Last night I went to a Shamanic Healing course to learn to work with medicine stones. Each student brought 3 stones to work with and we blew one of our biggest issues into each stone. My 3 stones were not all the same size. 2 were more-or-less the size of a thumb drive. The 3rd stone was the size of a big biscuit. I knew as soon as I was told to bring stones that this stone was one of them. All I had to do was find it. As it worked out, this largest stone was the stone into which I breathed my shame.
When I had completed this and had my stones back in my lap, still active, still holding the energy of the issues I’d breathed into them, I noticed that the large stone smelled bad. Really bad. The shame I’d breathed into it affected it in that way. It smelled like week old, unwashed ass. Seriously. After a little while the other 2 stones began taking this smell on, as well.
Interesting, isn’t it, how our issues bleed over like that?
I’ve been thinking a lot about shame and how it affects us. Us meaning women, because ‘female’ is the way in which I experience life. Specifically, I experience life as a white, heterosexual, able bodied, Southern woman born into some financial privilege. So I’ve been thinking about how shame affects women, maybe even white women most specifically, but also how it affects all of us, gender and race aside. We all carry it for reasons that are obvious and reasons of our own knowing and/or creation.
I have experienced shame since my earliest memories.
Shame at being unable to protect myself. Shame because I needed protection. Shame because it appeared that those around me didn’t believe I deserved it. Shame because adults told me that being molested by a much older relative is normal. Shame because I was told that it was my fault that he molested me. When I was 3 years old.
Childhood was, in one of its parts, an indoctrination into a cult of sexual abuse. I was ashamed of that.
I was ashamed of being born female and therefore, of never being good enough. I was ashamed because they told me I would never be pretty enough to deserve real sexual attention, only the dregs. The dark side of sex was therefore my native land. That because I wasn’t pretty enough, I would never deserve real honoring and real attention and real love. And yes, this has played out in every romantic relationship in my life and continues to play out even now. Even as I heal the many layers of this, there has always been a deeper layer.
Thinking on it now is like drowning in my own blood. I can feel my mouth fill with it. My lungs slow down. The desire to gulp in it as if it would save me. As if I could breathe blood like air.
Clots of shame choked my belly for decades. Told me that I deserved the black eyes, the insults, the cheating men, the cheating *on* men, the selling of my authenticity for attention, or swiping a guy who was really interested in one of my friends, just because winning the man was going to make me feel whole.
Shame about that, too. My behavior. My causing harm to other women.
So. Much. Shame.
Now there is quite a lot of shame being thrown at white women. We are the ones who voted Trump into office. It’s our fault that there are tiny children in cages in Texas and Florida. It’s our fault that racism has oozed out of the poison hearts of so many of our fathers and husbands and sons. (Okay, that’s bullshit, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t being blamed for it.) It is ALL our fault. Even though, as a group, we are the one that has suffered the most at the hands of white men…but that’s not for this post. This is about shame. And we are shamed every day for being white women, part of this demographic that could change the world. That has changed the world–in the past by dying at the hands of white men who burned, cut, strangled, raped, hung, beat us to death for our power–and today by voting to keep those kinds of men IN power.
Shame. Shame. Shame. Deserved. Undeserved. Righteous. Guilty.
So I think about all of the things women are ashamed of…
Shame because of our appearance: tall; short; flat; curvy. Our skin which might be golden or dark brown or peach or ivory. Shame about our hair, straight or frizzy, fine or coarse, blue or pink or black or blonde; our mistakes, the ones we make because we are human; the things we forget; the things we remember; the miscarriages, abortions, children we have parented alone whether we’re married or not and all of the mistakes we make with our kids and the blame for transmitting our wound to another generation; our sexuality and our sexual desires; our need for food, clothing, money, air, *anything* because needing anything means we might need someone to help us get it and if we need something, we are told we should be ashamed. Our need for love, companionship, physical touch like hugs or a cuddle or sex…it takes a lot for a woman to dare to ask for what she needs and to need it without feeling ashamed. Shame about our genitalia and the way our labia are shaped; shame if we aren’t virgin, even if that decision was stolen from us by rape or abuse or by Patriarchy which took our bodies away from us and made a flap of skin more important that the human being who it’s attached to.
And I see us shaming one another all of the time. Memes and blogs and FB and Instagram and all of it, where we post things about fat people, and skinny people, and people who need drugs to be happy when all they *should* need is to go outside.
We *should* on each other a LOT.
All of those posts shaming those who are divorcing or ending a relationship because if we were really good people, we wouldn’t be *shameless* enough to say: enough. I’m not happy. Let’s be happy apart!
Social media is filled with words that shame folks who send their kids to school and who shame those who homeschool their children. Words telling us that eating meat is murder and unhealthy to boot, and that vegans are starving, and that vegetarians just eat cheese, and that our grocery bags are killing the whales, and that our dogs are dying from eating grain, or from giving them the legally mandated shots, or from the RAW diet we think is a good idea. Shame because our cell phones are killing the bees, causing Colony Collapse Disorder.
There really seems no end to the shame we feel and no end to the shame we inflict on others.
Can we end it? Can we stop shaming. Stop feeling ashamed? if yes, how? Is it possible to clear the visceral stench of shame?
I hope so. Certainly I am working on it within myself, clearing, gazing deep within, and also making a strong effort toward conscious language, toward holding the words that might shame another person, toward noting when I feel shame and where it is located in my body. We have to start with ourselves and begin the hard work of stripping away the layers, like peeling off old wallpaper, seeing what is there beneath the surface, and continuing to take the work deeper and deeper still. Like they say, ‘the only way out is through,’ but I like to say, ‘the only way out is within.’
Shame often manifest for us as rage. A kind of senseless, indescribable rage that does not have recognizable source. It can also come leaking out in myriad other ways: self harm; restlessness that can’t find its root; promiscuity…you get the picture. And, as with the stones, the feeling can easily leak into other aspects of your life an amplify other issues.
How do you experience shame? Where do you feel it in your body? How has it affected you in your life?
*I chose to lead this post off with a Brene Brown quote because there *has* to be hope. There has to be healing. And because I love her work and believe she has healed countless broken hearts.