Tag Archives: shame

Admitting vulnerability

Sometimes, admitting something can be the hardest thing you ever have to do.  Like on Dateline NBC, there’s always this regular, normal husband who ends up hiring someone to murder his wife because he’s afraid she’ll find out about him cheating on her or being a gambling addict or he lost his job. The guy actually thinks KILLING someone is easier than admitting to whatever crappy thing he’s done.  Damn, that shows you just how powerful shame can be. Except those guys don’t get it, because really, the way to rid yourself of shame is by doing the opposite…not silencing it, but outing it.

I’ve spent the past year outing all of my shame, and let me tell you…it’s NOT easy! I can’t say I’d rather kill someone instead, but there were definitely plenty of other things I would rather have been doing. I didn’t do them, though. I’m pretty sure sharing my shame was the most difficult, yet most freeing and empowering thing I’ve ever done.  Once you admit something, out loud…something that’s been eating away at your soul even though you’ve been ignoring the shit out of it…it doesn’t own you anymore. No one can shame you for something you OWN, you know? I kept saying, “No one can be harsher than my own inner critic, so BRING IT ON!”

I’ve poured the contents of my soul all over this blog, shared them with family, friends and strangers…and I’m talking HEAVY stuff.  I figured go big or go home.  It’s funny, though…now that I’m moving into new territories in my life, I’m finding I still have things inside me that are hard to admit to. And I’m realizing it’s not because they are shame based. It’s because I feel vulnerable. Being vulnerable is scary. It’s so scary, I don’t even want to admit to the vulnerability. That “pink cloud” effect of last year’s epic sharing has started to wear off. I don’t feel so much like Wonder Woman anymore. I feel like a regular woman, whatever that is…

 

 

This post was written in response to Linda G Hill’s Stream of Social Consciousness Saturday

 

 

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Butterfly party

 

reborn

 

I can remember when we were deciding to buy this house. It was about 8 years ago, and as we toured the open floor plan, we both kept saying how great of a house it would be to throw parties in…and we were right. I’ve hosted so many birthday parties, Christmas parties, craft-night parties, baby showers… you name it. I love entertaining. If I was not out doing something fun with my friends, I was having them over to do it here. Social butterfly, always something going on. I was a good time!

I was not consciously aware that by constantly socializing and developing new friendships, I was covering up the “real me”…the me that I hoped no one would ever see. The me that was insecure, and unlovable. The me that had done so many shameful things in the past. The unworthy me.   I was desperately trying to fill the hole inside me and create that feeling of emotional intimacy I didn’t even realize I was craving. I was trying to create a feeling of being needed and wanted… “worthy”… the feelings I never felt in my marriage, or from any boyfriend, or from my parents, or really from anyone other than my children. It fascinates me that I was oblivious to all of this as I went about my socialization. I knew it was an accomplishment that I went from being that “loser me” to the “popular me”. I had worked hard on changing it, but honestly never thought in a million years it would work. I slipped into this dream role so effortlessly, no one had a clue. I was so good at it, even I didn’t have a clue.

Fast forward to earlier this year.  I started therapy and the journey of processing my entire life. Opening up Pandora’s box was painful and raw, and made me realize the role I had been playing was not the “real me”. I felt like a fraud, and knew that if my friends found out who the “real me” was, they would know I’m a fraud, too. I couldn’t imagine keeping the act up with them, now that I had acknowledged who I really was. I dropped out of the public eye for a few months. I couldn’t face anyone. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere… except my therapist’s office.  This is when I realized where I was my entire life…in a cocoon. It’s one thing to live in a cocoon, blissfully unaware. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but when it’s all you know, it’s not so bad. It’s a whole other thing to be aware… to realize you are trapped inside. It’s crazy how shame can be such a bully. Trauma causes your brain to protect you in the most bizarre ways. Blaming and shaming yourself is so much easier than acknowledging the horror of what really happened to you. I became my own worst enemy. No one could judge me harder than I was judging myself, but I couldn’t understand that at the time.  I understand now.

