“I’m miserable and it’s all my fault. I hate it when that happens.”
I recently posted this statement on my Facebook page. I was referring to a particularly bad case of poison ivy that I’ve had for the past week. You see, I know I have bad reactions to poison ivy, and I am usually very careful to avoid an outbreak. I wear long sleeves and gloves to work in the yard, and if I don’t, then I wash very carefully with a scrub that removes the plant oils from the skin.
This time I did neither. When I finished working I was so covered in mud that I became focused on getting out of my muddy clothes (and jacket, shoes, and socks), and in the process I forgot my “make sure you don’t get poison ivy” ritual washdown. The result is one of the worst cases I’ve had, requiring a trip to the doctor, a shot, and a prescription, including a discovery of the joys of prednisone-induced insomnia. And so I wrote, “I’m miserable and it’s all my fault. I hate it when that happens.”
This made me wonder–would I be any less miserable if it weren’t my fault? if I had someone else to blame? if it was a random accident or a previously undiscovered allergy? And you know what? I think I would be. I keep thinking, “If only I’d remembered” and “I can’t believe I forgot” and “What was I thinking?” I keep berating myself for my stupidity, which really doesn’t help me survive the itch.
This is not, of course, the first time I have suffered because of my own mistakes. I have made plenty of bad choices in my life and have had to face the consequences of my lack of judgment. I didn’t particularly like those experiences either. It’s so much easier when we can blame someone else.
In those situations where someone else was to blame for my suffering, I learned some important lessons about trust and vulnerability and even how to overcome difficult experiences. But in those situations where I was to blame for my own suffering, I learned even more. There is nothing like sitting smack dab in the middle of a cesspool of your own making that forces you to realize your own weaknesses, your vulnerability to particular temptations, your propensity to choose immediate gratification regardless of the cost. In times like that, your options are pretty clear: if you want to get out of the cesspool, you have to stop making messes. You also have to realize that the public mistakes–the ones that result in your backside being covered in mud–are not nearly as important as the secret ones, the oils clinging to your skin and psyche, invisible until the outbreak.
So here’s to making mistakes. Here’s to screwing up royally. Here’s to waking up to a horrible smell and then realizing, “Oh, wow, that’s me!” Because then you can choose to change. Then you can learn to make better choices. Then you can stop hurting yourself–and others–with your self denial and lack of awareness. Then you really can get to the cause of that itch.
We don’t need to fear making mistakes. We need to fear not learning from them.
And now, if you will excuse me, it is time for me to take my prednisone.