Shame, Stories, and Starting Over

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read and to tell stories. Every book that I read opened small doors and windows to worlds that I could only picture in my mind. Trains chugged and cars raced as narrator voices rang only in my mind, helping me to picture magic wardrobes, war-torn countries, hinds feet on high places, dark concentration camps, thatched-roofed huts, magic castles, and hundreds of thousands of times and places in between. True or imagined, I loved reading the stories that other people told.

Listening to my own story, as it were, has been harder to do. And it has only been recently that I’ve dug deep enough to understand that I have a story to tell.

The theme of said story, as I’ve recently discovered, is simple: it’s shame. Now, before you squint your eyes and cock your head, wondering what in the world I might have done in order to feel so shameful, I should probably explain a differentiation that has become quite significant to my personal narrative. I don’t struggle with the feelings of having done something wrong; that feeling, as I’ve learned, would better be labeled with the term “guilt” — guilt over doing something inappropriate or bad, something that may have violated my moral code.

I don’t deal with guilt; I wrestle with shame — the fear, not that I have done something wrong, but that I am something wrong.

“I didn’t get into a lot of trouble as a child; I was trouble. I didn’t struggle to do well in school; I’m just stupid. My thoughts, feelings and fears aren’t actually valid because I’m just a drama queen. Bad things haven’t just happened; I am bad and therefore deserved said things.”

On and on and on, this dialogue rings through my soul, spoken in dark narrative tones I’ve long wished to drown out. But drowning them out with superwoman “I-can-do-and-handle-anything” cheers hasn’t worked. And if I’m honest, it hasn’t worked for a very long time. And it hasn’t worked because said superwoman attempts do nothing more than cloak my shame in impenetrable armor that may have temporarily preserved me from the pain of the journey, but also worked to separate me from the people meant to trudge along with me. And I don’t want to be separated anymore.

I was made, in the image of God, for connection — for connection with people, with God, and strangely, with myself. I was made for whole-heartedness. And while my emotions and trained thought processes might still need time to catch up with this truth, I am worthy of that connection. I am worthy of the healing that my heart so desperately needs.

Part of this journey towards health has lead me right back to what I’ve loved for so long: to a book. Recommended by my counselor, I’ve decided to make my way through the work of one of the foremost scholars on shame: Brene’ Brown. Brene’ has focused her academic life on the qualitative study of shame, empathy, and vulnerability. Vulnerability — the primary reason I decided to start writing again — is what kills shame, I’ve learned. It is what tunnels the path for connection with ourselves and with others.

And so, over the next weeks, I am going to make my way through Brene’s book “Daring Greatly”, hopefully blogging along the way. I’m hoping that my own wrestling match might inspire one for you as well. After all, my hope to start fresh begins with starting from the beginning, not to re-write the story, but to hopefully reframe it and to soften the voice of the narrator. After all, themes can change. At the very least, they can shift — shift towards redemption, restoration, and hope.  And beyond the shame is hope.

And I want to live in hope.

I hope you do too.


**If you haven’t, but want to, use the link above to order the book and journey with me. I’d love to dialogue with others who might need to travel a similar path.