I understand now, because I spent the past 9 months working hard to rewire the thought processes in my brain. It took me 9 months to  crack through the layers of that cocoon and start my real life.   I’m now on the outside, with the cocoon pieces surrounding me, admiring these beautiful new wings amidst the dark remnants. I think it will take me some time to figure out how to use them to their full potential, but that’s ok…I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.

Last night, I entertained friends for the first time in over a year. I just turned 45, so I threw myself a party. It seemed fitting, as it’s been 9 months since I started this journey. Sometimes, you have to die a little bit inside in order to be reborn. I called it my “Re-Birth Party” and invited my tribe. My tribe consists of friends who have met the “real me” and didn’t think I was a fraud at all. Friends who didn’t judge me one bit (something I still occasionally have to remind myself to believe) for those horrible things “I did” over the years. Friends who saw me feeling unworthy and unlovable and instead of running away like I assumed they would, stayed and valued me and loved me. Still, I have had a hard time feeling that love, even though I now know it exists. This work takes time, I guess.  I actually have quite an extended tribe, which is pretty amazing. I couldn’t have all of them here… you gotta start in baby steps. Anyway, this party was perfect. We ate and drank and laughed and danced, and even had a disco ball! It lasted till 1am, which is pretty late for a group of 40 and 50-somethings! Everyone was happy. I was happy. I was surrounded by empowering, uplifting, loving friends, and it was real. Towards the end of the night, we linked arms and sang along with “Danny’s Song”. I ended up in the middle, with me singing to them and them singing to me. “And in the morning when I rise, bring a tear of joy to my eyes and tell me everything is gonna be alright…”  and that’s exactly what happened. I was moved to tears, but for the first time since I started this journey, they were tears of joy.  I was worthy. I was lovable. I was happy.

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There are no mistakes

I’m at the office today. I’m in the process of selling my company and have so many loose ends to tie up. I’m the biggest procrastinator I know. I put off paying bills, not because I don’t have the money, but because of the effort it takes to stop what I’m doing right now and get my checkbook out. I’m the person that never gets around to sending in the mail-in rebate. I let gift certificates expire. It’s so much easier to say “I’ll do it later”. I put things in a pile for “later”, and before you know it, I don’t even notice the pile exists. It gets covered with other piles of “later”, and when I finally decide to take care of it, I can’t figure out which “later” pile it’s in. So now, it’s later. I’ve got to finish all of these tasks before the sale, yet I’m writing here instead. Typical. I think I lack discipline.  How I created a successful business is beyond me. My house is a disaster. Seriously, it looks like an episode of COPS. You know, when they bust into a drug dealer’s home and there’s piles of laundry and papers and dishes everywhere because the residents are too busy doing drugs and ordering pizza to care about tidying up.  I hate it, but not quite enough to prevent it.  I blame it on being busy, which I am, but that’s not true. It’s just easier to do it later. No, that’s not true either.  It’s just easier to say I’ll do it later. I judge myself for these decisions. I like having a clean, organized house. I just can’t do it consistently. I’ll have my spurts, and get it done, but before you know it, it’s back to being a COPS house. We have an open floor plan, so when I do clean it up, it doesn’t take long. Of course, that’s just because I throw it all in my bedroom. It’s amazing how quickly I can clean it up when I want to. I can get more accomplished in the 10 minutes before company comes over than I can in a week of being alone. That being said, NO ONE gets to see my room. No one.  “Sorry, but I can’t give you a tampon. Oh sure, I have some, but that door doesn’t open with company here. Use this Christmas dish towel, instead”.

