The Shame Prom

Written by Hollye Dexter

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 (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.
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.

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  1. Anonymous

    Hollye, the one theme I recognize in your story is the connection with money earned and self worth. It seems to plague you and I am suggesting to not join those two things together. You are a terrific singer, you are a terrific writer, you are a terrific mother (all jobs that you do successfully with or without money. If the money flows so be it but you still are all those things without it. And I am sure there are many others as well. I use to worry, I use to be anxious and all that worry and anxiety did not relieve anything within me. When I started to accept my goodness everything fell into place. As a wise therapist said to me you can't go back and rewind the tape so make a new one. Also, no one is perfect just be good enough. It changed my whole outlook. Drugs helped as well. I fought the drugs but now after 18 years on Paxil I would never ever go back to that place. Might be a consideration to get out of the dark tunnel where you don't see any light.

    Amy, self doubt is a killer. It is the most un-productive trait one can have and I know this as I lived more than half my life feeling I wasn't good enough. When those feelings come into my head which is hardly ever anymore I metaphorically take a broom and sweep them out. It works and eventually they don't return. At our age and I believe you are younger than I am, it is time to build new tapes. The old ones can't be rewound. The love that was lost and the thoughts instilled can't be take away but they can be put in a place in the brain where they can't hurt you anymore.

    I love both of you and you present as confident, charming, intelligent women and extraordinary writers. Just use that mantra everyday and say Madge knows it's true and so do I.

  2. Maxee

    Amy & Hollye, ……….two amazing and profoundly courageous women who share their inner most thoughts, fears, worries, doubts, and also their true joys. You both say what others are not willing or able to say. You may think that you are different from the rest of us, but boy oh boy! are you wrong on that note. We are all the same.
    I once had an ‘ah ha!’ moment in an acting scene study class, that I will never forget. Can't remember the scene, the dialog, the actors, but I was struggling with the character I was playing and my teacher said, "We all fear and want the same things." At first I couldn't understand how that was possible? How could we ALL want the exact same things? But then I got it. Yes, we do. We all want to be valued, be worthy, be successful, be safe, have financial security, protect our loved ones, have friends, have people in our lives that love us unconditionally, and we love them. It’s that simple. No matter where we live on this planet, we all have the same fears, worries, regrets, insecurities, etc. As women we are also, strong and powerful and steadfast and can accomplish amazing and wonderful things. So let’s get to it girlfriends!! No more shame or self doubt! Onward and upward we go!!
    I adore you both for all that you are…..two incredible women and am so grateful to have you in my life and call you my dearest friends.

  3. Kathleen


    I read this blog by each of you. Your thoughts, fears, insecurities and I wanted to let each of you know what each of you do for others.

    Why do people need titles for self worth? or so much $$ in a bank account or master many accomplishments or gain the approval of every friend. All the time worrying about what others will think or say. All that wasted engery being lost. Is it human nature to always be in search of that Quest but to have control of oneself.

    I was young when my Gram told me: "Do for yourself only then can you do for others". I was in my teens when I finally got it. Sure there are times of doubt but I rise above it for myself. Some moments take longer than others but that is what I have always called a 'life wave'.

    Hollye you're singing, painting, blog life is amazing and when you were preaching to the quilt lady you had you're awakening.
    Amy your openness, caring, love and FEARless book(MGC) has brought together many woman with such diversified backgrounds.

    You both have renewed so many to seek within themselves more drive and self respect. Are you both not hearing/seeing/reading what you are each doing for others. Re-read what you write just to each other~that magnet of strength between the two of you.

    You both have amazing families, friends, pets who love you much.
    You both have risen above many of life's challenges to surface and give back.

    Now as I say to Linda (whom I love dearly) "do I have to come smack ya"~
    Figure of speech but I only come or offer to smack those I love.

    Amy and Holly you are two amazing, beautiful, rockin'women whom I am honored to know and share life with.

    May we all continue to share our worries, fears, joys, sorrows and not pass judgement for we will continue to unit as better beings.

    Personally I think this 'Group' ,and if you are reading this then you are one within this group, know we are one hell of a powerhouse of love. Keep sharing it. xoxo

  4. Kathleen

    Hollye sorry about your e
    I am realizing that I missed it throughout YIKES!!

  5. Hollye Dexter

    Wow- are we lucky to have such great friends.
    Thank you so much Madge, Maxee, Kathleen…for being our friends and being such a thoughtful part of this conversation.
    Kathleen, you don't have to come smack us ( with love) ha ha- we are releasing these insecurities in the hopes of getting stronger, and in connecting with all of you- knowing that we do all share common hopes and fears.
    Circle of love, that's what this is….how lucky we are.

  6. Debbie

    hollye – i left my comments to this amazing post on amy's site. i wanted to come on over and let you know how much that post touched me and how i relate 100% to the Shame Prom. It is a battle I have fought my entire life. It is an exhasting battle. i believe that most people suffer from these insecurites, etc. but some are just better at hiding their pain and some, like us, are much more open about it. nevertheless, i wanted you to know how much i appreciate your honesty and your beautiful words. and i also wanted to commend you for WRITING YOUR BOOK! YOU DID IT AND THAT IS THE POINT … YOU PUT IN THE TIME, POURED OUT YOUR SOUL AND WROTE YOUR BOOK. That is freaking amazing. you are beautiful, talented and all things wonderful and you inspire ME.


  7. Debbie

    hollye – i just read 'what doesn't kill you'. oh. my. GOD. YOU WERE MEANT TO BE HERE.

    love u –


  8. Deb and Barbara

    So many beautiful things in this post from both of you — I just want to jump on each thought and make out with it shamelessly in the back seat of the car!! Such nerves hit, such thruths. You women rock!!
    xo B

  9. matters that matter

    shame sisters…that's what we all are. definitely a common thread that connects us to one another. it seems to be the voices of "others" that first introduced us to the very concept of shame. we listened intently and believed it/them to be truth.
    i think that each time we share our darkness, there is more room for light. I think each time we push stop on the whispering shame loop, we can hear our friends admiring who we are; i believe that if we create a new goal for ourselves…not $$$, or title or more FB friends, but a goal of listening closer to the voices that are now GONE and make a choice to replace them with our own truth, we will continue to heal…and we will continue to help one another HEAL.

  10. Monica Holloway

    Hollye and Amy – You are so precious. Of course, the first thing I want to do is fix all of this. NO MORE SHAME. I love you both so much and as I read both of your amazing, honest, raw and courageous words, I wanted to keep saying, "No, no, this isn't so." I didn't want to believe you because I FEEL EXACTLY THE SAME WAY! I wanted to "pretend" that you don't feel all of this, even as I was reading the words expressing that you DO. That's how hard I wanted to fight believing. So for me, I think I have to start with accepting and not denying that I have all these feelings, too. And then, do what Hollye said by "releasing the insecurities But how? Loving each other, loving ourselves, listening to all of these wonderfully supportive women on here who have commented and believing that we can change old thought patterns. That we can handle our frightening that is. As Pema Chodron says,(and I'm paraphrasing) the more frightened you are, the closer you are to the truth. Walk toward the fear and you will understand it and never be afraid again. Here's to linking arms – those of you I know and those of you I don't know yet – and walking toward and into real freedom and meaningful futures.


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