Original "Tell Me About It" columns will appear in Sunday Source while Carolyn is on maternity leave. The following are excerpts from spring 2003 live discussions on washingtonpost.com.
What do you do when you are racked with guilt about something you did while on vacation and intoxicated?! I have cried daily since my return, and just feel like the regret will consume me whole. I absolutely hate myself.
-- Loserville, USA
You figure out why you did it and, if your reasons were innocent, you forgive yourself. If they weren't innocent, then you accept responsibility and work to make things right.
Either way, you also teach yourself to treat mistakes as two-act plays -- mess and cleanup -- instead of just a one-act mess. Everyone screws up. What matters is that you at least try to return the world to its pre-screwup form, and when that isn't possible, to find a way to make a good thing happen as a result of your mistake. E.g., apologize, pay for your damages, make a donation somewhere, volunteer somewhere, fix the flaw in you that led you to make the mistake, become a more empathetic person -- whatever the situation allows.
And if none of these ideas cuts it, then consider getting some help.
I need your input desperately. I am a 30-year-old woman, married for five years to the man of my dreams, my college sweetheart, and he has recently decided he wants a divorce. He had an affair with a younger woman and admitted to me that he told her he wanted a relationship with her but that she was not interested in anything serious. He still wants to leave me. He says the fact that he fell in love with and had such serious feelings for someone else means that he is not ready to be married.
Well, like I said we've already been married five years, and I think I deserve a decent effort from him, specifically coming to a marriage counselor with me so we can work this out. He doesn't even want to try at this point. What's the next step here? Everything is so out of my control.
-- Somewhere, USA
Sigh. I'm sorry.
I see your point about wanting him to try, but if he doesn't want to, your continued urging will not only be fruitless but will also compound your feelings of helplessness. Instead, I'd start concentrating on the things you can control -- meaning, your life after him.
It might not be something you want, at all, and you might not even be able to envision this life yet, which is scary as hell. But you can envision this afternoon, and this weekend, and maybe even next week, so concentrate on those. Start doing things that will make you feel better. A good place to start would be things you used to like but that you lost touch with during your marriage. Everyone gives up something when two lives merge, so I'm sure you'll turn up at least one good memory, even if you have trouble recalling it at first.
Don't be freaked, either, by the length of the taking-things-day-by-day phase. It can last a while. Just commit yourself to it, stay as loose as possible through the ups and downs, take great care of yourself, and you'll get through. Promise.
Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or email@example.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.