Category Archives: Personal Shame Journey

feeling it all

I’m trying to say goodbye to a fixture in my life for the past 13 years.  My beloved kitty, my constant companion and most loyal friend, Bogey, has end-stage renal failure along with severe anemia.  It is only a matter of time before he is gone.  There are no viable treatment options.  It’s a bitter pill I have been trying to swallow for nearly a week now, as I spend as much time with him as possible, knowing there will be a day very soon that he will no longer fill our home with his unconditional love and huge personality.

This is a first for me.  As an adult, I have had other pets, but not for the duration that I have had Bogey, and no other pet has taken up residence in my heart like Bogey.  We had a couple of parakeets when I was growing up, and I vaguely recall a fish or two in the house, but my dad claimed to be allergic to dogs and cats, so I had no experience with any furry friends until my late-20s.

Bogey has been mine since 2003 when he was rescued by my former brother-in-law who decided I needed to provide the forever home.  My initial resistance evaporated when I saw my soon-to-be pal in Craig’s arms, happily eating a hot dog (the only somewhat-suitable-for-a-kitten food in a house filled with 20-something bachelors).  That moment sealed the deal.  The kitten came home with me, he was named Bogey, and he never left my side.  He followed me everywhere and curled up on my lap every time he had the opportunity.  I had no idea he would change my life, but he did.  Oh, how he did.

Nearly three years after Bogey came into my life, our lives changed.  I went through a divorce, moved from our home to a lovely rental, then shortly thereafter, to OUR home – three homes in six months, but he was not shaken, and adapted like a champ, every time.  For the next six years Bogey and I lived in our little bungalow – just the two of us.  And for the past almost-four years, we have lived with our new family – my husband and his two children.

Bogey changed me.  Bogey helped me heal.  He helped me grieve.  He comforted me and prevented loneliness from swallowing me whole.  He made me laugh and sometimes he frustrated me.  He showed me my capacity for love when I swore I would never let myself feel love again.

And now that I know our time together is limited, I am relishing all of the moments with him that I am given.  And he’s still helping me – even while his little body is failing him.  My emotions have been running high, to say the least, and I have had what are probably irrational feelings, but this time I have spent with him since receiving the bleak news from our veterinarian has allowed me to really feel my feelings.  I have been angry.  I have been inconsolable.  I have felt profound loss.  I have felt fear of not having him to comfort me when I am sad.  I have lamented the unfairness that I will no longer have him, the “package” that I brought to the marriage.  I have grieved and mourned more than I can ever recall – even when I experienced loss ten years ago.

And as I recall that grief from what is now so long ago, I know I am experiencing this grief in a vastly different way.  I have written before that I didn’t know I had feelings until I met the man who is now my husband.  I KNOW there were so many thoughts and feelings that I did not share or express ten years ago because I did not know how.  I know I kept so much inside even when I was so sure I was letting it all out.  And because of that, I know it took me so much longer to move forward out of my grief and pain.  I held onto it, so it held onto me, for far too long.

But this time it is different.  I have let it out.  I have spoken the words that I felt afraid to express.  I have held nothing back, and it has freed me.  I will miss Bogey terribly.  He will never be replaced in my heart, and I will hold onto the gratitude of having him in my life through some of the most difficult and painful moments.  But I know I will have grieved completely because of this time we have had together.  This time that has gifted me with the opportunity to express everything inside.

Sobbing in the vet’s office.  Breaking down whilst telling a friend about the prognosis.  Feeling the loss more than I have from losing some humans in my life.  Crying at some point every day for the last week.  I am not ashamed of these feelings!  I embrace them and know that they are a testament to how much I have loved another living being.  There is no shame in our feelings.  There is no shame in grief.

Thank you, Bogey, for helping me feel it all.  Your mommy loves you and always will.

My Bogey

when you’re falsely accused

Have you ever been falsely accused of something?  Maybe it’s an attack against your character or someone believes you did something you didn’t do.  How did you feel?  Angry?  Hurt?  Sad?  What did you do?  Did you defend yourself?  Attack back?  Hide in a corner and cry?

If you have never been falsely accused, I can tell you about it because it has happened to me.  In fact, it just did.  And the worst part was that it was via letter.  No chance to answer, defend myself, fight back, or let the attacker know how her words affected me.  You see, this letter contains lots of assumptions about who I am (and who my husband is – he was included in the accusations), what I have done, and what I believe.  An attack against my character.  Ugly stuff.

