The Confession Prepping Demon

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. I wish I’d had more guidance to get me through this challenge known as adulting, even these Moving out budgeting tips via?Westpac would have been brilliant!

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.

9 thoughts on “The Confession Prepping Demon”

  1. Here are a few good things that you’ve done for me that you can add to your list:
    By expressing your feelings of social anxiety to me, you’ve made me feel less isolated in my own. You’ve helped me be a little braver in trying new social situations. I now think that maybe at least some of the other people are just as nervous and incomfortable as me and that helps. You helped me gain the confidence to run a 50k and 50 miler because you believed I could and that helped me believe it too. You are a great listener and have really helped me sort out my own problems on some of our runs. I really appreciate that you don’t try to fix anything and that you listen and let me know I’m not alone or wrong for what I feel. I could write much more, but my thumbs are getting tired. Thank you for being my best friend!

  2. The way you describe this reminds me strongly of Inside Out…Of how as she grows up she realizes that her happy wasn’t just happy, it was actually bittersweet.

    Good luck with your rewiring project!

  3. Oh my holy cow! This is an incredible insight!! Wow! I am RIGHT there with you!

    You know what I’m going to do…not for myself so much, but to make sure my son doesn’t have this affliction as an adult… I’m going to start asking him what he did that was kind or responsible or “good” each day as we drive home from school, or over dinner, or something. I wish my daughter still lived with me, because she is the one who really needs this. Maybe I can do it over the phone.

    Wow, Kim. This is a GOOD one! And don’t forget to add to your “good” tally how much you enrich all of your readers!!

    Smiles, Lucy

  4. Yeah. Several times I have looked at posts or blogs and thought that you Were a product of your Catholic upbringing and how that made you constantly feel guilty about things. I just have never really understood the concept of confession. I know that you are not now a believer in any deity and I can see why. I am, and what I know is that Christ died for my sins, and that there isn’t any human that can either judge my sins or absolve me of them. It is my job to be the hands and feet of Christ and to show love to others.

  5. A former minister of mine used to say we like to bury our sons in shallow, well marked graves. His advice was immediately do what you need to do about it (say your sorry, take steps to fix it, etc) and then be done with it. He would have loved your idea of tallying good deeds instead or as a balance.

  6. I know I have left this comment before and don’t want to sound like a broken record but have you heard of Tapping? EFT? I find it SO amazing in relationship to releasing negative energy. I used to fight negative thoughts SO hard!! and now I realize I need to accept myself more–that those thoughts are going to happen because we were conditioned to think them so long ago (I too was raised Catholic and am no longer). This quote about the brain intrigues me…

    In order to protect us, it has evolved to always assume the worst—it’s biased toward negativity. In his book Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson, Ph.D., explains the brain’s “negativity bias” in more detail:

    Our ancestors could make two kinds of mistakes: (1) thinking there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and (2) thinking there was no tiger in the bushes when there actually was one. The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety, while the cost of the second one was death. Consequently, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once . . . the default setting of the brain is to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources both for coping with threats and for fulfilling opportunities. Then we update these beliefs with information that confirms them, while ignoring or rejecting information that doesn’t. There are even regions in the amygdala specifically designed to prevent the unlearning of fear, especially from childhood experiences. As a result, we end up preoccupied by threats that are actually smaller or more manageable than we’d feared, while overlooking opportunities that are actually greater than we’d hoped for. In effect, we’ve got a brain that’s prone to “paper tiger paranoia.”

  7. I love this metaphor of the Tiger! It’s great! I definitely believe that and spend tons of time trying to make sure I don’t let my fear prevent opportunity – especially with the social anxieties. That one is KEY.

    I haven’t tried tapping specifically but I find similar releases if I write – really anything to be honest – which is a similar physical motion. I think that’s another reason why I like to bullet journal -it gives me an excuse to just write things out when I’m getting wound up.

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