The weird thing about my procrastination is that it ceases to exist when I get my mind set on something. Like when I started my company. I had no clue what I was doing. Sure, I was a great nurse, but that’s it. I had no one to help me figure it out, no examples to follow. It was just up to me. I used my current mantra “What is the next right step?” I learned that from Oprah. She’s got a great video about “there are no mistakes”. I didn’t know I was using that mantra at the time, but now that I’ve seen her video, I realize that’s exactly what I was doing. I became tenacious. I started by googling “How to start a home health care company”. From there, I contacted the Division Of Labor. From there, I applied for licensing and obtained insurances. Next thing you know, I’ve got myself a business with 50 employees and sales of half a million dollars in my first year. A business I created all by myself, out of thin air. Sometimes, I have to remind myself of that. When I’m feeling like I’m not making any progress in life, like I’m barely keeping my head above water. When I’m doubting myself about getting divorced and selling my company . When I’m wondering if telling the story of my childhood trauma is really what I should be doing. When I’m slouching under the weight of my insecurities, I remind myself of all the things I have been able to do, and I stop slouching. I come out of the water. I ease up on the self doubt… a little bit.
I was thinking this morning, that I bet my husband regrets ever agreeing to marriage counseling. He thought it was great the first few months. It really worked out in his favor… lots of sex in return for buying me dinner once a week (dinners I arranged). I imagine most of our mutual friends, the ones who don’t really know our story, think our marriage counseling didn’t work. We are not a “success story” to the world.  They don’t get it. The thing is…I don’t care that they don’t  get it. I get it. This was the most successful thing I’ve done in a long, long time. More successful than starting my business, for sure. I never would have had the courage to face what I’ve faced this year, if I hadn’t gone to marriage counseling. I would have spent the rest of my life just existing. Going through the motions. Feeling that empty, sad feeling and not knowing why. I could never figure out why I felt so connected to depressed, broken women in movies. I think I’ve watched Bridesmaids a dozen times. Yeah, it’s funny,  but I watched it because I knew the feelings of Kristen Wiig’s character were my feelings. I had no idea why they were my feelings, but I knew they were mine. If I hadn’t gone to marriage counseling, I would have kept on absorbing anything negative given to me by the people who “loved”me,  as though I deserved it…as though I should be grateful for the good they gave me and accept the bad as part of the package. You were never supposed to get married and have kids, anyway, Jami. Just be grateful you have what you have. Stop being selfish.

 

Marriage counseling sucked. We both listed our complaints. We both struggled to list what we liked in each other. We both insisted we were there to save our marriage, not dissolve it. We both did our homework. We called it “fake it till you make it”. He faked pretending to want to spend time with me by taking me out to dinner. I pretended wanting to have sex with him.  We both knew we were faking. After a few months of this “deal”, he was happier than ever in our marriage, and I felt like Kristen Wiig, 10 times over.  As we sat in therapy, I blurted out, “This just isn’t working for me. I can’t feel it.” Our therapist seemed perplexed, and decided to delve deeper into our lives, by asking about our childhoods. Bulls-eye!  So, here’s where marriage counseling led to individual counseling, which led to me finally becoming aware of what I really was….I was a caterpillar stuck in a cocoon. When you’re not aware of being in a cocoon, you just think that this is how life is.  I had never put myself first in a relationship, ever. I don’t think any one person should be “first” in a relationship…they should be equally “first”. Both partners should desperately want the other to come “first”. I have always been placed second, or placed myself second. That’s the rule in my cocoon. That’s how it’s always been, so it’s all I knew.  If I tried to put myself first, I felt selfish. Putting myself first never worked, anyway, because I had always only chosen partners who were in cocoons, and caterpillars can’t share cocoons. My husband is in a cocoon, but it’s his cocoon. His cocoon has different rules.  I could go in his cocoon…it’s roomy enough. But it wasn’t comfortable. It was dark, like mine, but colder. I was so used to mine, that the darkness was kind of cozy. I liked the warmth. It was familiar, like an old, tattered security blanket. You wouldn’t think shame would be so cozy, but when it’s all you know, it’s safe.  Once I started putting myself first, once I started letting go of my shame, once I started breaking out of my cocoon… I realized that caterpillars hang out with caterpillars and butterflies hang out with butterflies. I’m a butterfly now. I’m not flying yet, but I’m a butterfly. I see my wings. I’m moving them…figuring out how they work. It’s not easy to start flying when you’ve been suffocating your entire life. You have to learn how to breathe again. You have to learn how to move again, because moving is different when you have wings. You’re not sure they will even work.  They are beautiful, but it’s kind of scary thinking about your first flight. What if I jump off the ledge and I’m not strong enough to fly? Maybe I’ll just go back into the cocoon for a little bit, just to rest.  The things is…I don’t fit in my  cocoon anymore, or his. If I tried to go back, my wings would break.  It takes me a week to put away my laundry, so imagine how long I would put off repairing  my broken wings?

