Urgh, did I really do that… again?

Early in the morning, I walked into the blaring light in the kitchen.

I’d forgotten to switch it off when I came down for a glass of water the night before.

It’s annoying when it happens.

In between my morning coffee and taking a shower, my irritation is soon forgotten without leaving a trace of its effect on the rest of my day, let alone my life.

I wouldn’t even notice its tiny dent on the electricity bill.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could limit our life mistakes to such trivia?

Sadly, mistakes that grip us and take us into a spiral of self-hatred and guilt are far more damaging and long-lasting.

In this post, I’ll explore some life-altering mistakes we ordinary mortals can make, the mistakes I’ve made that drove me to self-punishment, and how I reached the tipping point to change my destructive behaviour.

If you’re dealing with guilt and self-hate because of some life-altering mistakes you’ve made, I hope my experience can help you move past suffering and come out of the other side.

Mistake No. 1: “The Grass Looked Greener—I Cheated on My Spouse”

The grass looked so much greener every time a new staff member with a trail of alluring scent passed your way.

For a long time, all you did was stretch your neck as discreetly as you could, following the scent of freshly cut grass and sniffing at it.

It smelled so good.

The longing soon turned into aching.

You couldn’t take it anymore.

Then it happened.

In the aftermath of an irrevocable “mistake,” all you can say is:

Those damn team-building activities…

Not long after the euphoric moment of the forbidden union, you come to the realisation:

The new green grass still needed to be mowed like any other grass.

No matter how much  greener it might have looked, it still needed work.

Incidentally, you’ve spent the best part of your life doing the exact same thing with your spouse: mowing your lawn to near perfection together.

Now you’ve lost it all.

And you have to start all over again without knowing if the other person has the same tools and patience to make lawn with you.

More than anything, the hurt you inflicted on your loyal spouse is so unbearable.

You fall into self-hate and guilt.

Mistake No. 2: “I Couldn’t Stop Myself”—the Impulsive Gambler

For days, a voice inside you keeps reminding you how much money you’ve won not so long ago.

You swooped in for a fortune at the stroke of a spin, hitting red on a roulette wheel.

You’ve never felt a sudden burst of energy like it in your entire life; it was out of this world.

The voice keeps reminding you of that feeling—your euphoric moment.

Day 1: “Man, do you remember that feeling? Let’s do it again.”

Day 2: You huff, ignore the voice, and go about your day as usual.

Day 3: “What if?” creeps in. “It has happened before. Surely, it can happen again?”

Day 4: Your rational mind wins. “Nah, don’t be stupid.” “It was a stroke of luck.” You keep ignoring the voice and going about your business.

Day 5: Come on, man, you don’t know what you’re missing out  on,” the voice harps on. It irritates you. “Go away.” – you shout.

Day 6: Oh man, you’re losing an opportunity here. You can pay off a chunk of your debt with another win. You can take your kids to Disney World. Think about it.”

Day 7: My kids would love Disney World, wouldn’t they? My wife wouldn’t be so stressed over money. Maybe, just maybe…”

Day 8: You finally give in to the voice. You resolve to make the same win and take your kids to Disney World. In the blink of an eye, the money you needed to pay for rent is gone. You’re frozen to the spot. Mouth hanging opens. Speechless.

Day 9: The voice has gone quiet for a few days.

Day 10: The voice has returned and said, “You idiot.”

You fall into the cycle of depression, self-hated, and guilt.

Mistake No. 3: “Work was Everything to Me Till…” – Workaholic

You might not have physically abandoned your family.

But work has always come before anything else.

You were addicted to it like an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol.

Kids stopped telling you what they were up to at school.

You missed their school plays and games so often that they stopped expecting you to show up.

They sensed your aloofness and distance even when you were present.

On a rare family dinner together, your mind was occupied with the following morning’s meeting for a new product launch.

Or another.

Kids grew up and moved out to do their own things.

They became as distant from you as you were from them.

You were a good provider for them, you thought.

You were working hard for the family.

In a remote hotel room on one of many business trips, where you find yourself alone with no one calling to say “happy birthday,” you feel a rush of emptiness.

Plunk down on a luxury sofa, staring at empty tables and seats.

