I recently found myself in a shame spiral of epic proportions. I generally hold the opinion that I have developed a good amount of shame resilience. This was not the case a week ago.
It started simply enough. I had a friend who was going through a hard thing, but who is generally of the inappropriate jokes type. I shared something funny with her in an attempt to lighten the situation, only to almost immediately realize it was just too soon. Except it was also too late. Too late to take it back. I made a mistake, I apologized, she was fine, and it should have ended there. It didn't.
What happened is that I found myself plunged into this strange vortex of shaming thoughts and voices. Some of these feelings were feelings I hadn't had since I was in middle school. That they came with such intensity and were so out of the ordinary for me was really scary. I was scared of myself. I was hearing things like "You're a fraud. Your friendships are supposed to be all about being real but you're a fake. You're not so empathetic as you think." or "Everybody hates you. Everyone is embarrassed by you." or "People don't need insensitive or fake people in their lives, so they don't need you." or "You know better. You know better and you didn't do better and so it shows what a bad person you really are." Followed with these thoughts were a lot of tears. It was so intense that I couldn't stop tears just continually rolling out. I tried reading scriptures or spending time with my family, but I just could not be still. I couldn't bring myself to say a prayer because it was like I could not formulate thoughts on my own.
Along with these thoughts came some intense temptations to self-harm. When I was in middle school I experimented with rubbing erasers on my arm to hurt myself in a less obvious way. A cousin had taught me that it helped her feel better when she was hurting. This was also the time period when I first considered taking my life because I desperately missed loved ones who had passed on, and because I desperately didn't not want to be a pain or inconvenience to anyone, which I felt I was. Suddenly I found myself wanting to grab erasers. I had forgotten about even doing that in the past! Art is usually a form of release and meditation for me, but I was scared to go near my art supplies. I wasn't safe with myself. Then I saw a bottle of antibiotics. The kind that are strong enough to give you a serious stomachache. As an eighth grader it was taking antibiotics that I had a bad reaction to that was my way of toying with how to take my life. I stared at that bottle and felt scared at the temptation that was there. What was wrong with me?! I threw the bottle somewhere out of sight.
I tried affirmations, but they felt like lies. In my shame, I had deleted from my phone the Voxer app that I use to keep in touch with girlfriends and my support network. I had also deleted FB, but knew I needed help I couldn't give myself. I should have talked to my husband but I couldn't. I couldn't bear the look in his eyes that I was certain he would have. He could see that I was upset, and I did share that I was struggling with voices that were just really intense, but he didn't press for more. In fact, I only recently shared with him the extent of what that evening was like. He said that he knew in the moment that I was not being fully truthful with him, but that he also knew I would tell him when I was ready or that I would reach out to others who could be there for me. What I did do was find a moment of strength and post in the private Togetherness community about the place that I was in. I didn't share details, didn't share that I was thinking of hurting myself, but shared that I was feeling buried by shame and couldn't get it to shut up.
What followed was beautiful. Over the course of the next hour or two, I felt a stillness settle down on me. I felt the prayers on my behalf and I felt the presence of angels. It reminded me of the art piece "She Will Find What Is Lost" as I could picture myself surrounded by angels warding off Satan and his attacks against me. I could finally begin to recognize and separate that voice as Satan's, even though I knew deep down and all along that it's where it was coming from. I was content to just sit in this place of guilt and sorrow because I could feel strength surrounding me. I could suddenly just be with myself and my feelings, even shelving them for a bit to regain my strength to work through them. There was the temptation to feel shame for reaching out to that group of women. The thought crossed my mind "What will they think of me now? I'm supposed to be better than this. If I'm not then where is there hope?". Thankfully, I was able to immerse myself in Brene Brown's Rising Strong book, which was perfect for the moment as it is a good reminder that falling and rising again is what makes us stronger, and human. It means I am living. It means I am trying and I am experiencing and I am being brave and vulnerable. The fall becomes a symbol of my strength.
It took me a few days to recover fully from that incident. I felt exhausted in every way. I felt raw and a little sensitive about talking to these people who now knew my 'dirty secret'. I could see the lies for the lies though. I considered not attending the Togetherness Project Conference last weekend because of my embarrassment. It occurred to me that I was feeling such resistance because I really needed to be there.... or someone else really needed me to be there. And that was where I found my strength. Recognizing the honesty of the situation. I did attend and I even got to sit at a table with the opening keynote speaker, who is someone who changed my life when I heard him speak last year. Paul Parkin. One part of his address that morning stood out to me as a reminder of what I had experienced earlier in the week. I wrote the following: "Shame becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because we withdraw and isolate. Guilt motivates us to do better."