The last few months of 2014 were really tough for me. I had a new husband who proved to me more every day to be exactly the man I dreamed of sharing my life with. I had a beautiful little boy who, despite showing some signs of wear from dealing with his father in new and awful ways, was happy and healthy and a joy to spend time with. I had a job that I really enjoyed, working for causes I am passionate about. But despite being genuinely happy with my life for the first time ever, I was miserable.
A depression had sunk in and sucked the joy out of everything. The spiritual community that has grown so important to me had become so unbearable that during my favorite part of Sunday services, the welcome and meet n’ greet, I found myself hiding in a seat in the corner unable to make contact with anyone. One morning when I was to volunteer at a holiday craft workshop I found myself stuck in my car crying, the anxiety I had about being around people was so overwhelming. I was doing everything I could to be present in my life and was failing.
I finally made an appointment with a new therapist and I found that having 45 minutes a week to talk at my own will without worrying about someone else was really refreshing. I opened up to one of my covenant groups about what a struggle it had been to just get out of bed in the morning and I found that talking about my real self, not a perceived version of myself, was helping me to feel a little more like the person I wanted to be. In early December I was watching a TED talk (I do this a lot) that changed my life. I had watched Brené Brown’s talk on vulnerability before and it helped make me open to the relationship that turned into my marriage. This new talk was on a word forbidden in most circles, shame. In this talk Dr. Brown made a simple clarification that broke me open:
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”
Wow. Shame. I have carried around so much shame in my life and carry it like boulders every day. Being a survivor of rape and domestic violence is like wearing a shame suit and mine was tailor-made like a straight jacket. Since that moment I have been on a Brené Brown binge. Her book “I Thought It Was Me, But It Wasn’t” pointed out major areas of my life where I had to let go of expectations and accept that being me was enough. Finding out I wasn’t alone in this was a huge vote of confidence. “The Gifts of Imperfection” was one of the easiest reads ever and it has helped me to love myself in ways I didn’t know I could. In four months my journey with Brené has turned my world upside down. After just a few weeks I sat with my husband and my son on Christmas day with a heart full of love and joy.
Let me tell you something, it isn’t easy! It is a lot easier to believe you are an inherently bad person than to believe that you have done something wrong. It is a lot easier to look at the naked body facing back in the mirror at you and to hate it than to love it. And it’s a lot easier to blame yourself for stupidly staying in an unhealthy relationship than to look at all of the things that have happened to you and in our society that made that relationship possible and not entirely your fault. I have some serious shame gremlins. Most of them revolve around motherhood and appearance. I have come to learn that when I get defensive it is usually because a shame gremlin has latched on. I am learning how to break it down and reframe my response to be about the situation, not me as a person.
Situation: I drop a refillable k-cup on the floor and coffee grinds go everywhere.
Initial reaction: “Dammit. You are so stupid.” Nope. Not true. Dropping something has absolutely nothing to with intelligence levels. Try again.
Reframed response: “Dammit. Now I have to clean up all this coffee and delay the gratification of my first sip of coffee this morning. That sucks. But yay for me for doing the environmentally-conscious thing and using refillable k-cups.”
OK, that last bit is a stretch but you get the idea. A few years back I took a positive psychology class and for two weeks we had to write three good things that happened today and why they happened. Only the why is not “I got a free cup of coffee at the coffee shop because the guy in front of me was nice.” The why has to be personal, something you did or do or are to make that thing happen. So the statement would be “I got a free cup of coffee at the coffeeshop because I went out of my way to get the door for someone leaving with their hands full.” Get it? Try another? “My husband and I watched two episodes of Parenthood tonight because I am making time for the things in my life that I really enjoy and putting time with my husband on the top of the list.” Every night before I go to bed I journal “Three Good Things” about my day. Sometimes it is really hard. I sit for a long time. Three good things that happened is usually easy but coming up with things that happened because of me, not so much.
I am continuing on my Brené journey and want you to come with me. As survivors of sexual or domestic violence I think the messages of shame are really pervasive and so learning how to still love ourselves and our journey for who we are and what it is is an essential step in taking our lives back and living the life we envision. I repeat listen to a seven hour talk of Brené Brown’s, “The Powers of Authenticity: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage” so often that I could recite parts of it. These are things I really need to hear though, and until they become innate habits I need the reminder. I encourage you to watch the shame talk below and think about going further. I am going to explore Dr. Brown’s Guideposts to Wholehearted Living with you in the weeks to come and hope to hear from you on how your life is changing. I look forward to taking this journey with you and learning how being me is truly enough. I am enough, and so are you.
The following PDF of the below image is linked to all posts related to my journey with Brené. Enjoy the trip! 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living