When I first read the letter, my immediate inclination was to go to the person who wrote it and confront her.  I was shocked – downright flabbergasted.  I wanted to ask her why she would say the things she said and CONVINCE her that she was wrong – what she wrote about me is not true!  But I knew that would not be wise.  In my highly emotional state, I would probably (most definitely) make things worse.  And I would probably cry.  So I prayed instead, and texted my husband to let him know what had happened.

Then I reached a point where I wanted to fight back.  I wanted to accuse her of being the exact thing she accused me and my husband of being.  And as I thought about what I would say to her, I recalled a story in Brené Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”.  In this book she recounts receiving a critical email from a “fan.”  Brené’s immediate reaction was that of anger, confusion, and shock, and her immediate impulse was to lash back at the sender in an equally critical manner. She wrote several draft responses, but ultimately did not send a single one.  Instead, she called a dear friend and worked through what was happening internally, emotionally.  She came to realize that the email had triggered her shame, and while her first response to being shamed was to shame back, she practiced shame resilience instead, and through the process of recognizing what was happening and talking about it, she was able to get through it without shaming back or sinking into the shame pit.

While I was processing what the heck had just happened, I was trying to identify everything I was feeling.  I consciously asked myself if shame was part of it, and when I remembered the story Brené told, I realized that yes, I had been feeling some shame (mixed with hurt, anger, shock, disbelief, sorrow).  But then I thought DUH, of COURSE I felt shame – I care what people think about me, right?  I wrote an entire post about this!  It’s no wonder the words I read hit me so hard.  Realizing that my reaction was totally in line with who I have discovered myself to be actually helped me to start thinking clearly about what had happened and what to do about it.  I was able to practice that shame resilience that I have learned through reading Brené’s books.

And as I thought more about what prompted the author to pen her words and actually send them to us, I started to feel for HER.  Obviously something has happened to her in the past that influenced this behavior.  If I confronted her about her letter or responded in kind, would she even have ears to hear my words?  Probably not.

My Christian faith tells me that I can expect persecution and suffering in this life, but that Jesus knows how I feel because He experienced persecution and suffering, too.  In fact, it was this exact thing – being falsely accused – that led to His crucifixion on the cross.  When I thought about this, I realized that Jesus didn’t fight back.  He didn’t fight against His accusers and try to defend himself against their unfounded accusations.  He didn’t have to because He knew who He was – God’s child.  I don’t have to fight back, either, because I, too, know who I am – WHOSE I am.  Do I want my accuser to know who I am and to know that the conclusions she has drawn about me are false?  Yes, I do – my earthly desire to defend myself hasn’t magically disappeared.  But I only want that if she is willing to listen to me.  If she has already made up her mind about me, I stand no chance of changing it. This wasn’t the first time I had been attacked and falsely accused, and I am sure it will not be the last.  But I know who I am and who I am working to become, and I have the tools now to get out of the shame pit that accompanies being wronged in this way.  It does not take away the pain, but it sure speeds up the recovery.

So what am I going to do about this?  I’m not sure yet.  Quite possibly, nothing.  But I can tell you what I’m NOT going to do:  I’m not going to attack back, I’m not going to defend myself and plead my case for why she should like me, and I’m not going to fall into the shame pit and believe the lies that were written about me.  Knowing what I’m NOT going to do is even more important than what I am going to do.  And knowing what I am NOT going to do is the true reflection of who I am.


never enough

Do you ever feel like you will never be enough?  Oh, let me tell you, I do.  I’ll never be thin enough, smart enough, a good enough lawyer (my day job), a good enough wife, stepmom, sister, daughter, and friend.  Not to mention I will never be a good enough housekeeper, decorator, or weed-controller (seriously, they grow like twenty million feet overnight).  Whew.  That’s a lot of never good enoughs, huh?

We don’t come into this world thinking and feeling like we will never be good enough.  But the thoughts and feelings take root and grow (much like those pesky weeds) throughout our lives.  Our culture is excellent at promoting the never good enough feelings.  Just look around and you’ll notice, if you have not already.

Maybe it’s a decision, or series of decisions you have made that turned out to be mistakes.  You think that because of those mistakes, you will never be enough.  No one will ever truly love you or even just accept you.  I used to feel that way.  I have been divorced twice and married three times.  Never in my life did I think this would be my story, but it is.  For years I was embarrassed and ashamed of my story.  Despite the roughly 50% divorce rate, I still felt a stigma attached to me because of my twice-divorced status.  And I was twice-divorced before the age of 33, mind you, which made my story infinitely worse.  For years I embraced my singlehood and vowed to never again marry.  I think somewhere deep inside I believed I couldn’t “do” marriage.  I wasn’t enough to have a successful marriage.  Well, I don’t know what defines “success” in a marriage.  Some days I think I am successful, and others I know I am failing miserably, but what’s important in my opinion is that I have finally found myself in a place where both parties are 100% committed to the marriage.  So that, to me, is success.