I don’t know when I’ll start flying. I don’t know if I’m making the right decisions, in the long run. Looking at the future is scary. All I know is right now. I know how I’m feeling today. Today feels right. If tomorrow doesn’t feel right, I’ll figure out what the next right step is and I’ll take it. And if that step doesn’t feel right, I’ll just take a different one. There are no mistakes, just different steps, different paths, leading you to your destination.

 

 

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Brag about Jag

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I’m attending a Halloween party tonight and bringing my signature party dish, Jag. I love bringing this to parties because I can  be pretty sure no one else will be making it.  I cringe when I show up with something that someone else brought…it always makes me feel bad for the other person, like I ruined their contribution.  I don’t like carrying that kind of guilt around all night. One time, I brought a Mexican dip to a party and sneaked it back into the car, because I didn’t want the owners of the two other Mexican dips to feel bad when they see no one eating it.  With this dish,  I know I’ll never hear, “Oh, you can just put it on the table next to the other Jags”. More often than not, I have to explain to the guests just exactly what Jag is. I live on Cape Cod, home of clam chowder and lobster rolls. Jag is a Cape Verde beans and rice dish, though often thought of as Portuguese, as it’s full of delicious linguica.  Everyone’s recipe is a bit different, but it really doesn’t matter, because on Cape Cod, in my circle of friends, you can be pretty sure no place I’m going to has even heard of it.  Mine is full of bacon, linguica, butter…(do NOT tell my cardiologist I eat this stuff!) I’m not the type to brag…unless it’s about my Jag. (Damn, the poetry just kinda flowed right there).I’m sorry, but my Jag is the bomb! My friends at this party are expecting it. I can’t show up with paltry cheese and crackers anymore. That’s so beneath me.  People are depending on me! Tonight, as I walk in, the crowd will part to create a path for us.  “It’s here” they’ll whisper. I’ll cradle the pot in my arms, smiling… holding it out towards the food table like Rashiki holding up baby Simba in the Lion King. “Behold…the Jag!” Yes, that’s right…my Jag is as good as a royal newborn son.

I wrote about my Jag once, in my journal. I know I’ve mentioned in my other posts about going to therapy.  My therapist got me started on writing in a journal as a way to process things when I wasn’t in her office. Most who know me know how fortunate I am to have found the perfect match in a therapist. Let’s be real here… she is the best therapist on Cape Cod. I know, I haven’t actually been to any other therapists on Cape Cod… or anywhere, but it’s pretty obvious. Her name is Susan and she is a compassionate, badass, confident, empowering LISCW. She’s the kind of woman who’s not afraid to tell you when you’re off track, but also the first to validate you when it’s right. She has a way of planting seeds in my insecurities that grow into confidence. It’s really hard for me to give an accurate description of her, other than to say that I am 100% sure I would have ended up stuck in that dark, uncomfortable, cold cocoon for the rest of my life if I hadn’t met her. I wouldn’t have even known I was in a cocoon. I just would have died in there, never knowing  I could have fought my way out. She’s given me the tools I needed to chip away at my shell and progress in my transformation to the butterfly. I always kind of feel bad for people when I hear them say they are going to therapy. I think, “gee, it’s too bad they are going to such a mediocre therapist”, which is funny, because I have no idea who they are even seeing. All I know is it’s not Susan, so they must at least be a little sucky. Even when they talk about how much their therapist has helped them, I think “Aw, poor thing. It’s too bad that you think this is good help. Imagine how much better you would be if you went to Susan”. If Susan ever retires, I’m screwed.

Earlier this year, as I started to peel off the layers of trauma, I started to have a spiritual awakening. It’s really a whole other story for another time. Though one interesting part of it was the synchronicity I suddenly  became keenly aware of. It felt as if the Universe was trying to show me that I was on the right path. Coincidences and signs everywhere I turned. Some major, some small, but they happened all the time. Even Susan noticed it. Guess what her signature party dish is? Yep….Jag!

