“Freedom lies in accepting our whole, imperfect selves and giving up the need for perfection” – Edith Eger, author of The Gift

I was given this book after Ryan went missing.  I confess it took me many months before I could read it or even pick it up. Yet, it was as if my soul knew that salvation lay within its cover.  I believed it was a journal filled with suffering when it was a handbook for survival.   

Life is not linear. The essence of our being is constantly at war with what is right and what feels good. We struggle with our decisions and battle with a litany of ‘what ifs. If only our future choices were as clear as our hindsight visions, we would always know what lay ahead. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Instead, moments of clarity and understanding come out of the blue that defines who we are.  Through epiphanies, we will be continually shown that forgiveness can be authentic and compassionate. Our ability to see things from a different perspective allows us to grow and change.

What I have learned is that regret and guilt are not synonymous.

How often have we looked at our past actions and felt this sense of shame and guilt?  Guilt provides concrete reasons why we fail to be who we want to be, and the consequences can only be blamed on ourselves. Guilt is not related to any action at all but rather about feeling bad. It doesn’t require any changes to our thinking or behaviour. Guilt allows us to stay frozen in time, reliving our decisions with fear and loathing.

Regret, on the other hand, is the feeling of remorse. It’s based on the actual impact caused by our actions or inactions. Regret acknowledges the pain caused and demands restitution.  It asks us to propel ourselves forward to change our behaviour and avoid repeating the same mistakes. Unfortunately, we are stuck with only guilt when we don’t allow ourselves to feel regret. 

For the longest time, I have felt nothing but guilt. Guilt about how I parented my children growing up. Guilt about my inattentiveness or my tiredness.  Guilt about my reactions to the most ordinary situations. Guilt about how I conducted myself when faced with challenges. I felt the constant heavy blanket of guilt. Somedays, it threatened to overwhelm me. But I couldn’t release it because the guilt felt like a fitful punishment that I should suffer.

We often don’t realize the pain we have caused ourselves until we have time and space to think.

I now recognize that I have the ability to change the narrative. However, I cannot change the past.  If that were possible, Ryan would be here safe. I would be a whole being devoid of guilt or regret because I wouldn’t have had to face my biggest fear or my greatest tragedy and find myself wanting.  I can, however, stop judging myself for the person I was.  I am that woman no longer. I am learning to recognize when a new version of myself emerges and to celebrate what a hard-won victory it is.  

I regret so much, but I can embrace it because it means I can change. After all, I’m perfectly imperfect.