But just because I am in a committed relationship does not mean I don’t feel like I am not enough.  As I mentioned, there are some days I know I am failing, and it’s in those moments that the never enough-ness settles in deeply.  These are the moments that shame threatens to take over and take me down with its nastiness.  These are the moments I feel unworthy of love and belonging.  I am not enough and I never will be enough – for my husband, for my own expectations, for my friends and family who know my story, for those I have yet to meet and tell of my story.  This is when I sink low.

And I sink low when I fall into the comparison trap.  I try to stay away from social media as much as possible.  As I mentioned before, I quit facebook a few years ago, but I still remember what I often felt when I scrolled through my “friends’” posts and saw perfection and more perfection and nary a whiff of real life.  I avoid pinterest for everything but scrapbooking ideas because the beauty and perfection that fills the screen is often just too much for me.  It fills me with anxiety – not just because I find it visually overwhelming, but because you’ve got to be kidding me, people have the time and energy to make all of those perfect (and often complicated) creations???

But I get caught up in food blogs, the occasional Instagram account, and the messages that are rampant while browsing the internet, watching TV, and reading magazines.  It takes a LOT of self-talk to stay out of that I-am-not-enough black hole.

Brené Brown talks about this never enough-ness is her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (and lest you think I receive anything in return for mentioning Brené and her books, I can assure you that Brené Brown does not know I exist – but I will confess it’s my dream to meet her someday.  Her books have helped me tremendously, and I want to share because I know they can help others, too). This concept is referred to as scarcity.  Scarcity can take different forms.  Brené explains this by quoting author Lynne Twist’s writing in The Soul of Money.  Lynne writes that one form of scarcity is the mindset that we do not have enough time, sleep, money, etc.  Many of us wake up every day thinking these thoughts and setting ourselves up for not having enough – for not being enough – throughout the day, and then we go to bed feeling inadequate because all we can think about is what we did not accomplish, what we do not have, and where we are lacking.  But the form of scarcity to which I am referring, and which Lynne also addresses, is what I consider to be more of an emotional scarcity.  And that is what I experience when I think, and consequently believe, that I am not enough (not thin enough, not smart enough, not good enough).  Scarcity = inadequacy.  Has anyone reading ever experienced that?  Well, as I mentioned above, I certainly have and do, so all of that rang true to me.

But I have to admit that what came next in the scarcity discussion kinda irritated me.  Brené says we need to let go of the scarcity mind-set and choose a mind-set of sufficiency.  And here is where it gets tough:  sufficiency is not about having more, but about recognizing that we are enough.  By recognizing and embracing our enough-ness, we can dig ourselves out of the deep dark pit of never enough.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, it’s not (which is why I feel irritated).  Especially when we fall into the comparison trap.  I am actively working on shedding myself of my scarcity mind-set, and one way I try to do that is by telling myself “I am enough.”  I will set this as my intention in yoga, and repeat it as my mantra throughout the day… when I remember to do so, that is.  It takes a lot of practice, and is an active process.  I can’t just wish myself into I am enough-ness.  I also try to shield myself from my personal never enough triggers.  Staying away from social media, not picking up those magazines with perfect airbrushed models and celebrities on the cover, avoiding watching TV shows that depict “reality” that is anything but.  And not comparing myself to others in my life with whom I interact who appear to have it all together.  I have no idea what lies beneath, so why would I waste my time convincing myself they have so much more than I do?

I also have tried to focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses.  I know I am a great cook and baker.  I know I am a great friend.  I know I am smart (although it took about 34 years for me to actually say that out loud and not feel weird).  I know I am fit, and more importantly, healthy.  I know I am a beloved child of God.

I know I am enough.  But when I am fighting with my husband, feeling like a terrible step-mom, just binged on chocolate, haven’t returned a friends’ call or text, or am behind on work promised to a client, it’s all too easy to sink into the never enough-ness.  That is why I believe it takes constant work and checking in with a therapist, a great “self-help” book, close friends or family with whom we can share these vulnerabilities, and a lot of prayer.  Setting an intention or daily mantra, while it may sound hokey, works.  The messages we invite in inevitably come out… in some form.  I have found the best thing I can do is to fill my mind, body, and soul with as much positivity and reality as possible.

I think the battle of never enough-ness will be ongoing in my life.  I do not think I will ever completely overcome those feelings that creep in from time to time.  But, as I said before, it is a process.  I know I am improving, and as long as I actively work on squelching the negativity and ingesting positivity, I believe I will begin to feel more and more that I am enough.

