My shame is a shapeshifter. Its ever changing presence lurks nearby at all times. Like my shadow it feels almost a part of me, never missing a step as it creeps along by my side. My shame has evil desires masked by a comforting and soothing facade. It knows me by name. It can sense what I need, and its conniving ways enable it to convince me that it holds the answers I require. Its constant presence is worn like a blanket, draping me in the kind of familiarity that I no longer question while it continues its work to change and steal more and more of me.
My shame understands that patience is a necessary component for its success. It knows when its strength is greatest and waits for those prime moments to slither out of the darkness to strike. When it senses an environment of joy, connection, or engagement it carefully retreats to the background, not in defeat but instead with a sense of knowing that it must patiently wait to resurface later in order to be most effective. While in waiting, my shame compiles all that it needs in the darkness of its lair, gathering each soul piercing ingredient required to overwhelm me when it chooses. I can feel the undercurrents of these preparations. I know it is there and feel powerless to stop it. I know that no matter how much I try to resist and counter it my shame is too clever to reveal its full plan.
My shame watches you. It is learning how to exist around you. It may reveal little morsels of its intentions to you – just enough to make you think it is possible to subvert it. But my shame smiles at these attempts as it hovers behind me with its dagger pressed firmly up against me. It dares you to step closer. It welcomes your attempts to pull me away from it. My shame will simply absorb and catalog your efforts to later assist with its mission when it is required. It knows that your help has limits. Your presence won’t always be there. Yet shame has unrestricted access to me. Your limits will become more fuel doused onto its fiery wrath when it finds me in solitude.
I have learned that naming shame can help to ease its strength. Calling it out by name shines a light on shame and makes it retreat back into its darkness. Its power wilts when this light can reach it. I feel the truth in this, and I try to offer myself this gift of relief by using my voice to dampen it. But my shame is learning too. Like a virus, it keeps shifting and adapting to grow in strength. It is finding new ways to maneuver in plain sight in the midst of a glaring light in its direction.
I need a new strategy. I need a new angle. I feel myself stumbling and submitting. I understand that there is no future beyond surrender, and this is not an option I wish to consider. But my shame has infiltrated my eyes, and I can’t seem to see a path forward from here. My shame is winning, and it knows this. I need to find a new way out.
The messages she carries try to convince her that her home is in the darkness that surrounds her and seems to know how to steadily lurk just one step ahead of her. It makes it hard for her to maintain traction on where or even who she is. Yet something inside urges her to focus beyond the darkness – beyond the pain and strain of what pulls at her – and fight like hell to somehow reach the light.
You cross your legs and clear your throat. It’s time to show yourself. You shift in your seat. You swallow the trembles and carefully breathe in your surroundings. You sift and sort and try to decide which voice that you should share – internally fumbling around your rickety rolodex of parts and struggles that is busting at the seams. You try to summon the nerve to invite the quietest parts forward – the ones that beg most for your attention. You reach inside with careful intention and cautiously send out your invitation. You hear their reply and offer your hand to the young one that hides beneath a hood, afraid of the sound of her own voice. You tell her it is safe here – a word she does not fully understand. Then you ask her to creep forward and make herself carefully and comfortably seen, shifting and curling her body into the seat. You calmly urge her to find a position that feels comforting and safe for her, patiently reassuring her need for self protection. You feel her slowly calming inside of your jittery body, finding safety in the room – the voice that tends to her – the atmosphere that invites her – the soft chair that holds her. She removes her boots and tucks her legs carefully underneath her jacket that she drapes over herself, adjusting it as a shield and holding it closely up against her face. In this position you can feel her breathe slightly deeper than before. She feels as present as she knows how. Then you proceed to attempt to learn from her. She cautiously shares from behind the safety of her shield, offering as much as she can bravely reveal in that moment.
