Shame isn’t a one-way ride, the kind with a beginning and an end. Rather, it’s a roller coaster, on a circular track you can never escape. Round you go, sometimes slowing, sometimes coming up for air, always going down again. And those falls—they’re a lot faster and easier than the rises.
My mom once described the intensity of Disney World rides as follows: “You can tell how wild a ride is going to be based on how tightly they strap you in.” Shame is the ultimate wild ride: padded straps over your shoulders, five-point harness secured, bar locked firmly across your lap, hands and feet tied down with rope, mouth covered with duct tape, a black bag cinched over your head. You have only one thing left you can do: hold on tight.
I’ve been doing pretty well lately: I’m taking freelance editing business full-time, keeping up with my kids’ busy schedules, making progress with my counseling therapy, getting physically healthy again. Up, up, up—I was practically soaring for a breath of time. Then things plateaued, and though I tried to stay high with mindfulness practices and a positive attitude, the drop started. I plummeted. Stomach churning, tears streaming, body pleading for a release from the pressure.
I think I hit the bottom yesterday, sick and feeling worthless and unlovable, perfectionism roaring like forest fire. I fought hard against the urge to shame myself further by writing “damaged” across my skin, and though I mostly won, it was a difficult day that has left me drained and aching today. At the end of the night last night, my son woke me to come tuck him in. When I fell back to sleep before actually doing so, he came out and said, “Mom, you don’t have to.” Today that breaks my heart. When did I become the one who needed to be cared for? I’m ashamed of myself for failing in my most important, innate task: being a mom.
So now what?
Like a drug-resistant super-virus, once the shame is there, there isn’t a cure. You can only treat the symptoms and cope with the flair-ups. So up I climb again. I despise this sense that I need to start over again, after coming so far. It’s time, it’s effort, it’s blood, sweat, and tears. I’m so tired of this ride.
My counselor likes to use the word “resilient” to describe me, and I guess she’s right. I hate roller coasters, but here I am, readjusting in my seat and preparing for the next go-around.
- Calling out the triggers
- Accepting that “each day I do the best I can”
- Forgiving myself (“It frees you to move on from what happened.”)
- Reminding myself of my self-worth
- Accepting the good and bad that is me
- Focusing on the present
Giving up isn’t an option; it never has been. And though I’m not completely sure why I keep going, I suspect it has more to do with inborn stubbornness than any kind of hope on my part. Stubbornness and courage. I’m not sure where I’m going or if I’ll ever get there, but no one will ever be able to say I gave up. No one will ever be able to say I just let the shame win.