On healing, guilt and self-discovery – part two

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Mum and I on the beach

A continuation of last week’s post, On healing, guilt and self-discovery – part one

It’s a guilt that comes from the knowledge that what I am doing is a luxury. I’m confused and I fret about what I should do next, but the very fact I can ask that question is a wild privilege that I struggle to accept gracefully. It’s partly a matter of cultural privilege, but a personal one also. I can afford to sustain my current life because I bought a house with my parents’ inheritance and am able to live partly off the income. It isn’t a long-term solution. I don’t want to rely on that money and I work hard to earn my own, but I also have to work hard to allow myself to make the most of the opportunity that has been bequeathed.

On a beach with my family
An early family holiday with me in anti-sunburn style.

Financial privilege isn’t something I grew up with. My family were by no means poor, but we also weren’t rich. My Mum was a midwife, and my Dad a nurse, and they worked fiercely hard to maintain our lifestyle and buy the house that eventually became mine. They taught me the value of hard work and I took jobs from the age of 15, saving hard for every trip I’ve ever taken before. Those times, I knew I’d earned it. This time, despite also having worked and saved, I feel guilty at the aspect of my inheritance. It’s not something you can take pride in, and while some call this position lucky, something borne of your parents’ death can’t really be called that. It’s a complicated privilege and one I’m trying to use well, first of finding the time to heal and re-find my way — and therein lies more guilt.

A time to heal

Healing isn’t something we’re often encouraged to do in England, or have the opportunity to. We push on through and make the best of things, perhaps busying ourselves to hide the suffering. People like Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love, who set off on a personal journey to ‘find themselves’ are scoffed at as self-indulgent and made to look frivolous in their endeavours. I disagree with that — facing oneself is important and difficult. Once we’ve helped ourselves, we’re in a much better position to help others, which is primarily what I want to do. I’ve seen far too many adults still scarred from age-old trauma, simply because they’ve never dealt with whatever caused the pain. That type of behaviour causes pain not only to themselves but also to others. I don’t want to do that so I’ve always tried to seek help.

My family and I under a tree
My family and I as a baby

In the past few years following my Mum’s death, I’ve been through and studied therapy, I’ve turned to friends, theories, books, yoga, travel, plant medicines, meditation, Buddhism and more. Illness, alcoholism, separation and death threw up many a challenge in my teens and early adulthood, and that needed a little reflection. All of what I sought has helped in its own way to start to heal those wounds and let me know myself a little better. One of the things I discovered along the way was the pressure I put on my self and the refuge I take in plans— something that was exacerbated when back at home. Instead of simply seeing the cliché of unhappy people stuck in jobs they hate, I also saw plenty of friends and family working hard at jobs they love — jobs that help people and they feel passionate about. When I see people like that — people like Steve, my parents, happy nurses, teachers, artists — I feel frustrated that I’m not being as useful as them, or that I don’t yet know how to. I’m impatient to find my purpose, but I know I’ll never find it if I don’t give it time.

Learn to let go

The last year has been a good start in uncovering that answer, but it’s now time to let go of guilt and stop acting out of self-imposed pressure. I can’t, nor do I want to, ponder life forever. There will come a time to act, but now is not that time. I know that working in communications for a charity or being a journalist isn’t my path, but writing, teaching yoga, being a therapist or running a retreat centre might be. Now is the time to explore. Over the next few months in Bali, I am going to write, practice yoga, do The Artist’s Way, take some of the classes that Ubud has to offer, and above all try not to fret about what comes next, or feel guilty about devoting time to myself. It may sound idyllic, and perhaps it will be, but it’s also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done — letting go and surrendering to what will be.

Read the first part of the story here.

23 thoughts on “On healing, guilt and self-discovery – part two”

  1. Hi Victoria,

    I have been following your blog for a while, in awe of you, even though I too travel for a large proportion of the year. This post surprised me, not because of your open heartedness, but because I didn’t imagine you’d feel guilty for being happy. While reading it though, I see I have felt the same. Is it the UK or just our beginnings in life that make us feel guilty for having better? Encouragement at being fulfilled and fully expressing yourself has been scoffed at for too long in the UK. But the other way, self denial and depreciation hasn’t worked, has it! I, like you, believe we can’t truly help others or be happy if we have not first looked to ourselves. Understanding and loving yourself enables you to be accepting and loving to others. Self reflection is not only beneficial but necessary. As is allowing ourselves to fully embrace and enjoy what ever good comes our way or that which we create. For what it is worth, this fellow human is encouraging you to drop the guilt at being able to live such a great life and to go use the energy to change your part of the world by continuing to be a careless joy spreader! We all want to be happy, and we all need to allow others to be when the goodness finds them. Being happy gives others permission to do/be the same. ENJOY!!!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your wonderfully warm and wise words, India. The guilt is something I’ve carried for a while, but was exacerbated ten fold by being back in the place where it began. We’ve been in Bali a few weeks now and I’m feeling much more positive and clear again. All the lovely comments, including yours, have helped make me start to let go of that guilt and truly realise how futile it is. It’s something I know, but it’s validating to hear others say it too. Thank you! P.s I’m really enjoying your blog too 🙂