When the time comes for you to exit you look down at the floor beneath you at the sight of the boots you earlier removed from your feet, and you find yourself suddenly stuck. Instantly you feel drenched in a feeling so painfully familiar. Pushing that feeling aside, you place one foot at a time back into your boots, focusing on the simple task of tying your laces. You push down the heavy noise that is screaming at you and just follow the movements you have performed every day since you were a small child – looping, swooping, and pulling your laces into place. You don’t know what this wave of weight is that is trying to overtake you in this moment. You don’t want to know. You don’t want to recognize that it is shame. You don’t want to open your eyes to the disgust you suddenly feel. You don’t want to acknowledge that this weight is so powerful that it carries this hooded girl right back to its place of origin. In that moment as she looked down at those boots she was instantly swept away – to a place where shame was her companion as she gathered up her clothes and pulled them back onto her battered body after being abused. After softening into the safety of her surroundings in that chair and slowly allowing her quiet shaky voice to be heard, the simple sight of her boots on the floor was all it took to abruptly steal that safe moment away. In that instant danger swept in and the safe confines of her therapy room linked itself together with a place of terror, pain, confusion, and betrayal. In that instant she felt tricked. She felt dirty. She felt used. Shame envelopes her like a heavy blanket that she carries away from this place. Later in solitude she unknowingly coils up and sinks deeper. This is the place she feels that she belongs. A place so dark and lonely that it claws at her soul to forever stay.
When you finally begin to identify that this internal struggle is occurring, you feel powerless to change it. After all, shame has been your loyal companion for all these years. What makes you think you can change it now? Don’t you deserve all that it lays upon you? With each passing moment more of you gets swallowed by its messages, making it harder and harder for you to identify where it ends and you begin. Then in a quiet moment you make a choice. You begin to wrap words around your experiences, shining a light on this darkness inside of you. Your words link together, gaining strength as you find them. You begin to realize that your own voice may be the answer to set this young girl free from the prison of shame that she is trapped in. Perhaps if you can name this moment – speak it out loud – send your words out into the world – you can free this young one from its grip.
As the tide rises the broken pieces are stirred and awoken once again.
The earth beneath her begins to shake. The broken pieces rattle like shards of glass clanging, scraping, cutting into the parts that have been so tenderly cared for that she has worked so hard to heal.
She tries to shield herself. Yet the more she tenses in self protection the more those pieces seem to cut into her weakening her defenses.
Her confidence and security begin to shudder and shrink transformation looming against her will. She struggles in resistance. Yet there she slips back into that familiar skin becoming the part of herself that she wishes to forget.
It chases her back into hiding deep down to a place that should not exist anymore. There it tries to convince her to stay small, silent, alone, and broken.
An automatic inevitability each time the tide rushes in. If only the waves could quiet down and the tide retreat long enough for her to catch her breath before returning once more.
Sometimes feelings come to me in images – images that I can draw or paint to express emotions that I cannot yet find words for. Through art I can bring emotions out from the depths inside of me and shine a light on them in whatever I have created. It is often in the midst of the process of drawing that the words slowly reveal themselves to me. It feels like my pencil becomes this tiny release valve that slowly lets my feelings escape with each stroke across the page.
I sketched this piece a few years ago while intensively engaged in therapeutic healing work. I remember what I was expressing. I remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed with all of the ways that my past abuse was impacting my current life. I remember feeling how painful that part of my healing process was – like trying to rip out the damaged parts of myself in a frantic fury. I remember pushing myself so hard towards healing that the healing process itself felt as though it was hurting me. It felt like the harder I fought to release myself from the tangled web of confusion, pain, and shame of my past, the tighter its growing grip entrapped me.
During this week I have felt a deep struggle rising up inside of me, stirring and awakening the hurt. This struggle has not yet inspired me to draw or to write. Instead it has urged me to dig up this drawing and just sit and look into it. Each day this week I find myself looking at this drawing, connecting more and more to it. It’s a different connection than how it felt several years ago, and yet it feels just as heavy. I feel myself looking into this drawing for direction. Maybe if I stare at it long enough I will find the answers I need to free myself. Maybe looking deeply into this piece will help me to shine a light on the parts of me that still beg for healing.