The awakening came at a time when I was doubting so much in my life….doubting myself, mostly, but also the entire process of my therapeutic journey. When you start peeling off those layers you’ve been carrying around all these years, it can get pretty ugly. You begin to wonder if you are doing the right thing. “Hmmm…I’m paying Susan one hundred dollars an hour to make me feel like I’m dying inside?” It seems like the process is taking forever and you begin to think that this might be as good as it gets.

It was an emotionally charged day when I had finally mustered up the courage to tell a friend for the first time about my childhood sexual abuse. I had only told Susan and my husband, and never imagined telling another soul. I honestly couldn’t even believe that I had told them about it. I thought I was taking that shit to the grave. You don’t just go around sharing your shame with people, you know? That’s the whole reason I kept it inside me for 30 years….if anyone ever found out, they would know how dirty and disgusting I was, and realize I was a fraud. As I pulled up to her driveway, overflowing with anxiety and considering turning around and going home, a family of four deer walked out of her back yard, crossing my path on the street. NOT a regular occurrence around here! I’d never seen anything like it. I couldn’t stop thinking about those deer, and how they appeared as I was about to share the most shameful secret of my childhood. Later that day, I looked up the meaning of a deer visit. It symbolizes “the innocence of the inner child”. Whoa. I told my husband, in disbelief.  He was not impressed. How could he not see the connection between the innocence of the inner child and me telling the story of losing my childhood innocence? Come ON!! That man just does not get anything about me. Those next few weeks were dark for me. There were way too many puzzle pieces swirling around in my brain. I was confused and depressed, for sure.  I had been working hard on figuring out how to forgive 13 year old Jami (I was 13 when the sexual abuse started) and I just couldn’t find a way to do it. I thought 13 year old Jami was shameful, dirty and disgusting. I just couldn’t shake it. I was discouraged and felt like giving up on all this therapy. It wasn’t working. I was more miserable than when I started. I remember lying on the couch one day, staring at the TV. My husband and youngest son came home. I could hear my husband say something to my son about “tell Mom what happened this morning”. I pulled myself up to a sitting position for the first time in hours. I knew I was just going through the motions for my family, but it was the best I could do. I looked over at my son, who was just 3 days shy of his 13th birthday. His face lit up as he started to share with me…“Mom, I was getting ready for school this morning and I looked out the window in the back yard and there was a deer looking at me!” I stared at him. It was like I had cleaned the dirt of my glasses and could see clear, for the first time in weeks… no, months. As I stared at him, it happened. I understood the significance of what was going on. God, it was right there, in plain sight, this whole time! It just took the coincidence of the deer to get me to notice. My son was turning 13. My sweet, innocent son. The son who still gives me tender kisses goodnight. The son who plays video games and hasn’t even gotten his braces yet. The son who feels excitement about a deer being in our yard. My inner voice spoke loudly, “He’s 13, just like you were. If that happened to him, would you forgive him?” I got up and went into my room so he wouldn’t see me crying. He’s only 13. If someone molested him, he wouldn’t be dirty. He wouldn’t be guilty. It wouldn’t be his fault. I would not think he was disgusting, shameful or unworthy. 13 year old Eric is pure. So why do I feel those things about 13 year old Jami? And just like that, the dark cloud lifted.

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I just might wear this costume all year long.

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Bully in my brain

bullyWhen I was first diagnosed with PTSD (and really, even now), I punished myself for having it.  I guess that’s pretty common for people like me. As I journaled through the influx of emotions and hyper-vigilance of those first overwhelming weeks, I wrote and said some pretty nasty things to myself. Stop being such a drama queen! You’re such an attention whore…these things happened YEARS ago! Get over it!” It was pretty ugly, but I was ugly, so it makes sense. I was a bully.  I shamed myself for needing to go to therapy twice a week. I shamed myself needing therapy at all. I shamed myself for being dramatic and sleeping with a knife by my bed and one eye on the door. I shamed myself for how I felt when I was faced with a trigger. I shamed myself for even having triggers. I shamed myself for my nightmares.  I shamed myself for not being a good enough wife. I shamed myself for spending so much time writing in my journal.  Yeah, I shamed myself for just about everything. That’s PTSD for you. It’s a self-centered bitch that likes to be in charge. Oh, you’re planning on spending time snuggling your husband on the couch tonight? I don’t THINK so! You’re going to have tachycardia and nausea instead, loser!”  My life was like a giant puzzle tossed in the air…pieces flying everywhere and nothing seemed to connect. I couldn’t put any of it together to see the bigger picture, or even a fragment of the picture. Pieces would fly right in front of me, and slip away before I could make any sense of them. Even a four year old can put together a puzzle. What the hell was wrong with me?

