Late last night, I watched a Facebook Live by David Bedrick on shame. He is certainly one of the most brilliant and loving humans who walks through the world. He’s a psychological activist whose work always gets me thinking and feeling.
He also happens to be one of my closest friends (the last person I stopped to say good-bye to before I left Santa Fe yesterday).
His post got me thinking and not in the way I would have expected. But my conclusion was a big “a-ha” for me and an exciting recognition.
In my late twenties, I landed at the feet of a guru, found my first therapist, attended 12 step meetings most every day of the week and a new thought church on Sundays. I signed up for mastermind groups, tried walking and sitting meditation at a Buddhist center and did past life regression sessions. This list goes on.
My point is, that I was desperately seeking….SOMETHING. I did not know what that something was, but I knew that I was broken, cracked, flawed and certainly not enough in a profound way. Hopefully, the elusive SOMETHING, would help me fix this deep seated wrongness within.
Through my inquiry, I found myself, looking squarely, into the face of shame.
Shame informed most every decision in my life. Shame told me that I was not good enough and never would be to have the career I wanted nor to be loved by someone I wanted to be loved by. Shame said that I had blown all my opportunities and privileges. Shame berated me for my ADD tendencies, and invalidated all my gifts. Shame told me constantly that I was a fuck up and fucked up.
One day, at about thirty one, I asked the guru about the overwhelming sensation of shame that would course through my body every time I looked in the mirror. Old voices would run through my head:
My female acting professor at Carnegie-Mellon who hated the women in the department:
“You’re not attractive enough to work as an actress. You may as well give up now.”
My mother, when I was thirteen and my skin broke out for the first time:
“What is wrong with you getting all those pimples? What happened to my girl with the beautiful peaches and cream skin?”
Memories of inappropriate men who I had let fuck me in my search for love; an Elvis Costello look alike coke dealer in the Village, several raging alcoholics, an older stalker who worked on Wall Street, a married Mexican cook at a restaurant where I worked, the abuser who I married and stayed with for two years and fled from, after he threw me out of a moving car then later, down a flight of stairs.
I was so ashamed of the fact that I was being abused, that I covered up for him and stayed with him, until I was in fear for my life. At that point, I broke my silence and told a friend, who said she didn’t believe me. He was too smart. He was too good looking. He was too polite.
Let me sum it up by telling you that my shame led me down roads more than once, of which I was fortunate to escape.
All of those experiences and more, mirrored the deep early experiences of shame that were embedded in DNA.
*Incest in the family.
*A mother who turned me over to the perpetrator.
*The shame of being female in an upper middle class waspy family and the culture at large.
*Since early childhood, being an artist, a poet, an empath, a rebel, an introvert in a family that wanted an extrovert, a lawyer, a good girl, a stiff upper lip, a status quo woman.
Shame says, “be your mask,” rather than attempting to be real.
I could not do it and continue to stay alive.
So, I made the break, but the shame was so deeply internalized that it followed me wherever I went.
Last night, watching David’s Live, I realized, that shame is no longer a part of my life. Perhaps the last vestiges still hover around the fringes of my life. If I’m sick, I can still feel worthless, or if I don’t make as much money at any given time as I think I “should” a whisper of shame may momentarily haunt me.
But other than these fleeting moments, this once shame based girl/woman is free.
Mostly, I feel in right size and right relationship with myself and others. I know my flaws and failings, but no longer abuse myself internally about them.
Here are things I no longer shame myself for:
* My weight fluctuating
* My sexuality
* Appropriate anger
* Having emotions
*Not liking everybody
*Not being liked or loved by everybody
*My imperfect parenting
*My needs for intimacy and deep connection.
*The intensity of my voice, my expression and my opinions
*Not fitting in to patriarchal norms
*Forgetting to do certain things, sometimes
*Loving the world as passionately and as completely as I do
Beyond all this, I realize that I regularly celebrate myself and my life. I have come to love myself. I have learned by loving, to become tender with myself on the inside
That in and of itself, is a radical act, when one has started life, from a place of such shame.
So, in essence, my revelation last night, was that I no longer identified with shame. David’s talk was for the many currently, but for me (and hopefully some others) it made me realize that it was no longer my narrative. Through a lot of tenacity, with some grace thrown in, I have dismantled shame within myself.
If I can dismantle shame on a personal level, this gives me hope that we can dismantle other “mind trances” laid on us, by fear based lies from our families and the culture. These include sexism and racism at systemic levels.
Like an alcoholic, who frees herself, once and for all from her addiction to a substance, I now realize that we can experience freedom from our attachment to shame.
Here’s a check list of somethings that worked for me, to dismantle toxic shame that ruled my life for many years.
1) Don’t blame yourself for shame. This is a toxic emotion that attaches itself to us and is based in abuse, abandonment and having our core selves invalidated. This may have come from our families, an institution, or the culture/media at large. But understand, that something was placed on you, that “grew” the shame.
2) Shame thrives and grows in an atmosphere of secrecy and silence. I started my path of healing shame by reading books, then getting myself into safe spaces where I could begin to disclose stories and experiences that I considered unspeakable. As we have seen with the recent “Me too” tsunami, victims regularly blame themselves and take on the shame for perpetrators, often for years. However, what we are also learning from “Me too” is the power of speaking out, breaking through the shame trace and finding power with each other.
3) Get away from toxic people and institutions that perpetuate and lock you into shame. You may have to figure out a new source of income if this relates to your job, you may have to seek help to get out of a shame based relationship. It may take support and years to make the shift. It’s worth it.
4) Though I am a story coach, at some point, I had to drop the story of why I felt shame, and simply feel the feelings in it’s raw, purer state. This was a life changing piece of my healing. When I could separate my feelings from the stories behind the feelings, even for a few moments, I seemed to be able to get to the root system of the shame and begin to pull it up by the roots. Spinning in the story too long can lock in the patterns. Ignoring the story leads to spiritual by pass, which is toxic in its own way. Finding the balance of understanding the story behind my shame, while not overly attaching to it, helped me find a balance to create a release and shift.
5) Women and people of color are shamed automatically via systemic patriarchy and racism in our culture. If you are born female in the culture, you are a second class citizen, regardless of privilege or skin color. From the day you are born, your body and thoughts are considered fair game to be stolen, by men in power and by other women, who buy into and collude with the patriarchal rules that are meant to suppress and victimize us, pitting against each other so we can never truly support each other. If you are a woman of color in this culture, you are automatically a third class citizen in this culture. You know this better than I do. If we can dismantle shame in ourselves, we then become available to help others dismantle shame in themselves. Then, we are prepared to take on these larger soul stealing systems and dismantle them. You cannot be effective as an activist for others, if you are imprisoned by your own shame.
6) Write, scream, cry, pound pillows and rage, risk speaking up, tell your stories, walk away from people who have the intention to hurt you, refuse to be used, re-train your beliefs to expect to receive love, money and support. Do not undercharge for your services. Do sit in hot springs, take a bath, buy yourself essential oils, find groups of allies, speak into the shame, speak past the shame. Light candles. Walk and pray. Eat good food. Treat yourself with care when you experience pain or loss. Speak and write and share until one day, you wake up, and realize that love is what rules you.
Love is your queen. Without the false veneer of shame, love is all that remains. Love yourself back into the wholeness that you are.
Written from 30,000 feet this morning…. on the second leg of my journey home to Maine today…with great love and respect to each of you