Shame is a ball and chain around your soul that keeps you from living an authentic life. When you keep it buried deep inside you, it saps your energy, steals your joy.
Amy Ferris and I have been talking a lot about this, and decided this is the year we release ours. We decided it would be a bit less scary to write about it together, you know- hold hands and jump off the cliff Thelma and Louise-style (but we expect a much better outcome). She said “What if we call it our shame prom?” I knew right where she was going.
Yes, I said, a shame prom. Let’s parade it out in public, dance it around on our arm. Let’s take awkward pictures with it. But afterward, let’s not roll around in the backseat making out with it any more. Let’s break up with it.
So here is my shame:
Inside, I feel like a colossal failure. A total loser.
Where this affects me the most is in my career.
There were many years I worked in the corporate world, and earned good money. I even carried the financial burden while Troy built up his music career. But after that …it’s a joke. Not that I haven’t been doing things, or having a career. I ran my own nonprofit organization for seven years, and it was successful. But I didn’t get paid. I’ve worked as a singer for almost 20 years, but if I lived on that income alone I’d be on welfare. My albums were a total loss. I had a clothing business that built up to some national success, but… it burned down and I went bankrupt.
So why am I such a terrible earner? I had a realization the other day, talking to my neighbor. She makes beautiful handmade quilts, and now that she’s out of a job, she was thinking of selling them but felt kind of awkward about it, at which point I gave her this advice:
“Why should you feel bad about selling them? Money is just a symbol of gratitude, one that says I value your work. Why shouldn’t you let others value the work you do?”
And of course I caught myself. Hellooooo??? Look who’s talkin’!
I realized that, dammit, no matter how much work I’ve done on myself, there is this message so deeply imprinted in me that I am not valuable. It started with the fact that I was an unwanted pregnancy and without going into detail let’s just say my childhood experiences continued to validate that feeling. I absorbed and believed it before I was old enough to even understand it. I know better now. I know I have value to add to the world, but I haven’t been able to shake that tattoo on my soul-“Unwanted”.
So no, I am not surprised that my book hasn’t sold, that I have no gigs booked for this year. If I don’t see myself as valuable, how will anyone else? I am truly embarrassed that I am this way. I want to be better.
It’s time for me to redesign that soul tattoo. I have no idea how, but I thought admitting this defect would help me to see that maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe we can all figure this out together.
The love from my husband, children and friends has healed me in so many ways, but I still have much work to do on myself. It will most likely be a lifelong project, correcting what was broken in my foundation. I’m going to start by praying about it, and reaffirming the good things in my life, and giving myself some credit for the valuable things I’ve done. That’s a start.
Like my real prom, I’d like to leave the Shame prom in my rearview mirror.
(Here is AMY FERRIS’ story)
Shame, shame, shame. (Sounds just like an Aretha Franklin song doesn’t it?)
I’m wearing it on my sleeve, right next to my lovely floral corsage.
I am carrying the shame of believing, “It’s all my fault, I did something wrong, so I deserve this sadness and pain and suffering. And I have to make it better. And I need to apologize for whatever it is I did that made someone angry, bitter, hateful, mean.”
THIS IS MY DEEP SHAME.
This (incorrect) belief system originated many, many years ago, when I would come home from a friend’s house, or school and I would be crying because my friend and I had a fight, or something happened in school, and I would be sobbing and my mother would say: “Amy, what did YOU do?” And of course, I would immediately feel smaller, sadder, less than. Invisible. Unimportant. Discarded. I would feel horrible. It was my fault. And of course I would feel as if nothing I did was good enough or worthy. So i was always trying to fix the problem. Always. I always felt i had to fix something, make something better, mend it, repair it. Apologize. And I would do whatever i could to make it better, to make it right, because I believed it was my fault.
And, I never, ever felt better. I just felt more invisible and powerless. I felt completely and utterly unimportant. And good god, if I didn’t do something to make it better, I would be alone. That scared me to death. Being left behind, forgotten. Holy shit, did that scare me.
And now that feeling, that “OH MY GOD WHAT DID I DO?”, is rearing it’s god awful, guilty, fearful ugly head again. It has a lot to do with the loss of my relationship with my brother, and the loss of the spiritual, or more truthfully, “Religious” organization i belonged to for many, many, many (35) years. The feeling of I need to do something, fix something, mend something, make it better. Repair it. MAKE. IT. WORK. MAKE. IT. BETTER. MAKE. IT. RIGHT.
But the other much more enlightened piece of me, another part of me says: STOP IT. Not your fault. There are many sides. It’s not just you. You were mistreated, betrayed, treated badly. Discarded. STOP IT. YOU DON’T NEED TO FIX THIS, OR MAKE THIS BETTER. You don’t need this person’s love, approval, acceptance.
It’s hard – excruciating – for me to see that, accept that, to understand and believe that ‘truth.’
And so there in lies the battle.
And trust me, it is a huge battle. An internal battle. I can feel it right in my soul, in my solar plexis. I can. And in that battle is a whole lot of shit: guilt, fear, self-doubt, retreating, self-criticism, pain.
SHAME. SHAME. SHAME.
But… I’m pretty sure this is the moment where i get to let go of that god awful misguided pain and incorrect belief system that began in that little girl, (and grew up in this woman) who believed that everything bad that happened was her doing, her fault, her problem to solve.
The old me: the one who feels that she has to make it better, APOLOGIZE, shrink. Ask for forgiveness. It’s all her fault. The one who seeks approval, needs permission.
The new me: the one who feels it’s time to move on, let go, FORGIVE MYSELF, be big, release the guilt and doubt and self-defeat. To save my own life. To take responsibility for my life. To take charge. To stop looking for permission.
And yes, it’s easier said than done. Much fucking easier. After all, it took years to get here.
But I know it’s the right time to be here. At this place. At this ‘Shame Prom,’ it’s time to stop the self-slander, the self doubt. The self-loathing, and yes, it’s time to let the flower on the corsage bloom, and let the “shame bud” die out.