Shinning A Light On My ShameApr 24, 2020
Shining a light on my shame
The flower tattoo on my right forearm represents a pivotal moment in my life. I felt so much shame around the circumstances that I have never shared its significance, even with those closest to me.
Shame needs three things to thrive: secrecy, silence, and judgment. By being silent about the significance of the flower, I was letting shame thrive.
Growing up, we always had fresh flowers in our house. For me, flowers represent joy, happiness, and beauty. On this particular day, I wasn’t able to just run out and buy flowers.
I couldn’t buy flowers because I was homeless and living at San Francisco International Airport.
I decided to take out a sheet of paper and my colored pencils and draw my own flowers.
As I sat there drawing, I realized that I can choose joy, happiness, and beauty, regardless of external events going on around me.
All the things flowers mean to me.
But while I was learning about joy and happiness, I allowed shame to creep into other areas of my life. I’d only shared with two people that I was living in the airport, too ashamed to let the rest of my friends and family know.
Only now can I look back and see how shame had worked its way into every area of my life.
As a kid in school, I was always struggling, being told that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough(judgment). Forever feeling like an outsider.
Then being gay and going into the US Coast Guard in 1983. I had to actually check a box to say that I was not gay (secrecy).
There are so many more subtle ways shame had run rampant in my life. I didn’t allow people to get close to me, feeling I wasn’t worthy and better off alone. I built walls to keep people from seeing the real me, afraid that they wouldn’t like me, the outsider, who still didn’t feel like she fit in.
Looking back at my 17 years in the US Coast Guard, I see how I allowed shame to spread like a disease. I was working and living in an environment where I could not be myself, the hopeful romantic craving connection. Talk about mixed messages.
When I lost my Dad last year, my entire life came crashing down on me with that one text message. Yes, that’s how I found out about my father’s passing.
I had already been at a crossroads of trying to figure out what to do next. The project I had moved to Thailand for 2 1/2 years earlier had been canceled. I had no place to go next or no idea where I even wanted to be in the world. I felt really lost.
Shame took over, and I felt like a failure (judgment). I withdrew from my friends and family (silence and secrecy), and 2018 will be forever in the record books as my most challenging year as shame ruled supreme. I ended up living in 6 different airports in 3 countries.
Only when I committed to getting back to my dreams and opening up to a few close friends did I start to take back control from shame.
Enough was enough. I needed to get back to feeling joy and happiness and see the beauty that was all around me. I needed to reconnect with my authentic self. I needed to be able to draw flowers again.
The flower tattoo on my arm now means so much more to me. It reminds me of the beauty in the world and to shine a light on my shame.
Shame cannot survive when you replace secrecy, silence, and judgment with empathy. That means shedding light on the darkest parts of my life.
Brené Brown says, “Shame is one of the most primal human emotions as it’s the intensely painful feeling of not being worthy or connected to those we care most about in our lives.”
What’s different now is that I both want and am willing to have those hard conversations, those authentic conversations with the people that mean the most to me.
No more secrecy, silence, and judgment.
Shedding light on your shame is a daily practice. One that I work on every day. And I know that I will for the rest of my life.
Brené Brown has a quote that I love “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
We all have made mistakes, as we are all human. I hope that by shining a light on my shame, someone else might also feel a little safer to shine a light on theirs. So go ahead and shine your light.
And while I no longer have the picture that I drew of the flowers. And I would be glad to show you the flower tattoo on my arm, as I am no longer ashamed to talk about it.
NOTE: Here is the link to the original Instagram post.