There have been a few traumatic experiences in my life. I don’t share them because they are deeply personal. What I will share is the sense of shame that these experiences created, the kind of shame that settled into my being and infected my view of myself, my world and how I made choices.
It goes something like this:
Girl gets wounded. Girl doesn’t understand how to deal with wound, girl feels like maybe she could have avoided the wound, girl thinks that she attracted the wound, that maybe she deserved it. Girl doesn’t feel like she should talk about the wound, girl feels guilty, girl hides the wound, the wound festers, the wound howls with pain, the girl won’t scream out loud. The girl is scared, the girl feels shame, the girl does other things with her inner pain and her screams come out in the form of anything that hides the pain inside her.
My favorite pain-balms were boys, beers and bags.
When I had my really bad days and shame had me feeling flayed by Self-Judgement (“I am too fat, I am too quiet, I am too smart, “I am too much, etc.”) or falsely inflated by SJ’s trusty sidekick ,Self-Righteousness, (“I am so much better at that”, “I don’t need anyone, I am all good on my own,” “Who does she think she is?”, etc.), the tapes would start to play from the minute I woke up until I went back to bed. No matter the source, every single one of those thoughts on the tape can be filed under “I don’t feel worthy”.
When those tapes played on repeat, I would seek anything to make me feel like I was acceptable, that I did belong, that I was worthy. It started with boys. If I could get a certain boy to like me, that must mean I am someone special, that I have some thing or some aspect that was redeemable. That the show I was performing was bright enough to eclipse the dark.
Soon enough the need for a boy turned into a toxic must-have-to-survive item. I was only just ‘ok’ on my own, but with a boy, I was complete. I had what it takes. I was attractive. I was powerful. I was enough.
This toxic must-have created the notion that without this ‘other’ person in my life, I was back to being nothing. Back to my wound. Back to pretending I was ok all by myself. It is way easier to pretend I’m all good if I have someone to pretend with. The outer shell gets harder, the sheen gets faker and the feelings get washed down. Sure, I may have been in the world, but I certainly wasn’t participating as me. I was passing as some ‘other’ me. Big difference.
I like boys and I liked being liked by boys, so it was easy to tell myself for years that this false sense of power, of faux worthiness meant I was figuring it all out.
I was putting topical fake balms on the wound and the pain kept screaming louder.
So beer got its turn to step to the plate.
Nothing like erasing pain and the feeling of unworthiness than throwing back a few shots, a jug of beer or some Thursday night drink special while out on the town trying to achieve an altered state of Above It All. Bring on the buzz and pretend that life is awesome, that I love being alive and the more party stories to tell, the higher up the “Best life ever” ladder right?
Beers and bars acted like a Vitamix where I could throw all my inner shame and toxic thoughts into a mixer and try to swallow it down.
It always came back up. Literally and metaphorically along with not only an actual hangover, but a shame hangover because I was so disappointed with myself that I couldn’t break the pattern of pretending and avoiding. The pain screamed louder. My inside was trying to break down the barrier I’d built to keep the past away.
Cue the bags!
I had a good paying job. I’d been through lots of boys and spent way too many nights out with beers. Time to soothe my wounds with my hard-earned cash.
Cash is a great vehicle for instant gratification and another effective mechanism to keep you in the shame spin.
Have a crappy day at work? Go to the mall. Get rejected by a guy? Buy a hot, new pair of shoes to endow you with that zing of “Damn, I am the real deal!” Feel another day go by without a sense of fulfillment? Easy! Hit up a sidewalk sale and buy all the clothes and Sephora goodies you can get your hands on, and it’s all good because it’s half off! Right? And everyone else is doing it!
And this is where I’d like to point out how shame can be a tricky fucker.
You have this beautiful beacon of light that you come into the world with. It can shine when you feel a spark at connecting with a new person, it beams when you share stories about this crazy thing called life, it can swirl with delight when you adorn a creative ensemble that signifies your mark in the world. But when you mix these true, essential attributes of your human experience on this planet and you add the poisonous taint of shame, you are left with a confusing and empty experience and you begin to step away from all of it. You live in a distorted view of who you are. What is so amazing about you and about how you show up is now shadowed with guilt, doubt and this feeling that you are a lie. Your state of being is no longer rooted. It is weak. It has no boundaries and so it leaks everywhere. Its pulse is thread and chaotic. In short, it is a wreck.
The remedy? To sever your shame-fuelled beliefs and behaviors from the real life-adoring and self-celebrating you.
And after years of experimentally using boys, beers and bags to smother the feelings of pain and ‘not enough’, I literally had enough.
I was tired of feeling shitty. Tired of the spinning thoughts and fluctuating highs and lows. Tired of waiting for Friday and dreading Monday.
I admitted to myself that I couldn’t keep going with pain and fear as my fuel.
I couldn’t keep pretending. It was exhausting my spirit and it was exhausting my pocketbook. Nothing was changing and it had been over 10 years.
Something had to change.
Someone had to change.
Instead of looking out I started to look in.
The path to finding a way to relieve the pain had nothing to do with what I did out there in the world, but everything to do with how I treated myself.
It is so easy to reach for the guy, the drink or the latest pair of must-have jeans. It is not easy to reach for yourself when you have rejected a large aspect of yourself that you label ‘tainted’, ‘dirty’ or ‘scarred’.
It means being with the wound. Accepting it exists. This takes a big dose of self-acceptance and learning what actually feels healing vs. what feels distracting.
It means learning what is gratifying for the soul vs. what is instantly gratifying for the wound. It means cleaning the old and distorted beliefs so you can get to to the truth of who you really are.
I am still practicing but I am a lot more in tune with what I really need because I work to see myself as a whole person doing her best to thrive on this big, beautiful planet.
And you know what happened as a result of this practice and commitment to live from my wholeness? Boys, beers and bags!
I now have an amazing husband and beautiful son, I enjoy swilling an icy beer on a hot day simply because it’s a perfect pairing and I definitely love to open up a shopping bag and reveal a great purchase. Same ‘Bs’, different experience. How? Why?
What changed is that unacknowledged shame is no longer making a knee-jerk reaction of my life. I now receive people and experiences as gifts borne from a life I endeavor to live from a place of wholeness. I reclaimed my right to belong as is. All of me without substitution or distillation.
And it all starts and ends with that I belong first and foremost, to myself.