Today someone who knows me well sent me an email. I was going to say she outlined my faults and sins, but that would be kind. She delved in to the shame as only someone who has been there herself can know. The net was wide and the hooks were precise. I have turned my back to her. Sounds simple, but it wasn’t and it was the only way to take the next step with integrity, for me. This is hard, because I know her well, like family, in a way. The details don’t matter, but that is what happened.
I have been down some of the dark alleys she painted for me. I lived in them, took people I cared about down them, even. But I have also been back to those alleys, as best as I can, and I have cleaned up where I can. I have not made my past disappear, but I have let go of the shame. I made poor decisions. If she had said that, she would have been right, but she didn’t. She said I was marred and mis-wrought, even though she held me as a baby and said she loved me first and best and she is not my mother. She said she knew I was wrong, in spite of the care she gave me as an infant. She is right about holding me – she did – but she is not right about my fundamental badness. I am like you, fundamentally good. (!) I have made choices and I have repaired what I can and I have healed and I have owned all I can. The more I own the more I can own, and I am not injured in the owning of my impact of the world. It is healing as long as I have first done the important work of letting go of shame. Having someone who held me as a baby tell me that I am fundamentally mis-made would have sent me reeling into dark places before I forgave myself. Now I don’t believe the hype, the story, the lies.
Shame is tricky, sticky, relentless and as close as my skin. How did I let go of the false belief that I was made wrong? I did four things. I told my truth when I came to know it. I set boundaries so that I contained my impact and I contained the world’s impact on me. I asked you for help so that the isolation’s whispers had a counterpoint of love from you – I got connected. I forgave myself. That last word needs definition. Forgiveness means that I stop holding the energy of the thing that hurt me. I let it go and get free. It has nothing to do with absolving responsibility, only tearing down the destructive lies that are the mortar of the house of shame.
Lastly, fifthly, I make art from shame: honest beauty heals.