All throughout my life, I’ve watched in awe as certain people move through the world with seeming ease, seemingly unfettered by the weight of their soul. It’s a joie de vivre, the essence of lightness that makes myself and others want some of that mojo, some of that star quality that leads them to achieve greatness beyond our comprehension.
I used to think it was based on outward appearance; they seemed so unflappable in an entirely-too-messy world. But over the past few months, I’m aware of what I’ve desired: their ability to live on outside of, and seemingly despite, any encounter with shame.
I say this, unafraid of how the word “shame” releases every dark little ghost that rides its back. I have grown up with it. I damn near have a PhD in it. I wasn’t aware how much it shaped my life until I tried to relaunch this site last October.
I had plans for myself to become the woman I’ve always wanted to be. I wrote an article about the new manifesto, the new direction of my life, and I published it. Not more than an hour after it had been published, someone with whom I’d shared years of childhood friendship, a person with whom I am no longer connected for a variety of reasons, left an evil, shame-shoving comment on the site. An intention infliction of emotional distress. A jab meant to cause a deep wound.
It worked. If you’ll notice, it was enough to almost entirely shut down production of the site for almost four months. It did what it was intended to do, which was to “force me back down to size.” Smaller. Less intimidating. Less free. No, the message said, you aren’t this evolved person. Get back down here where you belong. You’ll never be anything. You are a horrible person, and every bad thing you’ve ever thought about yourself is true.
Admittedly, it rocked me to my core. I had to figure out why it cut so deeply. Was it because what she said was true?
After a considerable amount of soul searching, I can honestly say I don’t accept anything in that act of malice. But I do have to thank her, because she threw the final piece of a seemingly-endless puzzle right into my hands: I’d forgotten about shame.
As a survivor of childhood abuse, neglect, and sexual assault, shame is woven into the fiber of my being. It’s a dark, insidious force of nature that turns one inside out with discomfort. The belief you are less than, never good enough, that every bad thing that has ever happened is your fault, that all the pain and discomfort that has ever happened to you is due to a flaw in your being, is almost impossible to bear. And yet, millions of us shoulder metric soul tons of it every day.
Shame causes us to shrink away from our destinies, lying in dark corners of ourselves, afraid to come into the light for fear someone will do exactly what this person did to me: shine a beacon of hatred on us so we’ll be broken down. We overeat, drink too much, gossip, smoke, shop, under-eat, over-exercise, and pick up any number of outlets to escape it. I don’t believe it’s benign: eventually, if you don’t see a way through it, you start looking for a way out of it.
We also live in a time that delights in shame as a sporting event, a human gladiator ring of social media which makes it possible for us to throw our shame onto other people with righteous indignation. It’s encouraged. It’s the largest-scale game of small-minded activity in the history of mankind, this kind of behavior. It’s how she knew she could leave that comment on the site. She felt it was her right to say that to me in a public forum where everyone would have to see what an utter piece of shit I was. She wanted the world to join her in a takedown. It’s not my first time getting hit in the ring, but it was one of the most painful. Because this is someone I loved deeply once, and under the guise of “I know you better than anyone,” she cut me to the core.
That’s how the whole shame thing works.
This is the tool my abusers wielded against me as a child to keep me small and manageable. I was a creative child with tons of energy, lots of artistic ability, smart, expressive…and loving. Piece by piece, people who should have protected that sensitive part of me tore it apart, ripped me down to make me smaller and more manageable. Quiet. Introverted. Malleable. You will do what I want you to do, and be exactly who I want you to be. Any attempts to the contrary mean more pain, more violence, and more abandonment. More shaming. Stay in your place. Shut up. Be who we want you to be, or face the consequences.
I must thank the person who left this comment, for showing me why I’m so triggered by this type of thing. I hadn’t gotten rid of my shame.
It’s the reason none of the clothes in my closet make any damned sense, why I get so close to doing what I want to do and then it only takes one person or event to come crawling out of the woodwork to shut me down. Because they shove their shame off on me, and I’m trained to take it and make them happy or it will get worse. Or at least it used to do that…
I am officially sick and tired of playing it small for anybody. I am exhausted, thoroughly done with people cutting me down and me letting it happen. I have tried, you guys. God knows I have tried to be everything everyone has ever wanted me to be. I have made all the apologies for all the things, and STILL this keeps happening. No more.
It’s time for me to become expansive, take up space, stop playing it small, and to just do what I want to do. I can say for the record that I’m not ashamed of anything that has ever happened to me or of anything that I’ve done. I might have to apologize for things here and there, but the shame thing? That doesn’t work on me anymore.
No more playing it small for anyone. Ever. Again.
So, I’d like to thank the person who brought shame to my attention for that final time. She brought me to my knees, and then to my senses that I will NEVER AGAIN live my life in this manner. I am not afraid of you. I am done with everyone’s opinions and unrelenting anger. Get a therapist, get a pet, get a life. Me? I’m moving on. I get to be unabashedly myself: opinionated, creative, and a force of nature.
This train, this life, packed with dreams, excitement, and years of un-lived living to do, is leaving the station. Get on board, or get out of the way. Either way, it’s my turn now. Never again does anyone else get to break me down so they can feel bigger. No more.
I’m no longer signing for your packages. Send your angst to someone else. Shame doesn’t live here anymore.