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The Guilt Addiction

"Are you crying because you feel guilty, or because you want to feel guilty?"

My husband was gentle when he asked this, but I still felt a burning in my chest. I'm allowed to cry about it, I thought, though I can't even remember what it was. Which is sad, really, because it could have been any number of things: my slow progress in language learning, the failed attempts at getting healthier, the blank pages of personal projects.

He was pointing out my cycle: I give my all to something, get discouraged (or demotivated, or overwhelmed, or, let's be honest, just lazy), then spend a few days hating myself. And the self-battering doesn't actually spur on any action; if anything, my guilt is counterproductive, an excuse to put off hard work, a failed attempt at showing evidence against apathy.

Over the last couple of months, I've tried to use guilt as a stepping stone rather than a detour. Okay, I feel awful because I know I can do better, but how? What are the action points? I'm taking Russian lessons, but why are the novels I'm reading in English? I'm spending more time outside, but when's the last time I had a piece of fruit? I say I'm too busy to write, but didn't I just spend an hour on Twitter?

That's not to say I'm withholding grace from myself. On the days I'm struggle with a goal, I have to ask: Is it because I don't have enough to give, or because I'm not willing to give it?

Whether it's the former or the latter, the prescription's the same: self-care. Making yourself study or run is just as self-care-ish as a candlelit bath or a walk through the forest. And sometimes it involves a quick reminder that I didn't set these goals just for the sake of productivity, but because they will actually make my life better. It's worth the hard work.

So here's to being honest. Even with ourselves.

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