This past week for me has been an extremely busy week. I missed a lot of work at my old job due to being snowed, which delayed my planned days off to move to my new place. I finally got moved, but quite a bit of unpacking to do. I live over an hour from my old job, so I was striving hard to find jobs closely. I interviewed at Old Navy last week in hopes that all my retail experience would land me a good job 15 minutes away, which it did. Last night I got offered the job. On my way home from my old job, I was reflecting on a co-worker’s Facebook status I had seen previously that spoke of how happy she was and content with little. I began thinking about the last year of my life from separation to divorce to a lot of wrestling with my issues. The last week was also finals week for my first two grad school classes, which added to my business week. However, I aced both my classes, I got a new job, a new place, and for once I, too, was feeling content, feeling a bit of happiness. These were my thoughts on the way home last night.
However, I recalled something my priest said about me once that I am “a work in progress, but he works.” Now, he meant it as a good thing, but then my shame, that deep, dark, nasty bitch of a thought that I’m nothing but a goddamned hypocrite, loudmouth, fuck up loser that doesn’t belong and deserve love made me stop to realize, “Hey, I’m getting comfortable! I’m getting too happy again! I’m getting too content!” My shame-driven thoughts yelled to me, “Keep yourself in line, pal, you’re still fucked up and broken and don’t deserve to be content or happy at all!”
Happiness and shame have a hard time going together. I often have it said about me that I’m a pessimist, which is partly true. I do have a very deep existentialist streak to me. Meaning I see very little good in the world, but that it is mainly despair, which I do think is true. However, existentialist believe that meaning can be found and created in that. I’ve often failed to find the meaning or to create it because shame tells me I don’t deserve any happiness or content. So what do I do? I think along these lines, “I can’t be too happy or content right now because if I do I know it will end. Something bad is coming to remind me what a pathetic waste of oxygen I am, so don’t embrace it too much!” Shame prevents us from being vulnerable. It’s being vulnerable and allowing ourselves to be seen that open the doors to us embracing life fully, which includes happiness and good times. Dr. Brown writes of vulnerability:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Shame is one of the greatest roadblocks to being vulnerable! And if we aren’t being vulnerable we aren’t being authentic. We are living from a place that says, “I don’t wanna be too vulnerable or too happy because it won’t last!” This kind of thinking is shame-based and it’s toxic. Dr. Brown tells a story about a man who lived like that and thought like that. He never fully lived in or embraced the moment and being happy, especially in his marriage. Then his wife died and it was at that moment the man wish he would have more fully embraced life both all its good and bad moments. Shame is a brickwall in the way of our finding the life of authenticity that vulnerability helps to create.
When I have these damned shame-drive thoughts they prevent me from living from a place of courage. Dr. Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Being seen and being naked is all about being vulnerable. Shame prevents it when we have thoughts like I had last night, but the best thing we can do is to meet our shame with empathy, to share it (much like what I’m doing here), and become aware through mindfulness of how it toxic it is and what triggers it for us.
So if you are like me and you have such nasty thoughts, stop, pause, listen to them, deconstruct them, meet them and yourself with empathy, and above all know that they are from a place of shame. And living from such place isn’t the kind of life I want to live.
Go forth and live authentically today, my friends. Embrace each moment life brings you, whether sad or happy. Don’t numb yourself to the darkness or the light, but seek to wrap your arms around each moment and be content. Don’t let fear control your life, but instead be brave. Be courageous! Be vulnerable!