I remember the first time I knew what I was feeling was shame.
I was used to the skin crawling desire not to exist. The physiological experience that rendered me powerless.
I didn’t know it had a name. And then I heard someone describe it and I was like – oh! Yes! That’s me! I am full of shame.
It’s such a weak feeling.
We really don’t like it.
We don’t like the feeling of it and we don’t like to talk about it.
As for me…
I am ashamed of my coarse and unruly hair.
I am ashamed of my marked skin.
I am ashamed of my relationship history.
I am ashamed of my health choices.
I am ashamed of my financial situation.
I am ashamed of so many things that I have said.
I am ashamed of taking up space.
I am ashamed of this blog – certain aspects of it in particular gnaw at my insides.
I am ashamed of the times when my trauma has overridden my groundedness and the erratic behavior that has ensued. The memories bring shame curling over me.
I am ashamed of how my dissociation is obvious at times.
I am ashamed at my carelessness, particularly in my twenties.
I am ashamed of wanting.
I feel such an ‘ouch’ feeling just writing about it. I am ashamed of writing too.
I have learned, slowly, to withstand this shame.
Often I can’t.
Often I grasp for reassurance, ruminating alone or in company, trying to feel better.
And what purpose does all this shame serve?
I can repair, apologize, make amends where I choose.
I can change my choices now, today, anytime I want.
So what is the purpose of the shame?
The shame serves an old purpose. It keeps me outside the world. It keeps my-self from the world. It keeps my work out of the world.
There’s no other purpose. A part of me dying in shame doesn’t repair a moment of thoughtlessness. Or a moment when I was human rather than glossy (as if this should be repaired at all).
My shame formed as I saw how other people respond to me. Aspects of myself were driven underground, not to be seen in years. And still much remains unearthed. It’s a powerful force – so powerful that it is usually unspoken and thus in dark, out of the light in which it might be exposed to some new compassion or kindness.
I am writing this not to tell you all about me – although that part is certainly there and it is difficult to withstand being this open. I am writing as closely as I can about my own shame in the hopes that you might recognize yourself in it and might see something new about your own shame in my description of mine.
We’re not alone in this. Even though shame is intrinsically a lonely feeling.
The ability to feel my shame for a few moments at least is what lets me push send on a blog or return a difficult phone call. It gives me choice when I allow myself to feel it and name it.
For me, talking about it doesn’t help much. When I feel shame there are two things that do help.
The first is time. There are problems and situations and mistakes and they can be addressed. But I need to wait until I stop feeling ashamed.
The second is being with myself in a deep way. Just breathing isn’t enough. I need to inhabit myself like the animal that I am. Staying with the subtle sensations – moving, breathing, sounding. I have learned some practices alone and with others that help me along this path.
Whether it is time or a physical practice it is some form of aliveness that is a counterpoint to shame.
It is the aliveness that we keep under wraps when we think we are wrong, ugly, not good enough, or inappropriate.
Shame lies below so much of what goes wrong around us and in us.
And first we have to feel it. It’s gross and it feels like our lives are at stake and yes – our lives are indeed at stake. They were and they are.
As we feel we take in more of ourselves and have more of ourselves to work with. To love and crusade, and express and be.
And these larger, more supple selves – they don’t shame others quite as often – they give others more room to move. And so this is good work.