Lately, because we are a lively and fun couple, Alastair and I have been having a lot of conversations about shame. We’ve been sort of clearing out the old bullshit, as you know, and one of the things we both struggle with is this idea that there’s just something Wrong about us, even if by most people’s standards we’re fairly lovely people. We don’t kick dogs, we don’t beat children, we try to be fair and kind and when we’re not, we try to own it. We’re your standard issue flawed but overall good people, but still… we just have had it ingrained that there’s something Wrong with us as human people, and it’s a tough mindset to kick. We both picked it up as children, and the things you believe as a child adhere to your soul with a death cling that’s near impossible to shake, no matter how much you might understand intellectually that you are not history’s worst monster because the propane ran out on your watch.
Recently, though, I’ve had something of a breakthrough. I’ve started to be able to choose not to feel the shame. This was never an option before. Every time I start to feel that shame, that guilt, or the panic, I just think, “I’m not going to do this,” and this huge sense of relief flows over me. It’s not perfect; many times the shame and guilt and panic just comes right back, and I choose again, and it ebbs away, and we go on like this until either the situation is resolved or I’m distracted by shiny new guilt, shame or panic. But sometimes, more and more often as we go, the choice works. I just choose, and the horrible feeling is gone, that internal poison (which really is physical poison, those stress hormones are supposed to come on when you’re being chased by a lion, not when you’re accidentally late on the car payment) just fades away.
It’s just… a choice.
The other night, we were having this discussion and I told Alastair, “You just choose,” and he couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Intellectually, of course, he could; we all understand intellectually what it is to choose. But inside, where it matters, where the poison seeps in, he couldn’t get it. How can you just choose and make it go away?
Quite honestly, I don’t know. I think I’m starting to be able to do it because I was loved so completely. Because I had people who loved me unconditionally through the worst part of my life and I was too weak to fight them off. Because things were so bad that I had to accept that these people just loved me, something in me began to heal. It’s been almost four years since all that began, and only now, just recently, am I able to understand that I really can choose. It’s so deceptively simple, and yet so infernally impossible.
Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about this week. I’m so grateful I’m beginning to be able to turn it off, although there’s still a long way to go. What’s your experience with this? Has anyone else been able to do this? Can you explain how it works? Because I can’t, at least not any better than I explained it here. I feel like there’s something here I’m just not able to put into words; can you?