Shame and Vulnerability Unmasked

“Shame on you.” “Shame on him.” “Shame on me.” My mouth has formed those words many times in 43 years. My mama said them when I tried to sneak back into the house after a broken curfew. My Grandma ‘Dessa said them when “so-and-so’s husband stepped out on her and ran off with that little tramp.” My great-grandmother said them when she felt bad after burning her hand and swearing out loud in front of us kids. I grew up with shame.

In elementary school, I was ashamed that we lived in a mobile home on someone else’s property. In high school I was ashamed when my coach kind of joked that my fashionable “high tops” weren’t really basketball shoes at all. (They were all my single mama could afford.) In college, I was ashamed that my car had no paint and roared through campus in a not-so-cool way because the muffler had fallen off. When I got married at 24, I felt shame when I accepted a diamond ring that had been worn by my husband’s ex -wife. When I got divorced 13 years later, I carried the shame of a wasted womb to the courthouse.

If I had believed the enemy’s lies, they would go something like this: “You are unworthy to hang out with the kids who have their own swimming pools and whose parents drive Audis. You shouldn’t even play sports because you’re can’t afford the proper gear. Everyone is going to laugh at you and your stupid Balloon sneakers. And forget about trying to date any of the “cool” guys at college, they are WAY out of your league. And that ring, well, obviously you aren’t worth the trouble it would take to get a new diamond. Or at least one that your husband didn’t buy for someone else! And that wasted womb, well… that was your own choice. You made your bed. Now lie in it.”

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Okay, I did believe those lies. Maybe not consciously. But I made agreements with the enemy about who I was based on what kind of home I lived in, what clothing I could afford, and what car I drove. I suffered on the inside for making poor choices and pretending that I was okay with them. Shame and pride and fear created a nasty concoction within, yet I smiled on the outside. I never verbalized any of that. Just worked hard. Got good grades. Did my best to be a good crack-wife. Pretended to be okay. Slogged through the swamp of shame.

Dr. Brené Brown speaks eloquently (if you can forgive a few swear words) on shame in her Ted Talks piece, “Listening to Shame”. /brene_brown_listening_to_shame In her talk, she says, “Shame is the swampland of the soul.” I get that. I’ve lived that.

Before Dr. Brown gets to the actual shame part of her talk on shame, though, she speaks a lot about vulnerability. (I also recommend her Vulnerability talk: ). It resonated with me when she said she had a, “Vulnerability Hangover.” I kind of felt that way after my previous post. I just wanted to hide. To lay low. I felt kind of naked. And the negative self-talk came, “So, was it worth it to put yourself out there like that?” I even began to second-guess some pieces that I was planning to put into my book. But then, one dear reader had the courage to make the following comment on my blog post, “Unashamed.” She said, “Beautifully written. Someday so many people will be able to tell you how much your honesty and transparency has helped them. Keep releasing the fear of what people think – What I thought while reading this is how awesome that you are sharing it and how it will resonate with so many more people than you can imagine!”

I actually wept. Just sat here dropping tears onto my lemony-patterned table cloth. Thank you, God. That someone sees. Is touched by what You and I are doing here. Thank You, for those words of encouragement.

Brené Brown goes on to say, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” And that it is the “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” So, this is what I want to say today: If you feel stuck in a place of shame, take a step of courage and be vulnerable. Find a safe place to be real. Dr. Brown says that, “Vulnerability is the pathway back to each other.” Find a 12 Step group like Celebrate Recovery, where you can tell your story. Attend Al-anon. Risk a friendship. Just be real and give another person the opportunity to say two of the most powerful words in the universe, “Me, too.”

Isaiah 50:7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.


P.S. The photo may appear unrelated to this post, but it sure looks yummy, right? Seriously, I made Strawberry Shortcake for my Honey and me after we found some fantastic strawberries at Costco on our date night last Monday. And I’m not ashamed to say that I ate every bite of the one in the above photograph, in sweet memory of my Grandma ‘Dessa. Loved her so much – wish I could share with her some of the things I’m learning about shame. I’m afraid that she lived and died in its ugly swampland.

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