It finally hit you what a monumental mistake you’d made.

You start to mourn for the lost hours.

Making Mistakes and Playing the Victim

Perhaps not to such an extreme as above, but can you think of major mistakes you’ve made that caused intense self-hatred?

I had been in that state for a long time.

Here’s a little background to help understand the state of mind I was in.

For the best part of my life, I regarded myself as a very responsible person. So did everyone in my circle.

Since I had left home at 18 and supported myself through education, I couldn’t live any other way but to be responsible.

I worked hard to pay myself through university and juggled attending courses during the week, private tutoring in the evening, and waiting tables on weekends.

Making ends meet while keeping good grades was a real struggle, but strangely, I could barely remember the hardship.

In my mind, I was going somewhere.

And all the hardship was a means to that somewhere, not the end.

So I took everything in stride.

I did go to many places metaphorically and physically later on.

So years later, when I had to face an awful mistake I had made that affected every area of my life badly, I couldn’t stop blaming myself:

You’ve gone through all that trouble to get here? Seriously?

Blame and hate were in repeat mode, torturing me for days on end.

I played a “nice” victim.

See how much I’m hurting? I deserve all this.

It Got Worse

I didn’t take care of what I ate, stopped exercising altogether, and shut the world down; I alienated people, broke ties with friends and family, and became a prisoner of my home.

I perversely enjoyed being miserable.

And I would’ve stayed in that state for the rest of my life hadn’t the pivotal wake-up call shaken me to the core.

Apparently, my body couldn’t take my self-destruction any more.

Several visits to the GP, many antibiotics, an A&E visit, a CT scan, a couple more medical procedures poking inside, hospital stays, anesthetic, and surgery—I never realised my body would be so severely affected by my mental state.

I was doing this to myself by playing a victim.

I was punishing myself so I’d feel less guilty about my mistakes.

It taught me that if we were determined to wallow in guilt and keep punishing ourselves, accepting our mistakes alone wasn’t going to get us out of a hole.

In fact, we dug deeper into the hole.

“I Didn’t Mean to But I Couldn’t Help It”

When we fall into this state, we never mean to stay in it.

It’s just how things naturally play out.

It seems to be the only way we can cope with the consequences of our mistakes.

Then, before we know it, we find ourselves stuck there and lost.

The only way to dig ourselves out of this self-destructive cycle is to forgive ourselves and resolve to move on.

It sounds so simple.

But is it easy to do?

Definitely not.

It took me surgery and, as a result, a change of perspective.

Born Bright and Shiny

Imagine a million cells in your body are like tiny spotlights.

When all the lights inside you are switched on, you’re your blindingly bright self, just as you were the day you were born: bright and shiny.

Your body is pouring out millions of lights; you’re illuminating.

Can you feel the energy within and around you?

Wherever you go, you make your surroundings colourful.

People you interact with and things you do every day become brighter thanks to you.

Think about newborn babies.

How do they make us feel around them?

They make us smile, don’t they?

But when you wallow in self-hated, guilt, and punishment, you’re switching off these lights one by one.

You’re the one who’s turning them off, no one else.

You become a grey mass, walking around like a zombie.

There’s no energy in you; people walk right past you; the things you do are a dead colour to you and others.

Put All Those Lights Back On Today

It took me several doctors’ appointments and a scary surgery to make a resolution to move on from my mistakes and self-punishment.

I don’t wish for anyone to wait until such a drastic effect takes place to get a kick in the teeth.

So, visualise all the lights you were born with within you.

Do everything you can to keep them on.

When you feel you deserve to be punished, it’s hard to think of anything other than punishing you.

But remember, by holding onto guilt and punishment, you’re putting your mind and body at risk, which will affect you for the rest of your life.

Final Thoughts

Robert Downey Jr. got it right:

I think you end up doing the stuff you were supposed to do at the time you were supposed to do it.

Robert Downey Jr.

That’s it.

We were fools.

We were supposed to be fools at that particular moment in our lives so we could beat ourselves up for a bit, get up, learn from it, grow, and become a better person.

Where will your mistakes take you in the next couple of years?

Will you be illuminating brighter than ever thanks to all the mistakes you’ve made?

Or will you be walking in complete darkness like a zombie?

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