Somehow, I managed to keep it together enough to continue raising my kids and keep my business running. It took every ounce of energy and concentration I had, because what I really wanted to be doing was lying under my blanket in my locked bedroom. I spent most of this year like this: kids, therapy, journal, work, bed…kids, therapy, journal, work, bed.  Unfortunately for my husband, there was no room for him. Journaling was a tool my therapist gave me. She gives me the tools, and I have to figure out how to use them to fix my problems. At least, that’s the plan. Anyway, I just so happened to have signed up for a four week course to become a Certified Alzheimer’s Case Manager, right around the time all this PTSD shit hit the fan. “Great”, I thought. “I have to learn about dementia right now?!” She started the lecture by discussing the brain, specifically the limbic system. I dreaded where this was going, but once we started,  I actually found it to be a welcome distraction from my flashbacks and paranoia. But here’s where it gets exciting… I actually learned about something that was directly related to what I was going through…the amygdala.

In a nutshell, the amygdala ( pronounced “ah-MIG-dah-la”) is a section of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, including detecting fear and preparing for emergency events. Any physical or psychological threat activates the amygdala. When this happens, the pre frontal cortex part of the brain activates. It assesses the situation and decides whether the threat is real and what to do about it, then shuts down the amygdala. Like when someone startles you…your amygdala reacts with fear, and the pre frontal cortex realizes it’s someone you know and shuts down that fear response. Pretty simple, right?  However, chemical and biological imbalances can present after trauma, resulting in an over-stimulated amygdala. So, instead of the quick “fight, flight or freeze” then relaxation, sufferers often find themselves without the relaxation part of that process. Basically, the amygdala holds on to that trauma…and won’t let go.

“Ahhh…so THAT’S why I feel this way”. It made sense. It was like I put at least 6 pieces of the corner section of my puzzle together. Validation! “So, I’m NOT a drama queen, after all…it’s just my amygdala”. I felt the heavy weight I’d been carrying around just lift from me. I felt…good.  I sort of skipped out there, humming U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” and replaced the word “beautiful” with “amygdala”. “It’s an amygdala dayyyyy…..” (yes, I’m that big of a dork). I felt free. Wow…I couldn’t believe an Alzheimer’s class cleared up my PTSD! So easy! Why didn’t my therapist know about this? We could have saved me so much angst…and so many co-pays!  I couldn’t wait to fill her in on the cure I’d just discovered. She was going to be so grateful to me!

Well, that’s kind of funny to read now, isn’t it? Yeah, that euphoria lasted a good 45 minutes or so, before I returned home to my trigger of a husband and learned my next lesson… just because you understand why you have these feelings, doesn’t mean you can control them. So, in perfect traumatized form, I beat myself up for singing that song… for thinking I was better. “You fool. There’s no fixing you. You’re damaged. The whole world doesn’t change just because you took a dumb class, you dumbass. You’re still scared. You’re still needy. You’re still worthless. What’s wrong with you?” God, I  hate that damn bully.

So here I am, 7 months later, still finding I’m beating myself up for my feelings, my needs, my expectations. Only now, since I’ve learned about why I’m such a bully, I’ve found I’m a little less mean. I’m slowly rewiring my brain to allow myself have these feelings and not judge them so harshly.  When I’m feeling sad or insecure, I allow myself to feel sad or insecure (well, sometimes). That in itself takes a boatload of work, but that’s what this journey is: work.  The rewiring work is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve got the right tools. Each therapy visit, each journal entry, each mediation, each yoga class…each one gives me a new tool. Now it’s up to me to remember to use them.

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