Illness, Injury and Guilt
For some reason, I woke at 5 am thinking about the issue of shame and guilt when it comes to illness and injury.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that the notion of pain and disease being things that we have somehow brought upon ourselves through our thoughts and/or actions can lead one down a path of self flagellation that is not useful in the healing process.
I can’t tell you how many clients I have worked with who carry guilt for becoming ill, which of course adds to the healing burden. I’ve heard a number of clients say, “I know I got cancer because I ….” This isn’t necessary, nor is it useful to dwell on.
In the words of the wise healer Rosalyn Bruyere, “Shit happens and sometimes you just get recycled!” Meaning that accidents happen, cancer happens and adding guilt, shame or placing blame either on yourself or others doesn’t help the healing process move any faster.
A more useful perspective would be to view illness and injury as things one might be predisposed to experience, that are influenced by choice. Meaning, they are more or less likely to happen based on the various choices we make, but not always. Rosalyn pointed out that the chemicals in our food supply add one more layer that isn’t directly affected by our choice. Those things may or may not happen, but are more likely to develop due to the environment, regardless of our personal choices.
When I was ill with Lyme disease, I remember feeling guilt and shame as I went through a mental list of various spiritual meanings attributed to Lyme disease. While there was useful information to be learned from that, I needlessly prolonged my recovery trying to figure out what I did to cause or deserve my illness. I didn’t realize that what I was projecting was not only a waste of time, but was rather egotistical as well, as I do not and cannot control everything.
Ultimately, it was an illness that inspired me to make some positive changes in my life. It also allowed me to experience the feeling of physical dependency and vulnerability in a safe and loving environment. I had a very positive experience from a negative occurrence and I did not feel guilt or shame for the positive, so why should I feel guilt or shame for the negative?
Did I deserve or subconsciously cause the illness?
My honest answer is who the hell cares?
It happened and like most seemingly “negative” experiences, I learned a positive lesson and moved on.
Update: How ironic and prophetic (?) that 5 days after I wrote this, my husband was diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus, which of course sent an initial wave of shame cascading toward me (see- I can't control everything!) The shame was useless nonsense, and I decided I was not going to waste my time or energy in that way.
How could I possibly feel shame when I knew in my heart that he didn’t deserve or cause his Covid-19 infection? He was one of the most vigilant people I knew due to his job, which placed him in the general public on a daily basis. We always knew his job had a high risk factor, but he owned a business that employed lots of people who relied on him for their income, so we took a collective chance and prayed for the best. He is recovering and we are grateful.
Once again, I have heard from countless people that they feel shame or guilt in relation to their Covid-19 infections. In every single case, the guilt and shame are useless and harmful to recovery. As long as one conducts their behavior in a way that respects themselves and others, guilt and shame don’t need to take up space in your head or heart. Shit happens and sometimes it happens to all of us.
I wonder if I would have felt differently had I not written this piece prior to his diagnosis?
Probably not, but I wanted to acknowledge the timing of the Universe on this one either way. Thankfully, I will never know.
*I am not referring to extremes in behaviors or choices regarding illness and injury, rather I am talking about average everyday choices and behaviors. Obviously, there are extremes and exceptions, but that is not the topic of this post.