Shame. I shudder at the word. A powerful force. When I’m in it, it feels like I am sinking in a deep morass of disgust in myself. I feel skinned alive with my chest ripped open. My heart exposed to all. Recently, I walked through time feeling like the world could see right through me, without me saying a word. I found myself getting through the days, only finding solace in retreating to my home, and eventually into an exhausted sleep. Even then the nights were wakeful and disturbed as I faced the dark shadows looming in me. I felt humiliated and repulsed by my inability to muster up any compassionate thoughts towards myself.
So much for not going to war. The slaying fields opened up and I was being pummeled by shame.
Brene Brown writes so incredibly about this shame business, stating its definition to be, “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love.” A few other words come to mind too: undeserving, contemptable, pitiful, unfit, loathsome. You get the drift. I felt gutted by my own brokenness and distain, but being butchered by shame also requires secrecy, and the willingness to remain in the battle. Screw that. The one thing I was not prepared to do was sit in silence in this solo war. It was unbearable facing it alone. I waved the white flag as I laid whimpering and beaten in the trenches of my emotional and spiritual life.
Completely surrendered, there was no usual waging against the universe in these desperate moments. All my defenses were down. Time to be vulnerable. Again!
I phoned one of my closest friends. I knew she had the capacity to sit with me in this obnoxious pit. She wouldn’t try to change or fix what was erupting from the shadowy depths of me. She listened to my sobs and allowed me time to reach a place where I could articulate my words. I poured out my utter disgrace at myself and hit the centre of my shame, that I really was an absolute loser, a failure beyond failure. And I named every single thing I felt I had completely flunked out on in life. All the repulsive things about me.
More than anything, I needed her to hear me, for me to empty the entire blackness I held. She met me exactly where I was. Not with words but with her faithful intent to be present for me. What a blessing. This allowed the failure to move through me, into the light and to the real truth about who I am.
The call to my friend wasn’t random, you know like pick a number, any number. Not any person could receive that kind of request, to sit with someone’s brawl while it was going on. You know, live, this wasn’t on replay. We have a friendship spanning years but it isn’t only time that creates that innate level of intimacy and trust. I knew she had my back, and my heart. In listening, she helped me create the space through connection which scattered my shame into acceptance and love. This war ended the moment I reached out. No longer a secret to be battled on my own, my pain was received in reverence for the difficult struggle it is to be human some times.
If nothing else, my own experience in life has taught me there is a difference between a break-down and a break-through.
For a break-down, I need to be isolated and going it alone, and I’ve done that plenty of times. On the other hand, to have a break-through, I have discovered it requires me to reach out to be seen and heard. Yep, be bone-achingly raw when faced with the self-destructive spiral of shame. I made a decision quite a few years ago to not live my life unaccompanied. These days it’s about connection, wholeheartedly so.