Earlier this month I announced I would write on the topic of shame. Little did I know that we would be walking through this together. I uncovered a new layer of trauma in counseling and I can’t stop going over the tendrils of shame that still try to sink their way into my thought life, my relationships, and my daily outlook.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write a Biblical, grounded way to define shame but I can’t quite craft a succinct definition that captures it. Instead let me tell you what it feels like (maybe you can relate).
It’s heavy. Pervasive. Dark.
It feels like an erupting volcano that spills its hot breath and messy lava over everything in its path.
It feels like piles and piles of laundry I can’t quite stay on top of, so I succumb to the pile and just lay there in the mess.
It feels like a knotted ball of string in the core of my gut, growing and getting more tangled as I try to ignore it.
It feels like treading water in the middle of deep ocean waters, with tired arms and legs and no land in sight.
It’s chaotic. Suffocating. Toxic.
While I’ve been wrestling through this place, I’ve thought of you many times, friend. I’ve thought of you wading through the lava mess, trying to untangle yourself, on the other side of this very same ocean. I want to call out to you and say, “we’re in this together.”
Shame doesn’t want us to link arms. It isolates us and keeps us in fear, secrecy, blame, and judgment.
But here’s what Brene Brown says about shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame…The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.”
Ann Voskamp’s words echo Brene’s:
“Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
So that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m telling my stories in safe places. I sit in my counselor’s office and tell her these new revelations to my past. She says, “Now it’s not a secret anymore.” We’re unknotting the ball and laying it down string by string.
I cry to my husband about my overwhelm, and then we dig into the laundry pile together (this is actually literal- I can’t stay on top of the dirty laundry ha).
I call my best friend and leave her a long voicemail filling her in, as I step out of isolation and the lava cools at my feet. She responds and says that she hears me and she loves me.
Friend, I may not have a perfect path forward for you to get rid of your shame. I’m just figuring it out myself right now, too. But what I can do is shout to you from my side of the ocean.
You’re not alone. We’re in this together.
Yesterday was one of those days where I viewed most of my interactions through the lens of past hurts. A work email, a misunderstanding with a friend, a rejection in my writing, a trigger to my trauma. I started wrestling with old lies that rear their ugly heads sometimes: “You’re not qualified, you’re not welcome, you’re a burden.”
There wasn’t anything in particular wrong or deeply concerning, but a wash of pain just colored my day. For how much I hurt, I wanted to curl into a ball and wait until it all felt better in the morning.
Instead, I asked God to speak truth over me. I recognized why a few things made me feel rejected and let myself cry. I reached out to the friend and we worked our way through the hurt in love. And when I covered my head with blankets in the dark last night waiting for Ryan to come to bed, I knew that I could easily fall asleep without telling him that my heart hurt. But I didn’t.
I pulled the covers down below my chin and he listened quietly as I said, “I feel like a burden and a broken record.” He responded:
“No, you’re human… and besides records are made of plastic.”
We laughed, I cried, and we prayed. And I felt closer to him because I stayed open, instead of shutting down.
Sometimes vulnerability has nothing to do with the words we share, but everything to do with the posture of our hearts.
If we’re used to being the strong ones, it can be hard to feel weak. But God meets us and strengthens us there, when we’re willing to offer up our weakness and surrender our hard days. If we’re used to covering up or pushing past our hurts, it can be tough to let ourselves sit in the pain. If we’re used to helping others, it can be challenging to receive support ourselves. If we’re used to wrestling through our hurts on our own, it can be hard to receive the words of, “You’re wanted here. I love you. I’m listening.”
But that is the posture that brings deeper connection, and that is the posture that ultimately brings freedom.
When I was in my darkest place, my pain lied to me. It told me that I was all alone. It whispered that no one would understand my hurt. That I was a burden.
So I shoved the pain down for years until I no longer could hold it inside. I remember the day I finally opened up. My best friend and I went out to lunch. I could barely eat, sick to my stomach knowing I needed to tell her how bad things were. Saying it outloud made it real, and I had no clue how I was going to move forward from here. But I knew I had to share to get out of the pit. After lunch we sat in a parking lot until I finally felt brave enough to talk. I shared how bad things were in my relationship and the thoughts I wrestled with in the darkness. She listened. She gently cried with me, told me how much she loved me, and said she would fight with me to help me get through.
That day marked the beginning of my healing journey. While I was coming to terms with my own pain in silence for months, it still felt too big for me to carry on my own. It took opening my heart a little bit and letting someone else in to bring me out of isolation and into connection and freedom.
That friend has trekked all the way up the mountain with me. As I got braver, I linked arms with another friend or two who joined me on the journey. It made the burden lighter and the healing process easier than if I’d tried to shoulder it on my own. I added a counselor and a support group of women to my mountain climb.
If you are in that pit of darkness with your pain, please know that you don’t have to do this on your own. Start small in sharing. Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a public speech to a room full of people or a social media post to thousands about your deepest secrets. It starts with finding just one person who makes you feel seen and heard. Find just one person who makes you feel safe.
Here are some of the qualities of the people I consider “safe” in my life when I need to be vulnerable and share. A safe person:
- Listens without judgment.
- Makes space and time for me.
- Does not try to fix the problem. He/she may offer suggestions or challenge me when it’s safe to do so (after the initial sharing/if I’ve asked for it), but their initial response is just listening.
- Meets me with empathy instead of pity/sympathy.
- Proves that they are trustworthy (holds your story in confidence, does not gossip).
- Is also vulnerable with me (when appropriate; my counselor cannot be vulnerable with me about her own journey, but she is still on my list of safe people). I prefer to share my heart with close friends who are also open with their own pain, thoughts, and stories.
Do you have a safe person or people in your life? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear who’s trekking up the mountain with you? If not, what are some of the qualities that would make someone feel safe to share your story with?