I’m taking Brene’ Brown’s class on Living Brave. This week’s lesson is on shame. According to Brene’, shame can not live in the light of day, so if we talk about it it goes away. I’ve talked about how I’m filled with shame from my childhood on a few occasions here so I thought maybe I’d delve deeper into that topic. My shame is mostly around two things: my gender presentation and my sexuality. I think many of you can probably relate to that. But I also carry shame from not taking better care of myself and my weight, having an anxiety disorder, not being a better partner, not making more money, not being more confident in myself and a multitude of other things. Every where I turn I feel shame. Every time I look in the mirror I feel it. Too fat. Too short. Ugly boobs. How am I ever going to pass as male in the men’s room without facial hair and these huge boobs? Going out in public is a shame filled experience now. Perhaps it always has been but it’s just more obvious to me now.
My mother constantly harped on me looking and acting more feminine. I was never feminine enough for her. She was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a boyfriend/husband. And then when I
was outed came out as lesbian I was shamed and disowned because of it. My mother waged emotional warfare on me to get me to stop being gay. She threatened to have me institutionalized, to put something in the newspaper about my sordid lifestyle, to call my college and have them kick me out for being lesbian, call my professors, out me if I ever joined the military or decided to be a teacher (both life ambitions at the time which I never dared to do). In short, she threatened to ruin my life. She even went as far as to drive around my college campus on weekends looking for me so she could roll the window down and shout nasty things at me when I walked by with my friends. She came to a jazz band concert I was performing in and before we started stood in front of the band and called me a “finger f@*%er”. She made my life a living hell. I have PTSD from the things she did to me. All in the name of making me turn straight and act like a nice young lady. So, yeah, I deal with shame a lot. And anxiety and depression too.
And on top of all that, I’m ashamed that I never stood up to her or told her where to go. I’m ashamed because I’m weak and let her terrorize me and destroy my self confidence. It set me up quite nicely to let others treat me just as awful. I didn’t feel like I deserved respect. Its’ sickening how much shame resides inside my being. It’s a wonder I’ve been able to accomplish anything in life at all. Somehow I just found work-arounds. Instead of becoming a teacher, I pieced together a living teaching private lessons and doing other odd jobs, always settling for whatever I could get. I’ve never made much money. Guess why? I don’t feel like I deserve it. I don’t think I have much worth. Even as a business owner now, I’m very susceptible to the complaint that my prices are too high and always worry that I’m charging too much, when in reality, I probably charge too little. Shame and self esteem, for me, go hand in hand.
And now that I am finally feeling strong enough to try and live life on my terms I find myself bucking up against the same old shame gremlins I’ve dealt with since I was a child. I hear my mother telling me I look like a man (in that tone of voice and disgusted look on her face) every time I leave the house wearing the clothes I like to wear. Every time I get my hair cut I see my mother’s face scowling at me for how boyish I look. It’s hard to enjoy any of the things that I’m getting to do now. But I plod through and keep going. Some days are easier than others. I tell myself I deserve to live how I want, that no one has the power to shame me like my mother used to do. I’m stronger now. I would never allow anyone to say or do the things she did when I was 20. But the damage is still there and all I can do is support myself and tell myself that it’s all going to be ok. I got through this 30 years ago and I can get through it now.
I just shared some of my darkest memories with all of you. I’m ashamed of them. I’m ashamed that my mother was so awful and that she hated who I was so much. But I can’t change any of that now. It’s over and she’s dead. The past is the past. But I shared it because I want to shed light on it. I want it to go away, but I know it won’t ever completely go away. The scars will always be there. My mother didn’t love me. She hated me. That’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow. And, no, I’m not proud of that.