the things I’ve done to unload this burden the past two weeks, I had a chance to have some time hiking by myself, to really look at my decision and what it has resulted in.
I looked in my bathroom mirror, at the man staring back at me, a man I could not look in the eye for the past 9 years, because I was ashamed of his actions. But, recently, I’ve stared at him, I’ve smiled at him, I’ve told him I love him, because he’s human, he’s made mistakes, and he is worthy of forgiveness, even from his future self.
And every morning, of every day since letting those balloons go, since putting down the weight, since releasing the gorilla back into the wild, I have stared back at my reflection with a newfound love and respect for the man that’s trying to make his life better, trying to rectify his past, and trying to be a good man for his family, his kids, and his brothers.
The lesson here is simple: make peace with your past.
Make peace with the mistakes you made because you didn’t know what to do.
Make peace with the fact that the situation you were in was not in your control, and while making the wrong choices, you have to understand that you aren’t perfect and you won’t be.
Make peace with the war inside yourself. Both sides are fighting a battle for your sanity. You can’t continue to carry this weight and say it’s no big deal.
You need to wake up this ghost, and exorcise it from your life. The guilt and shame you feel, no matter how long you’ve felt it, can’t be ignored without affecting you in all you do. Even if you think it won’t, even if you think it doesn’t, it’s there, tapping you on the shoulder.
Get it out, safely, smartly, and take the steps to let it all go.
The more you can make peace with your past, the brighter your future.