Surviving Shame – Letters to My Daughter

August 29 – September 4, 2016 (formally week 30)

My darling daughter,

You are living in a world that lacks the luxury of privacy that I had access to when I was growing up. Being the sensitive soul that you are, it’s very likely that you might experience a deeply personal sense of shame on a highly public level just for the mere fact that your generation is living in fish bowl. I want you to know, right now, that you will survive it. No matter what shame it is or how big it feels, you can and will survive it.

People are committing suicide because they are so full of shame and that frightens me. I worry about you and your precious heart. I also know that you have an inner strength that is unbreakable and it’s this part of you I want to encourage you to follow whenever you face anything in life that might cause shame: Embarrassment. Rejection. Humiliation. Fear. Degradation. Secrets. Disgrace. Guilt.

I am watching women and girls and members of the LGBTQ community shamed for their bodies, their sexual preferences, for things they say or do, or for how they dress. I am watching social media shame people for their religion, politics, socio-economic status or celebrity. I see people shamed for bodily functions, for poor grammar, lack of education, skill or talent. People are being shamed for having courage, being open-minded, and questioning authority. People are even shamed for illness, disability, and inabilities. And women, well, women are shamed for being women.

The upside to a loss in privacy is that we come to know that we are not alone. All the ways in which we might come to feel shame are the same for everyone. The more people try and make something shameful, like nudity for example, by posting nude pictures of women on the Internet, the less shameful nudity feels. Nudity is natural. Never be ashamed of your body. We all come into the world naked, most of us covered in blood and mucus and rolls of baby fat. There is no ideal baby other than a healthy baby. Remember this the next time you see someone being body shamed for their size, shape, height, or weight.

Is there a time when shame is useful? Should Priests be shamed for molesting children? Should politicians be shamed for a lack of integrity? Where do we draw the line with public shaming? When does it serve us and when does it not? No one is without fault. Everyone deserves forgiveness. If we make a mistake, the best course of action is to be accountable for our behavior, make better choices and move on. If we made no mistake at all but are shamed by the judgment of others, again, what more can we do other than own it and move on?

I would have been mortified to have lived my childhood, teens, 20s and 30s on the Internet. I am so grateful the Internet did not exist when I was making my biggest mistakes in life. The kinds of mistakes all people make but when it’s our own it seems exaggerated. I went through stages of life where I was obnoxious, thoughtless, insecure, angry, impulsive, and without guidance. I’ve said and done many, mostly insignificant things, that I wish I could take back or do over. I’m sure that if I am alive years from now and I go through these letters to you and public blog posts, that I will find things which embarrass me about myself. But I have learned to let go and be ok with it all because I know I’m doing my best to simply be authentic and sincere. My wish is that you will be able to do the same. Love and accept yourself. Be kind to my daughter, for she deserves your kindness.

I have always guarded my online privacy so that I could still be a very open person, but it’s getting harder and harder to do. I hope that with self-acceptance there will also come self-respect and that you will find the perfect balance, for you, between your public and private life.

I have felt defined and harshly judged for things beyond my control like many of the tragedies I experienced, and unspeakable things most people do not discuss in public. I relish the fact that I have been able to reinvent myself, time and time again to move beyond other people’s opinions of me, including my own. When you embrace personal growth, you are always evolving. Don’t fear someone who has formed an impression of you based on who you were as a child if you meet them again as an adult; you will both have changed.

If you ever feel publicly shamed, for who you are or something you have done, please know that people have short memories for the most part and you will likely remember this more than anyone else will. You have choices for how to deal with shame. If you are being shamed for something natural like Madonna was at one point for posing nude in an art class, you can own it and use words like, “and,” and “so?”

If you are being shamed for something you are ashamed of like a public affair, you can make a personal apology.

You don’t owe anyone anything but sometimes making a statement helps bring closure. If you did something you are ashamed of, just say so: “I’m sorry for my action (name it). I wasn’t using the best judgement and I regret the choices I made. I am human and flawed and I made a mistake. If faced with the same scenario I would do things differently. My wish is to grow from this transgression and move on with my life. I’m going to forgive myself and I hope you will forgive me too. I have important work to do in life and I don’t want to be bogged down by shame. I’ve punished myself enough and now I am laying my shame down.”

Lay low from the conflict & controversy for awhile and immerse yourself in an all encompassing creative endeavor. Before you know it, the public will have moved on to its next target and/or you will have diminished the importance of public opinion to the degree that it no longer impacts you with the same magnitude it once did.

If you are suffering from betrayal of a friend or lover, know that this is part of the consequence of loving and making ourselves vulnerable. It happens to everyone and you will survive. People get heartburn from eating chocolate but rarely does anyone give up chocolate to avoid a little heart burn and neither will you. It’s just part of the package and you will find a way to accept the bitter to keep the sweet.

If your sadness is over a broken relationship, know that both you and the other person will survive and move on. I know in the moment it may not feel like you will ever stop hurting, but you must trust me and know that the pain will decrease, new people and experiences will come into your life and eventually, what you are feeling now will become an old story you stop telling yourself because many new stories will quickly take its place.

It might feel as if your emotions around the painful situation are drowning you and that the small pool you may be in is the entire world, but it’s not. The best way to realize this is to expand your world as quickly as possible so that you realize neither you nor this situation is the center of the universe. This is where being of service during our greatest times of suffering can actually be quite healing and restorative. Remember, there’s always someone in the world who has it worse off than you. “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”

If you can’t give to others, at the very least, give space to yourself. Get out into nature. Travel if you can. A change of scenery is almost always healing. No matter how depressed you are, ending your life will never be the answer. You must trust me on this, dear one, the world will always be better off WITH you, than without you.

Human beings are resilient, you more than most. I have seen you come back from the edge of death more times than any parent ever should. I know you are here for a reason. I know that you are a healing and joyful inspiration to many. For me, you are the entire universe and for your children, I know you will be the same.

Please read the letter I wrote to you about solutions. There are so many tricks to heal ourselves from pain that spans from mental, spiritual to physical, we just have to remember them. Drink water. Listen to music. Read words of inspiration. Escape into films. Surround yourself with people who love and adore you. Ask for what you need and allow others to give to you. Eat clean and nourishing foods. Sleep as much as you possibly can. Write, sing, dance, draw, paint, and act out your feelings. Be active or be still, whatever works.

Get a good therapist and talk until you have nothing more to say. Express yourself creatively. Lose yourself in art and literature. Spend as much time in nature as possible. Meditate. If I didn’t meditate regularly, I don’t think I would be able to endure the physical pain I live with. Meditation is both the surrender (acceptance) and fight (overcoming) at the same time because it transforms you immediately.

Above all, my dearest daughter, remember that you are a survivor. No matter what shame you might feel, I promise you that it will pass and your experience may save the life of another if you stick around to move past and move through, share your story with those who need it, and survive the shame.

Always know that I love you unconditionally. No matter what you do or think you have done, I know you and I know your heart and you are lovable. You matter. The world needs you. I will always love you. If you feel you need my forgiveness for anything at all, know that you have it. I forgive you. Even though you have never done anything that required forgiveness. Whatever you need from me, you have it.

I think it was Dr. Seuss who said, “Be who you are and say what you feel. Those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind.” Forgive yourself, even if you have done nothing that needs forgiving. Do whatever need be to get past the survival stage so that you may do more than survive, so that you may thrive and shine your light in this world. It can be a dark place, it needs your light. Keep shining, my beloved and lay down the shame.

Love,

Mommy

Quotes are given credit whenever credit can be found. Sometimes they are from internet memes, fortune cookies, or random discoveries.)

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