I used to see this therapist when I was in 5th and 6th grade. I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but he was kind, and he would abide by my silly laws of I will talk if you ____.
He let me bring friends to my session. I would talk for 30 minutes without them and then he’d let me bring them in for the remaining 30. He would take me across the street to this candy store and buy me these wax filled Cola candies that I loved (and sometimes gummy bears). He let me play board games in our session and also this weird leap frog game with little plastic pieces. I thought I was way too cool to go to a psychologist and I would tell my friends that my mom made me go. I would clarify that it was not a psychiatrist. Somehow that made a difference to me at the time. As if I was less damaged.
I never opened up to him. Not once.
I hated him for it.
When 7th grade came and I went to the middle school, which might as well be called the middle level of Hell, he’d started working at my school. I would see him in the hall and walk by him like I had never met him before. He’d say hello to me and I would cruise past as if I had no idea he’d been talking to me. I never once acknowledged him.
I had stopped seeing him the year before after 6th grade had ended. I called my mother tonight to remind me of him and she couldn’t remember much except that he was helping us in some way. He was either not charging us or was billing us through some weird system where we weren’t actually paying.
He’d wanted to save me. And he’d failed.
Except tonight in yoga, the first time I’d moved my body in a while if I tell you the truth, which I am committed to doing, I realized that he had saved me. That what I’d needed at that time wasn’t someone to force me to talk but to let me be. He did that. He let me be without a word. He let me do whatever I’d wanted and express my disdain at having to go see him and he’d let me eat candy and be mad. I really just wanted to be mad.
I wish I could remember his name so I could look him up, maybe on Facebook even, and thank him.
So much of my life has been spent being ashamed.
I had this boyfriend in high school. My first love. I loved him like you can only love that first one. In that way that seems so small and ridiculously large at the same time when you look back on it twenty years later. That I am going to be with you forever and I will die if you leave me and I will never leave you and I will go to the same college as you and we will get married even though most of you knew it wouldn’t ever end up that way. The part of you that felt it was larger than the other parts and outweighed the facts and the This won’t lasts.
My mother (G-d bless her) would let him sleep over. We were in high school! I think about this now and cringe and, at the same time, bow to my mom for trusting me like that. I wouldn’t even lock my door. She just wouldn’t come in if he was over. Like we were 30 somethings. Because her trust in me was so big, I lived up to it. I was an adult at 17. I was serious and proud and in love with someone who stayed in my room on school nights.
When I would see him in school though I would walk by him like I didn’t know him. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. I knew I was doing it and I would beg myself as I saw him coming down the hallway Jen, reach out. Hug him. Hold his hand. Do something. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
It was like I was drowning in the Lake of Shame. I couldn’t let anyone see that I could feel anything. I was stone. I would walk by him and we’d silently agree that it was the normal thing to do. To be in shame, as it were.
I was ashamed of any feelings I had. I tried to starve them out of myself most days.
Twenty years later I am a pretty affectionate person. I still battle it though. With my family, my mother and my sister, for example, it’s hard. I wall up. I am a solid thing and I will not collapse and you can’t make me either.
Where does this shame stem from? What elephant have I shot in the wake of my growing into a woman?
I have always been sad. Look at my childhood photos. I never smiled. I was always asked why are you so sad, why don’t you smile, what could be so wrong? To which I didn’t know the answer until I did. Until so much heartache and heartbreak fell upon me that I wanted to bop people over the head and ask them How dare you ask someone how they can be so sad when you have absolutely no idea what it is like to be them? Maybe their father just died?
I was always ashamed of my grief and my sadness. I would not talk to any therapist. When my dad first died and I was maybe 8 or 9, I had gone to a therapist in Philadelphia and when she’s asked me how I felt, the best I could do was scribble on a 3 by 5 card with 5 different colored pens and then write This is How I Feel in all capital letters.
That was the best I could do.
And everyone was always tssk tsssking me about how sad I looked.
I was ashamed. I was ashamed of anything I felt. Sadness, love, sexuality.
It makes sense now when I think back on how I ignored my first boyfriend in the hallways at school. I loved him so much and I could not let anyone see that. I would walk by him in my cute green leather vest and Doc Martins and overly skinny body and not even look in his direction. I wouldn’t even nod. And he loved me still.
