The Weight Of Guilt

pnw winter
The cottage cheese skies of winter in the Pacific Northwest.

After a few days of being sick in bed, I found my way back to Leap of Words, the online writing group I’m working with. The challenge was to write an essay about what it feels like to experience guilt, and whatever else comes up with the practice.


This would likely be a heavy piece at the best of times. At this particular moment in my life, it ended up being especially dark. We’re in the middle of a Pacific Northwest January, which means cold air, rain rain rain, damp socks in the morning and chilly feet at night, and a sun that rises late and leaves early. I find it almost insurmountably difficult to get outside during this time of year, and I don’t have a comfortable space for a home practice at the moment, so my physical exercise needs have not been getting met. (This is a Really Big Deal, I’m coming to realize.) I’m in a transition state with my living situation in many ways, and I’m also being confronted with some deep stuff I’m not really prepared to face (though I trust that I am capable of doing so) (mostly).

Add to that lingering illness sniffles, a poor night’s sleep, and some internal struggles/misgivings about an important relationship in my life and I end up with a sleepy, slightly grumpy, Sarah afflicted with an acute case of self-doubt.

Fun stuff.

I custom ordered that ring. It never quite fit, and he stopped wearing it after a while.

So I sat down to write this piece about guilt and of course what came out is my divorce. Or, more specifically, the reasons leading to my divorce. I didn’t cheat on my husband, technically, but with the way the emotional power dynamic was at the time, I might as well have. And that, my friends, was the death rattle of our marriage.


Honestly, the marriage was over well before that. He told me, at some point a couple months after we filed, that he’d given up on our relationship well before that point. He “stopped trying”. Which, as I write that, makes me wonder why. What was it about me, about us, that made him give up?

And then, will it happen again?

Am I fated to find myself years into a relationship where I am given up on?

Back to the topic at hand: guilt. So, yes, I felt guilt for cheating. More than that, by a long shot, is the guilt I felt and feel over the desires and needs that led to the cheating. To feel loved. To feel wanted. To feel sexy, and admired, and empowered. To express those feelings through physical contact of all kinds, and through conversations that are less about words and more about connection.

I chafe, big time, when I feel like my relationship dynamic has become that of friends who happen to share the same bed. Who say I love you, but don’t say I want you. When eye contact becomes sparse. When the preference is to focus on anything but one another.

So the guilt comes into play when I find myself in that situation, with years of history and promises made. How dare I ask for more? How dare I want more, when I have stability? When I have a sense of security?

lightbulbUntangling this mess requires going way back, and honestly, I’m not sure where to start. With my father, probably, because it always starts there. The first relationship where I felt like I’d been given up on. Without his influence on my life, without that through-line of feeling like I was broken and awful and defective running through most of my childhood, I probably wouldn’t have cheated on Every. Single. Person. I dated. I probably wouldn’t have slipped down the hole of drugs. I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to become the smallest, spikiest ball of anger I possibly could. (I’m not blaming him. He did the best he could with what he had. We all do. That doesn’t change the scars that I have to carry.)

Maybe if I’d been told I deserved joy, and freedom, and love as a child– no matter what I believed in, how I wanted to dress, or who I came to love– I’d believe it as an adult.

Maybe if I’d seen my mother treated as if she deserved those things, I could have internalized it for myself.

trailI have to move forward with what I have. I have to find a way to move forward that doesn’t just translate to running away. Because that would be easy, to sprint as fast as possible in the opposite direction whenever I find myself in a situation that pushes on these points. I’ve done it before. More often, I get a running start, then chuck a grenade behind me to make sure I can’t go back.

I’m tired of blowing things up. I’m tired of settling for less. I’m tired of not knowing how to navigate the space between the two.

I think being able to write this shows an uneasy but undeniable progress. And I’ll take any progress I can get.


I’ve Gotta Work On My Timing

Flying over Colorado, looking at the snowdrifts on the empty plain.

I’m making myself a promise, here and now: the next time I return to the United States from a trip, I will not do it in January.

I repeat: I will not come back in January.

You’d think I might have learned the first time around, returning to the gray, wet winter of the Pacific Northwest after five months in India, the last month of which was spent on the steamy beaches of Goa. But, no, some lessons bear repeating.

I am back on United States soil, in Colorado, for the snowiest time of the year. Not the coldest, thank goodness, but when you’re comparing -6 Fahrenheit to 16 Fahrenheit, cold becomes varying degrees of oh-my-god-my-face-hurts.

There seems to be a purpose to the timing, though. I’ve been running away from home for years, as my mother pointed out to me recently. It started as a kid, 11, 12 years old, I think, when I first packed my bags and wandered into the wild blue yonder. I embarked on that expedition with three other girls my age whom, as I look back, I realize were integral in my development. We all had our troubles, which at that age we thought we could fix by completely avoiding. Something I think we all fall prey to, sometimes more often than not.

Sunsets. The one way in which Colorado has never disappointed me is the sunsets.

Needless to say, that foray ended quickly, and I was back home before the end of the day. I have this vision of me being let out of the cop car (sorry mom; sorry, papa) and crying as I ran to my parents. It wasn’t a comfortable, relieved kind of cry. More a panicked, what-the-fuck-have-I-done kind of cry. Regardless, I was home, and that was that for a few years.

Then came my turn to run away with the older boy. Also integral to my development, in different ways. Not nearly as short lived, and a whole lot more interesting.

You know, I sit here thinking about all the times I really have run away from home, and it makes me not want to think about it anymore. Or, at least not admit all those times to you. To myself. I kept leaving, over and over, trying to escape…what? Colorado, certainly. The dry air, the cold winters, the restrictive politics. The memories. The connections. The complications.

One can only run for so long, before they find themselves exhausted and, often, lost.

A lot has happened since I left Colorado for what I swore would be the last time. Marriage. Polyamory. Divorce. Mushrooms. God. Love. India. Love. Peru. Love. It’s a lot to process.

The one way in which Colorado never fails to disappoint me in is diving in the winter. Or, more accurately, not being able to drive in the winter.

So, I return to Colorado. To the house, and the room, and the family I have spent so much time away from. Now, in the middle of winter, that time of inwardness and reflection. I have practical reasons for being here, but they aren’t the reason I’m here.

Maybe it’s time for me to figure out how to leave, without running away.

And until then, I’ll just figure out how to stay warm.

Lovelovelove, lovelies.