“And what is it that makes you feel guilty?”
I sucked in a breath and held it. That same question had plagued me all week. As the air escaped my mouth, my body sank deeper into the small two-seater sofa in his office.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“Have you always felt guilty?”
“Even as a child?”
“Even as a child.”
“Did anything happen to you?” He seemed almost as desperate for this answer as I was. It was as if just being a certain way wasn’t enough, instead there had to be a reason behind it.
“No. Not that I can think of, and I have been thinking about it. A lot.”
I thought about my earliest memory of guilt. I tried to recall that unbearable sensation when I would feel as if there was no way of coming back from the thing which had made me feel so awful. It was always after an argument with my parents.
I think I would feel upset first and then scared; Scared that they would always be mad at me for the bad thing I had done to warrant a telling-off. I’d always thought my dad had a tempter and I would be petrified of him shouting at me.
Looking back now, he wasn’t scary at all. He was a normal dad. He never hurt me, was always generous with his time and money, and generally a fantastic parent who I have had the honour of being brought up by.
My mum was always the quietest of the pair and actually very rarely shouted. I was never scared of her, just her threats of ‘you wait till your dad gets home’.
Following an argument, somewhere between the tears and hiding in my room, my sadness would turn into guilt. I would feel so despondent after fighting with them and would torment myself over the things I had said to upset them. I would carry the mean words on my shoulders like a broken doll that was beyond playing with. Even after I said sorry.
“Did your parents ever try to put blame on you?”
“Did you ever feel as if you were to blame for anything?”
“Yes, for everything bad that happened. I always felt like it was my fault. I feel the same now.”
He picked up his pen for the first time that day and made brief notes on the piece of paper trapped on his clipboard.
In the car, on the way home, my husband turns the radio up and sings along to a song I don’t know. Its name flashes up on the screen and I can see it’s called I Hate People. I press the skip button.
“Do you think people can just be something because that’s who they are? Or do we always have to have a reason for why we act the way we do?” I needed to share my thoughts.
“Yes to which one?”
“The first one. Yes sometimes our behaviour can be the way it is because that is the sort of person we are.”
“Do you think I feel guilty all the time because of what happened to me?”
“You’re bound to have bad days where you feel as if it was your fault, but you need to keep reminding yourself he is to blame for that, not you.”
I try to hold on to the thought that I am a survivor of rape and not a victim. I don’t want to be having that discussion with myself today. Beside, I think the guilt started long before he interrupted my life.
It’s not that I can’t do things I want to, I just often feel as if my parental responsibilities and my duty as a wife makes me bottom of the food chain. The mental tug of war which goes on in my mind, even over the smallest of things, is tiring.
And I am exhausted.
I want desperately to let go of this guilt but first I need to find the source of it. What if I don’t find a reason? That terrifies me. With nothing to blame I will have to own it.
And then what?
I will share this with the counsellor next week and he will look at me and say: “And then Donna, we can begin to help you let go of the guilt.”
I hope he’s right.