How guilty I felt!
Eventually I learned how to reach for a hand. How to hug. How to be vulnerable.
I have always had a grief stamp on my forehead, even before my father died, as if my body knew what was going to happen and had prepared me. As if my mind had known all along and was simply waiting, which is perhaps the worst thing in all the world. I have always had a certain sadness and grief and have always been made wrong for it until recently.
I write about it and so many people say Yes Yes I get it. I understand or me too!
Am I validated all of a sudden? Is it okay to be sad and happy at the same time? Well, yes. It always was okay. The thing is, when you find a tribe, as I have done, it feels as if all along you had reason to feel such sadness. That were a slew of others like you in the world just waiting for you to say Our Place Is Here. Just waiting for you to crack open the pattern of days, splitting what’s solid and finding that underneath it all, underneath the shame and sadness and grief is love.
So glad you can open up to these memories. I remember that card you wrote on with lines hacked all over it in bright colors and the doctor told me it showed anger. Love you and the person who you are now and then and always
Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece. I’m working through the okayness of being affectionate with someone and it’s tough after living my habit of defiantly not feeling anything. So what if you leave? So what if you don’t call? So what? I feel a few more cracks forming after reading your article… Thanks.
I love your honesty. It is appreciated and inspiring.
Your openness heals. Know that.
Your writing, well, it flows. Sometimes it’s an adventure, sometimes it’s almost whimsical with a splash of laughter & tears. Sometimes it’s an astonishing drama full of revelation.
okay – that’s the compliments.
Now for the real praise. You open me up. You really do. This past year I’ve made so many digital files of myself telling my shame into a recording machine, it’s probably crazy. I don’t care. I wanted to get it out. No one wanted to hear it. One friend I know listened to some of it & remained a friend. Hell, I couldn’t even explain it myself. I got a lot of advice like,”don’t tell your story! you’re stuck in it~! stop!” and stuff like that.
But no one got it. I was deeply in shame. I wasn’t good enough. That’s what shame does to us.
So I got out my microscope & looked at my pain. I lived through it all again. I discovered some stuff. Such as, you cannot kick fear’s ass. It kicks yours. The way to deal with fear is love. Nothing. Else. Works. Otherwise, fear laughs at you & the I’m not good enoughs come raging back. That constant voice, I can’t, I’m not, they won’t, it’s impossible, I’m bad, how will I ever, & let’s face it, everyone knows these little devils whose asses can’t be kicked.
Then something happened. Let’s just say I looked fear in the face & said I love you. You’re the devil & I love you anyway.
And I love you too, for helping me do that. You did that.
I am so glad that you are able to smile now, that you were able to leave that sad little girl behind you and move on!
So interesting to think about the sadness of being a child as it relates to reincarnation. In the bhagavad gita (at least in swami satchinandanda’s commentary) it talks about coming back and taking new lives and each time we do that, hopefully it takes less and less time for us to find out way back to Yoga and to the spirit. Until eventually maybe we are born right into a yogic family.
I remember being in 4th grade sitting in the library after class reading the bible.
I would sneak into churches so my parents didn’t know I was listening to sermons.
From the second I had conscious thought, one thought was clear… something is wrong. Something is missing and I better find it. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in Mitchelleville Iowa (pop 4,000). I don’t belong in this family. I don’t belong in this state. I need to find what is missing and find it as fast as I can because I don’t belong here.
And that feeling NEVER subsided. EVER! It was a constant feeling of being less than. Of being lost. Whatever it was, it was this: PAINFUL
Life was painful. And the body is a wonderful mechanism. When it hurts, it seeks answers. Relief. And it won’t rest until it finds it. For me, my first real sense of relief came form drinking. Drinking made everything o.k. at least temporarily for the first time in my life. Drinking made me FEEL like like men LOOKED. It took away the dis-ease. It made life tolerable. And when the body finds a solution like that… it WILL chase it… and chase it…and why not? We are not supposed to be in pain.
Only one problem: the solution was temporary, became harder and harder to achieve, and had a very high price tag.