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  2. Beautiful post and pictures. Thanks so much for sharing such depth with wonderful clarity. I hope you enjoy the artist’s way work and maybe even have a group of women to go through it with. I worked through it with a group of amazing women in buenos aires and we all grew and bonded so, so much. Also recommend Active Hope by Joanna Macy after you finish AW 🙂 xo

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    • Thank you Carolyn. It’s funny you mention Joanna Macy. Steve interviewed her for Continuum and we met someone who works with her just the other day. I already had her on my reading list and will now move her to the top. Thank you 🙂

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  3. I’m from the US with its me-me-me culture, and I’m in my 20’s, which is a selfish decade of self-discovery but, I still feel guilty that I’m living off my inheritance (my father died 2 years ago) and using the money to travel. I mention this only because I imagine it must be much harder to make time for self-discovery and healing in a culture that doesn’t place a lot of value on those acts.

    I’m also feel frustrated when I see people who are passionate about their work and are truly helping others in their day to day lives. But I try to remind myself that I’m not being frivolous by paying attention to my wants and needs. And I’m not being frivolous by writing — creating art in my own small way. And neither are you. Thank you for writing about this topic, and I hope we are both able to let go of our guilt. It really isn’t a very helpful emotion.

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    • Thanks Emma. As you know, I loved your post, and now I love this comment to. Thanks for your kind words. Here’s to letting go of guilt! 🙂

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  4. Hello. I’ve been reading and enjoying your posts for a while. This really resonated with something I read at the weekend, and I thought you might find it interesting too.

    If you follow the link and scroll down to the section on Kierkegaard on Anxiety and Creativity you’ll find some fascinating stuff on the role of guilt – the last paragraph quoting Rollo May I found really helpful.

    If the link is at all problematic, you’ll find it at http://www.brainpickings.org posted on June 19 and searchable by ‘Kierkegaard’.

    Good luck on your amazing journey!

    Alison

    Reply
    • Ah ha, another fan of Brain Pickings! Isn’t she brilliant? That post and the paragraph you’ve highlighted are wonderful. They really resonated with me. Thank you so much for sharing them.

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  5. I have at times in my life struggled with happiness or a lack thereof, and to this day I have times of sadness and depression. I think that is just being human.

    We have a tendency to look to the past or probable future for validation of our actions and of our lives in general. One of the things I learned in my own searching and which led me to be the slightly more well adjusted and content person I am today, was and is trying to truly embrace the notion that the future and the past do not exist, we are here only now and as such should embrace the moment for what it is.

    We are alive only now, regardless of how we got here, or what might come next, this moment is all that matters. If you can embrace that you will have found happiness.

    Reply
    • Thanks Tyrhone. I’m pleased you commented as the post you wrote on your birthday really highlighted how content you are in your own skin. I aspire to that and it’s great to hear these words of wisdom. Thank you. ‘Living in the moment’ is like a catchphrase for Ubud so hopefully I’ll learn something here.

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  6. I recently had a conversation with a friend about this whole guilt and feeling like we do/do not deserve something business… First of all, focusing on what we do or do not deserve is pointless because it’s completely arbitrary.

    More importantly though, you have worked hard and gone through shit to get to the place where you are now. It’s easy to forget what things were like before in relation to now, but it’s true. I feel now like it’s almost too easy for me to be living in SE Asia, I’m not working for it – but I DID – I lived at home and worked 50+ hour weeks with long commutes for 2+ years. I made (and still make) responsible decisions. Just because it doesn’t seem like I deserve it right this moment doesn’t mean I didn’t do something earlier to deserve it, or more accurately, make it happen because I wanted to. I’m sure it’s very similar for you.

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  7. I totally understand your guilt, and I don’t have any solutions, because I’ve also been looking in different ways, all my life. However, I maybe can help on one point, and I don’t know your entire story, but as a mom you no way need to feel guilt about your inheritance. Parents WANT to leave something for their kids, and they are, I promise, delighted that you are using it to such wonderful purpose. You are inspiring others by what you are doing, and that is important. although you know many folk who love their jobs, they are in the minority, and those stuck in the rut get much pleasure from vicariously traveling through you. You will find your passion/way/whatever, and you will succeed …… I just hope that you can learn to enjoy it!

