Guilty As Charged

A year and a half ago, I was caught speeding on the highway en route to my family’s cabin on a long weekend. My cousins were trailing behind me and I thought it would be a good idea to push my car to its limits so that I could be the first one to arrive and claim my bedroom. I was on an open, unpopulated highway in good weather conditions, and I was travelling at speeds pushing 50km/h over the posted speed limit. Turns out this was a very popular spot to accelerate and the police knew it. I got caught in a speed trap set up to catch hundreds of people doing the same stupid thing as I was doing. I was forced to give up my car keys immediately and was informed my car was subject to an automatic two-week impound due to the nature and severity of my offence. I was also slapped with a $368 ticket and a charge of “Excessive Speeding.” Needless to say, I was not the first to arrive at the cabin.

Now, I will be the first to admit that what I did was straight up stupid. I was being a complete reckless idiot with no regard for the risks I was taking or the potential consequences of my actions To be honest, I got off easy. I could have hit a wild animal or even another car if I lost control at such high speeds. I could have killed someone. And all because I was racing to get to a weekend of leisure and relaxation. How fucking stupid was I? Incredibly. That being said, luckily I did not kill anyone, and oh well, I got an enormous fine that I probably deserved and life goes on. The problem was that I was leaving for a year abroad in Australia just a few weeks later and could not afford to pay my fine at the time, so I decided to dispute the charges.

All of my friends -many of whom had been to traffic court before for their own violations- advised me to dispute the charges in the hopes that the officer wouldn’t show up to court and the charges would subsequently be dropped. Really, I just needed to post-pone paying my ticket because I didn’t have $368 just lying around (especially after paying almost $300 in impound fees for my car). I sent in my notice of dispute and went on my way to Australia. A year later, within a week of arriving back home, I received a summons in the mail advising me of my court date. I thought about just paying the ticket at this time, but when I realized that pleading guilty to my charge would also incur an extra $1000 in fines over the next three years, I decided to go through with my dispute and hope that the case would get thrown out or that I could at least get the cost reduced. Today, almost six months later, I went to court.

The officer was there just as I hoped he wouldn’t be. He seemed to recognize me and came over to talk to me about my options. As it turns out, I was going exactly 3km over the maximum speed I was allowed to travel before entering into an excessive speeding penalty zone. Basically, I was S.O.L., and since I had been served the minimum penalty for my offence, I would have to pay the fines. The officer was incredibly friendly and polite (just as he was when he pulled me over) and advised me that I could either plead guilty and ask for an extension to pay, or plead not guilty and go to trial. It was a no brainer for me. I hadn’t got the results I had hoped for, I didn’t want to go to court again and I knew damn well I was guilty. And so, a few minutes later, the judge called me to the stand and asked for my plea: “Guilty,” I responded.

The judge did grant me an extension to pay, but in the end it doesn’t make much of a difference. $368 is never an easy amount to just fork over. But hell, I deserved it I guess. And I can look forward to my first “Safe Driver’s” bill to arrive in the mail on my birthday. (There is literally more irony than I can handle in that last sentence). Que sera sera. I got myself into this mess and I will slowly dig myself out of it. I’ve definitely learned my lesson about speeding, and I consider myself lucky that it didn’t end in more tragedy. But I also learned a very unexpected lesson today: I learned the lesson between guilt and shame.

As I have mentioned numerous times throughout this blog, I suffer from extreme feelings of  guilt which is the driving force of my anxiety, which is the driving force of my depression and so on. First off, I have begun to realize that I need to tackle my disease in this order: I cannot tackle my depression without first tackling my anxiety, and I cannot tackle my anxiety without first tackling my guilt. I’ve been trying to get a handle on the guilt, and if you’ve been following my blog, you may have noticed that my last few posts have focused on this first step more than anything else. But despite my efforts, I have yet to get past it. I’m hoping that today was my breakthrough.

First off, when I verbally convicted myself as guilty in front of the judge today, I didn’t actually feel anything. But when I left the courthouse, I did feel shameful and even embarrassed that I was stupid enough to commit an offence for which I would now have to pay. I realized that pleading guilty did not affect my conscience because I have already made amends with the guilt associated with my crime. Over the past 18 months, I have beat myself up, felt the horrible pangs of guilt and remorse and eventually I forgave myself for my crime. I did something stupid, sure, but I was able to move on. But the shame still lingered. The guilt I felt came from doing something that I knew was wrong by law. The shame I felt came from doing something stupid that reflects poorly on my character. Guilt is a temporary feeling that, while very real and often painful, will pass over time. Shame is like guilt’s evil twin. Shame is an emotion that hurts to the core. Shame can make you physically ill. Shame is not so easy to get rid of.

This is not the word of God, but this is how I am beginning to understand my emotions. It is the deeper emotion of shame that is affecting me the most. I feel shameful that I have made poor choices when I knew better. I feel shameful that I have hurt others when I didn’t intend to. I feel shameful that I have in some way disappointed people because I haven’t lived up to their expectations of me. Some of my shame is earned and I need to learn to manage it. But some of my shame is based on things that are not my fault and that I can not, should not change (like feeling as if I am a disappointment to people simply because I don’t fit their mould of expectations). Now that I am able to separate the guilt from the shame, I am already finding it easier to understand my emotions and what’s behind them, and eventually I hope I will be able to start tackling the causes of my shame one by one until I can sort out what shame I can live with and what shame I can let go of. And all thanks to a speeding ticket and a guilty plea.

 
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