What do you do when you start to feel like you are not enough?  Do you have a mantra, a prayer, or a meditation that you repeat to yourself or offer up?  Do you call a close friend and share your vulnerabilities?  What has worked to help get you back on the path to I am enough?

the fear of being known

When I first started dating my husband, there were things I did not tell him.  Big deal, you may be thinking.  Who tells it all at the beginning of a relationship?  After all, it takes a while to find out if that person is trustworthy and deserving of our stories, right?  Well, it wasn’t just that I did not tell him things, but I actually glossed over some details that really should have been revealed.  When the details eventually came out (because they always do), my now husband was understandably hurt and upset.  There was a period of time when I did not know whether we would stay together – that’s how much hurt was wrapped up in my omission.  And even though what I failed to tell him was not inherently harmful, my omission haunted us for a very long time.  If I had only told him the whole story from the very beginning, things would have been so much different, and so much easier.  AND, I would not have to live with the knowledge that I hurt the man with whom I was falling in love.

I think most of us have “if only” stories.  I have many more than just that one, and they all have different plots, reasons for the desire to have done things differently, and motivations for why the particular act was done that way in the first place.

I can admit now that my omission was motivated by shame, but it took a long time for me to come to that realization.  You see, when I left out the important detail, I was afraid.  Afraid of what this amazing guy would think of me.  Afraid that he would decide he did not want to go out on another date with me.  Afraid that I would feel worse about myself than I already did when I heard myself admit my truth to him.  And here’s the thing – when the truth did come out, several months later, all of those same fears were there, but they were greatly magnified.  By keeping my truth to myself out of fear, I had made the truth even more scary.

I didn’t know anything about shame when all of this took place, and because of that, I was not well-equipped to work through the difficulty of the situation.  When I read I Thought It Was Just Me, I started to have a series of “aha moments,” and so much started to make sense.  What I learned is that one of the biggest components of shame is the fear of disconnection.  Everyone wants to connect – it’s hard-wired into us.  But we also all have things about us that we do not necessarily want to share with others because we are ashamed of our behavior, disappointed in our past choices, or even embarrassed.  According to Brené Brown, what keeps us from sharing, as was the case with me, is the fear of disconnection.  If I reveal myself, I may be rejected.  If I am rejected, I have little chance of connection.  If there is no connection, I am alone.  And if I am alone, then I really don’t belong anywhere, right?  If I stay silent, I can still belong.  No one will reject me.

Recall the definition of shame:  it is, according to Brené, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”  If I believe I am unworthy of acceptance and belonging because of my past mistakes, then won’t others think that, too?  So why would I ever reveal that part of myself and open up to others?

Well, this is exactly what was going on inside of me – and I didn’t even know it.  I just knew I didn’t want to tell my story.  I already felt crappy about something, and I knew in my heart that I could have made much better decisions.  There was NO WAY I was going to show this amazing new man in my life the skeletons in my closet.  That, my friends, was my shame coming out in a huge way.  And believe me, the thing you don’t want to reveal about yourself doesn’t have to be criminal, morally repugnant, or deviant in order for shame to kick in – mine sure wasn’t any of those.  Trust me, it can be anything you beat yourself up about.

But an amazing thing happened when my skeletons came out.  I was met with grace and forgiveness.  I was blown away.  Another amazing thing that happened was my now husband opened up to me and shared a very similar story.  We were not that different.  Here I was, thinking IT WAS ONLY ME, but as it turned out, it wasn’t.  And you know what happened inside of me?  My body, which had been completely tense, relaxed.  My stomach, which had felt so incredibly sick, suddenly felt ok.  My hands, which had been shaking, calmed down.  My fear, which had been overwhelming, turned to intense relief.  But more than the physical changes that occurred, were the emotional changes.  I was vulnerable with my now husband, and he in turn was vulnerable with me, and we grew closer.  And every time we are vulnerable with one another and reveal ourselves, we grow closer.  That does not mean the shame evaporates.  I still have trouble revealing parts of myself of which I am ashamed.  But it is getting easier for me to trust that when I do, the connection will not vanish.

It takes courage to reveal  ourselves.  We risk rejection, disconnection, and more shame.   Brené cautions that for these reasons, we ought to be careful to share our stories with those who have earned the right to hear them.  Even then, the story may not have a happy ending.  We may, in fact, be rejected.  But I think we gain courage by sharing.  And the rewards of being understood, accepted, shown grace and empathy, and receiving vulnerability in return, have proven to me, time and time again, to be well worth the risk.

