The other day I summed up 2017 as “The Year Zoot Learns How Terrible She Is At Adulting”, and it is no joke y’all. None of my errors have been catastrophic, but I’ve screwed made some Adult Sized errors lately and it’s sent me into non-stop shame spirals where I just beat myself up until I’m hiding in a parking lot inhaling donuts before I pick up the kids from school.
You know, because I need to look in the mirror, see the almost 30lbs I’ve gained in the last year and remember, “Oh yeah – I cope with shame by eating! This is the corporeal evidence of my failures.”
Now…the thing is…I do have the voice of Kind Zoot also in my head who tries to temper the negative with some positive. It’s not always enough to prevent a spiral and lately it’s not even enough to keep me above “stable” some days, but the voice is there reminding me of the good I do in the lives of my friends and family to counterbalance the failures.
And it hit me this weekend as I was trying to drown out the self-hate and listen to the voice of Kind Zoot…This is how the Catholic Church broke me.
Everyone talks about Catholics and guilt issues and I definitely have those to spare…but I’ve never really felt like that summarized the scarring in my soul from growing up Catholic. And this weekend it hit me: It’s not the guilt…it’s the focus on failures.
You see…I loved going to Confession as a child because it gave me a clean slate and as soon as I walked away, I was pure again and I could do my best to stay pure indefinitely. Of course, that never worked because – you know – we’re all human. But I always tried to go “X” amount of time without sinning. And the fact that I could barely last a day without telling a white lie or gossiping, always shattered my soul. And since I would have another Confession to attend at some point, I would keep track of all of these sins so I could make sure to get them all absolved in the future.
At some point I learned that you could ask God for forgiveness for your sins in your prayers and it would almost give you a clean slate so I started doing that in middle school. I started praying every night for forgiveness by listing my sins and failures and then try my best to go all day without gossiping or telling white lies or coveting or lusting and DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL? It’s terrible. So every night I would contemplate my sins and work the next day to do better.
I remember this feeling SO VIVIDLY – the incredible desire to NOT FAIL. I would start “fresh” after I prayed, or after confession, or after Mass (there’s an absolution prayer during Mass) or after a church retreat or event – I always loved that feeling: NOW! Now I start with a clean slate and NOW! Now I will do better. NOW I will live without sin. And then part of my brain would be saved for keeping a tally of my sins since that last absolution.
This even continued into my adult non-Catholic years. When I studied Buddhism for awhile I tried to let go of the wants and needs of my ego and I would tally up the failures. (Which, ironically, is also a failure of ego.) In the late 90s, I found myself answering an alter call at a Baptist church revival where I begged for forgiveness of my serious sins (I had advanced much further than white lies and gossiping) and felt the cleansing power of that forgiveness again…only to still allocate part of my brain for remembering sins thereafter.
In my head I was always tallying my sins for my next Confession. Even if I knew there was no Confession in my future.
Do you know what I never ever did? I never trained myself to tally good. I never focused on the positive I put into the universe. There was no part of my brain set aside for tallying the kindness I spread or the joy or the love. There was no part of my brain keeping track of charitable actions or forgiveness. There was never a voice saying, “Yes…Kim…you gossiped just then, but you also helped your teacher clean erasers. That was nice.”
It was just me keeping track of failures so that I’d have my list for the next Confession.
And this…THIS is the demon I fight every day. The Confession Prepping Demon. I can forget wrongs done to me over the years much easier than I can forget my own failures. I can forgive hurt caused by people in my life much sooner than I can forgive myself. There’s a part of me constantly logging all of my mistakes, as though I can’t let go of them lest I forget how truly sinful I am.
Yesterday. This hit me yesterday. I’m 41-years old and I just realized that the darkest part of my soul, the one that I’m constantly trying to rescue, is the one in perpetual preparation of Confessing her sins.
But the other voice is there. The one that tallies the good. I tried to listen to her a little bit yesterday…and I even encouraged her to maybe talk about some good from my Childhood. I often jokingly tell the horrible stories of joining clubs centered around hating specific girls in our class, and about how I ditched my Dad at a movie theater one time because I was embarrassed, and about how I used to hide behind the bushes at recess to make out with my boyfriend in 7th grade…I have permanently engraved those stories into the solid folds of my long-term memory.
But wasn’t I also sometimes kind? And helpful? I tried to get the Kind Zoot voice to reflect on my childhood and teen years and it was hard. Every time I thought of something good, I remembered ulterior motives, selfish motivations or sought after rewards tainting the memories of good. I have evidently chronicled every moment in my past – even the good ones – by also logging how they were sinful. I used to go to church with my maternal Grandmother and I thought about how much she must have enjoyed that, but then I reminded myself that I started doing it because she went to the later service where that boy I had a crush on would sometimes show up.
I can’t seem to let myself remember the nice without also remembering the thing I would have called a sin when I was Chronicling my actions for Confession. I mean, I lusted after that boy, so that totally counterbalanced the good I was doing attending Mass with my Grandmother, right?
Thank you Catholicism, for teaching me how to remember all of my sins and to never allow myself pure moments of self love not tainted in reminders of sins.
Today, that changes.
Today I’m going to burn new habits into the recesses of my brain. It’s not going to be easy because there’s a lot of instinctive behavior I’m fighting against, but I am no longer of the belief that I need to confess my sins to a higher power, why am I still logging them? Why am I letting the moments of kindness and charity fade in my memories while I crystalize the failures for eternity?
I think I’m going to start today by physically writing down the good things I do. I mean, even the mundane stuff like…so far today I’ve made my kids lunches and I’ve walked the dog. THESE ARE GOOD THINGS. I don’t deserve a ticker tape parade or anything, but they are actions that deserve attention and focus more so than the screw-up with my taxes or the credit cards or the missed deadline or incorrect print order. I can do nothing to fix the mistakes from my past but I can try to let go of them and celebrate the good that I do instead.
Today, I stop prepping for Confession and start chronically the beauty I create with love and kindness.