It is funny, I drank my way in the homelessness, and many near death experiences. And when I finally had had enough, I arrived at a solution that did for me slowly, but permanently, what drinking did for me quickly but temporarily: God
God means to me whatever it means to me. But seeking a spiritual answer, did for me permantently what drinking did for me temporarily.
So of course we were sad children. When you open your eyes to this world, but have not knowledge yet, all you know is this:
I am different
I don’t belong here
Something is wrong with me
Something is wrong with them
Why do I have to feel other people’s feelings
Why are people so mean
Why does life suck so fucking bad
What’s the point in all this?
And if you wake up that way, childhood fucking sucks.
Particularly if you are born into a family that has no answers. Mind didn’t.
I hope in the next life, when I take my next birth I have learned enough to be born into a family that is telling me from the moment I come out:
Welcome back to earth. Welcome to our family. We live based on spiritual principles. We do not believe in organized religion. We eat healthy. We learn constantly. We travel un-endingly and we are SO happy that you are here to enjoy this adventure. Now little one…. lets start off i childs pose… yes, you can do this one 🙂
I have to tell you that I don’t comment on blogs (very rarely), but I want to here because I find your blog and you to be genuinely sincere touching, real, open, universal, wonderful. Not to mention that the writing is beautiful, I love your style. Thanks for making me feel like I am not alone when these days it’s mostly all I feel. If I were still living in the States, I’d be at one of your retreats or classes in a second! Thanks for the work that you do. Namaste.
Thank you for posting this. When you talk about physical affection, like reaching for a hand and hugging, that really resonates with me. I hate physical affection (except when I don’t. Except when I feel so alone that I yearn for it, and can’t get it). It is hard to put into words sometimes. I have this one friend who just hugs me and doesn’t let go for the longest time. Usually (because she is such a good friend), I just go with it. Whatever. She can hug me. But the other day, I literally pushed her away. I don’t even know if I can say why that day wasn’t the day for an extraordinarily long hug. Or why I pull away when a friend grabs my hand out of sympathy, joy, excitement, love, etc.
But it is a wall. For sure. It is a wall of control that always says “No. Only on my terms.” So, it’s control. But control is rooted in shame (I believe). I don’t know any other reason why someone would fear physical contact and yearn for it at the same time.
Sometimes, I just WISH people would ask me WHY I was so _______ whatever… sometimes. Sometimes I just want to tell them…. sometimes I need an opening. But at the same time, I wonder if I would react the same way you just said “How dare you ask me that!”
I don’t know. It’s a tough subject.
Shame is a slow poison for the mind and the body, and I think it can take years…decades…a lifetime even (!) to recover from shame in its most toxic and virulent form. I am 50 years old and I still can feel the paralysis and physical manifestations of past shame when I think about it. I don’t want to think about it, but I do think about it…and even though I can recognize that I don’t deserve that shame, it’s insidious…isn’t it?
That you can look back, Jen, and recognize that girl, that teen-ager, that adult who felt the shame and its link with her (your) grief and write about her; give her the love she thought she was rejecting all along…without invalidating your sadness…is truly opening yourself to the world.
I wish I could go back to my 11 year old self…to the girl who washed her hands constantly and never felt clean…the girl who read the bible and the Little House books (even mischievous Laura would never do what I did)…and the Narnia books and prayed so hard for Aslan to scoop her out of this world and take her to Narnia. In Narnia, I thought, I wouldn’t be asked to touch someone…or allow myself to be touched by someone. A grown-up. A “trusted” loved one. Most of all I wouldn’t enjoy the touch or the attention. That shame still reaches out for me at times, but back then it was a constant companion and I literally could not think of anything else…it seemed that every waking minute was consumed with guilt and shame and horror.
Aslan never came, though, and it took almost 20 years before someone finally told me the shame was not mine. I understand that intellectually. But what do you do when the person whose burden it is won’t or can’t take it back? Or dies before the words are spoken that would at least allow for the recognition that childhood ended before its time. I’m still working on that one…
I was as sad as you were in those photos but was a master at pretending to look happy. I can make myself look like the happiest person on the planet even when I am dying inside…only now at 47+ years old do I understand that shame does stuff like that.