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    • Thank you Linda. Those words mean a lot. This whole post and the comments it’s received have been a good wake-up call be realising that I really need to spend more time appreciating and enjoying, and far less (i.e No time) feeling guilty! Thank you 🙂

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  8. I think that more than anything your mum would be so proud of the journey you are on and that you are living a life true to yourself. And perhaps even happier that she was able to help you on that path in a small way. Guilt is a tough beast because you can’t logic it away, and your brain will circle back to it in times when you’re perhaps more insecure in other areas in your life — like as you figure out what is the next right focus for you, be it the retreat, teaching, blogging, or some other endeavor. I am so sorry you live with this pain and doubt, for you that gift of chance that caused you to have your inheritance has set you on a new path in life, and one I think you owe it to your mum to see how it plays out. It does not serve you to live a life you think you “should” or that you “might” have if you didn’t have the income — that’s not the reality, and you have to honor the gifts you have been given. In this area, the money is a gift so you can process and focus on the other lessons you meant to learn, and ultimately find how that allows you to bring your purpose to others.

    xo

    Reply
    • Aw, thank you Shannon. That’s a beautifully written piece of advice 🙂 As I said to Linda above, this last week has really put into perspective how I need to shift my focus – away from feeling guilty and more towards gratitude and enjoyment. Thanks for the lovely words. I miss you!

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  9. I’ve been going through a similar guilt with inheritance, and grappled with whether to share. After reading your beautifully honest thoughts here though, it makes me want to. My uncle passed away not long before I embarked on a big trip, which originally would have involved teaching English to fund my travels. Then I inherited some money and was able to travel without teaching, allowing myself to focus on my writing. I’ve always worked my ass off to travel, and suddenly, I’m able to do it a little more freely than I ever could have imagined. People might call it lucky, but at the same time, its a result of a very sad situation and its hard to feel lucky after that. It also takes away a little of the pride I’ve always had in finding ways to travel on my own, no matter what. But I keep working hard and know I need to make the most of this gift by furthering my career along the way. At the end of the day, we can’t allow ourselves to feel guilty about gifts we’re given or dreams we’re lucky enough to live. From following your blog, you seem like a wonderful person and I’m sure you’ll continue to work hard and find happiness along the way — and hopefully the guilt associated with that journey will pass.

    Reply
    • Hi Britany, I’m pleased this resonated with you. When I hear of other people in this situation, the answer seems obvious – to let go of the guilt, and enjoy. It’s always a little harder with ourselves, but I think I’m slowly getting there. Thanks for your lovely words 🙂

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  10. Victoria, I can completely relate to the feeling of not quite knowing what your “calling” is. I sent myself off to Korea thinking the answers would land in my lap but 6 months in I’m still just as confused as ever. Something I’ve been telling myself lately is to not worry SO much about the future, because someday I’ll look back and wish I’d enjoyed these experiences more in the moment. There’s nothing wrong with choosing just to live and enjoy life in the moment– most often you figure things out when you’re not actually trying to figure them out. By the way, I’ll be in Ubud for a few days in August if you’d like to grab a coffee or something. 🙂

    Reply
    • It’s so true that the present can pass you by if you constantly set yourself in the past/future. I’m definitely trying to work on that too. There’s a great quote “Life is what happens when you’re bisy making other plans”. Ubud is a great place for working on living in the moment.

      It would be lovely to meet you while you’re here. Just let us know when you’re arriving. I look forward to it 🙂

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  11. Hi Victoria, it was so nice meeting you at Jana’s workshop. Hopefully we can get together again sometime, maybe in October? I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you. I also feel very fortunate in my lifestyle, but find myself feeling a weight of responsibility to make the most of my opportunities. It feels overwhelming sometimes. On top of that also comes the normal life lessons we have to deal with, no matter who we are, and those can be difficult at times too. By putting a focus and priority on self discovery and healing, I get to healthier places more quickly in my life than I might otherwise. In turn, this enhances my ability to add value in the world and to find greater meaning and fulfillment in my own life and relationships. That book you linked to sounds really interesting to me, as a creatively minded person myself. I’ll have to check it out sometime soon. 🙂

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  12. As a fellow full time traveler I am not sure the word privileged is what I would use. Many people could afford to live the way we do but make different choices. Their negative comments are really just a reflection of their inability to let go and be free. Even for a while. Great post!

    Reply
    • Thank you Jonathan. To be honest, it’s my own critical voice that I am dealing more than with that of others. On the whole, those I know are incredibly supportive. It’s myself I have to overcome!

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