What I have written about above is just one example of the fear of being known.  Fortunately, when I have been vulnerable with my husband, I have been met with grace, acceptance, and love.  But that has not always been the case with others.  I have, in fact, been rejected, and it has been painful, for sure.  And that pain has threatened to eradicate my desire to be vulnerable in the future.  I plan to explore this in future posts, but for now, I will say that despite the rejection I have experienced, I have gained courage in revealing myself and speaking my truth.  I do not want to hide in shame, and I do not want to shy away from vulnerability.  As I stated before, we risk so much when we show ourselves, but I encourage you to do so, because the rewards of being truly known, accepted, connected, and understood, are so much greater.

the one who shames me the most

The other day I went to an appointment with my therapist.  I had rushed to get there, but stopped along the way to grab a cup of coffee to drink during my appointment.  Because I had not allowed a cushion, and also because the drive thru of the coffee shop was particularly slow that day, I was cutting it super close.  I did not want to be late, and I even eschewed stopping at the ladies room on my way in lest I arrive to my appointment one or two minutes after the appointed time.  I will admit that I did not want my therapist (with whom I have worked for nine years and who knows me quite well by now) to judge me for being late (hello, shame) – especially when I would be walking in with a cup of coffee obviously purchased – not home-brewed – some time prior to our appointment (hello, bigger shame!).  All of that is actually excellent fodder for another post, but amazingly (or perhaps sadly?), not the focus here.

So I sat down in the waiting area, anticipating my therapist would appear any second.  Several minutes passed, but knowing that appointments do sometimes run over (mine certainly have), I really did not think much of it or mind.  After seven minutes passed, however, which is not the norm for my therapist, I decided to check the text message she had sent to me the week prior (just to confirm that I was not the one mistaken), asking me if we could move the appointment up by 30 minutes.

When I re-read the text, I realized that she not only asked if we could move the appointment up by 30 minutes, but she also asked if we could move it back by one day.  I was 24 hours early.

My immediate thought, after realizing I had misread the text, was, “you’re such an idiot.”  That was quickly followed by, “you’re so stupid.”

Pretty shaming of me, huh?

And I knew it.  I knew full well that I was shaming myself.  Is the irony of the situation lost on anyone?  I was sitting in my therapist’s office getting ready to go into an appointment to work on the shame that is such an influence in my life, and I sit there shaming myself.  THAT is how powerful shame is, and how difficult it is to escape its grip.  Do I truly believe I am an idiot because I misread a text?  Well, … no.  Do I truly believe I am stupid because I showed up an entire day early for my appointment?  Well, … no.  Or DO I?  Well, I don’t know, because in that moment I sure do feel like a stupid idiot.  But wait, if someone else was telling me that story and that had happened to them, would I think or say to them, “gosh, you’re such an idiot.  You’re so stupid,” ???  NOOOO!  OF COURSE I WOULDN’T!

But here’s the hard truth:  the one who shames me the most, is ME.  It happens a lot… more than I would like to admit… and despite the work I have done to fight against shame, clearly I still struggle mightily when it comes to the voice inside.  And it makes sense, really, when I think about it.  In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me, Brené Brown says that shame has the most power when we enforce an expectation ourselves or when it is enforced by people who are closest to us, like family or friends.  I definitely enforced an expectation of myself to NOT screw up.  That expectation was to arrive to my appointment on time.  So when I realized I had screwed up by arriving on a completely different day, that was an even bigger screw-up and I had really failed to meet my expectation.  It did not matter that no one was harmed.  It did not matter that my day was flexible.  It did not matter that the following day was also flexible and so it was no problem for me to go back for the correct appointment, nor would I have to cancel on my therapist at the last minute.  I failed and therefore I was a loser.  Pretty harsh.

I have a hunch that I am not the only one who does this.  I believe self-shaming happens as much, if not more, than shaming of others. We live in a society of unrealistic expectations.  We are constantly told to look perfect, be perfect, and if we are not, by all means do not admit to it!  What would people think?!?!

So after I finished shaming myself, I talked through it with myself, and admitted that I was being unreasonable.  If I would not tell another they were a stupid idiot for making a silly harmless mistake, I absolutely need to stop sending that message to myself.  Thankfully, I recognized what was happening – even in the act of doing it.  That is progress.  And thankfully I have also learned how to have these talks with myself, so I rebounded fairly quickly.  It does not mean I won’t berate myself in the future, but little by little, I am learning to stop being the one who shames me the most, and show myself a little more grace.

Do you find yourself being the one who shames you the most?  If so, first I want to assure you that you are not the only one who does this.  If you are ever in doubt, just go back and read the above story again.  And second, I encourage you to join me  – let’s  work on ending self-shaming and show ourselves a little more grace and kindness.