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Slowing Down the Shame-Nami

You can make it off the beach alive

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
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Slowing Down the Shame-Nami
Photo by Brent Storm on Unsplash

Have you had this dream?

A fun day at the beach, sun on your shoulders, sand between your toes. You're loading up on sunscreen, when suddenly, a rumble. A collective inhale sweeps across the beach as, quicker than realistically possible, you look up to see a tsunami almost upon you. You run, ankles bending this way and that. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don't.

As long as I can remember, shame has been like that for me. I skip almost completely over 'lightly embarrassed' and straight in to a deep shame spiral. About a year ago, with no real rhyme or reason, I finally got fed up. I felt emboldened by people like Brene Brown who were studying shame and vulnerability, making it a shared conversation. If there was even a chance that less of my time, my voice, and my energy could be stolen by shame, I had to try.

Instead of running off the beach in terror, I started to turn towards the wave when it came. As my jellied knees wrestled with the possibility of being obliterated, I started finding ways to slow the wave down. The more I could slow it, the more room there was to make new choices. When it finally folded over on me, sometimes the impact was still significant, but often it was now more of a gentle rain over my head.

I still haven't had a chance to get to Brene's books...still waiting patiently for me on my coffee table, but here is what I've tried.

Separate Out the Emotions

What I've come to learn for myself is that shame is not so much a single emotion, as a collection of big emotions that occur all at once. Our sweet, efficient brains try and bundle them up into one thing, to make it easier to process. When I can tease out what's within the shame, it makes me feel more human, and less like a garbage pile who should just crawl into a hole and die.

I lost one of my many jobs a month ago today. I filled out my paperwork to receive unemployment checks right away. Last week, I checked the mailbox everyday with some anxiety--the website said it takes about three weeks to process, and so I should have it this week. Instead, I got a letter on Friday saying there was something wrong with my paperwork. I would need to have an interview--scheduled almost two weeks from that Friday--to plead my case. Out on the shore, the wave materialized out of nowhere.

I was tempted to call myself an idiot, non-adult, but instead I asked, "What are the feelings in this particular wave?"

I'm scared I won't be able to pay my rent.

I'm defensive against things people haven't even said yet, judging my competency.

I feel incompetent.

I am angry at myself for doing the papers wrong.

The list of feelings went on. As I listed each one, everything quieted down. I still felt these things, but I was not prisoner to them. They were human reactions to a challenge. Shame likes to make us feel less than human--acknowledging your emotions as ordinary and temporary interrupts that process.

Remember Your Body

I don't know about you, but my brain takes up A LOT of space during a shame spiral. It's exhausting because our brains weren't meant to hold all the consequences of living. That being said, it's also really hard to remember your body during this process. Shame is heavy. It's easy to want to lay on the couch and not move. I've been known to swaddle myself with every blanket in the house, and tell people to come back and get me when I'm a butterfly.

Start with something doable. If you're reading this from deep in your shame fort of choice, can you wiggle your big toe? It's nice to start with what's furthest away from the chaos in your brain. If you can sustain that for a while, maybe you want to graduate to patting yourself down. You are solid and flexible, can you feel it? If that level of challenge is achieved, go for a walk around the block. Fuck worrying about what you look like. My neighbors have seen me toddling around the block in my pajamas so many times, unharnessed boobs bouncing hither and yon, that they don't even bat an eye anymore.

Your mind reaches towards complication, your body reaches towards balance. Give it a chance to do its thing.

Reach Towards Connection

This is another one that's so hard to do in the moment, with the weight of shame bearing down on you, but it's so healing when you do it. Shame absolutely thrives in isolation! It gives you unlimited time to either listen to the mean voices in your head, or try and quiet them with questionable coping methods. Reaching out to people you love brings perspective. It gives you a chance to remember the goodness in yourself.

If it seems impossible in the moment, set up a distress protocol with someone you really trust, in a moment when life is feeling good and self confidence is high. I have one such person with whom I have that pre-agreement. I asked if I could call or text them no matter how gross and blobby I feel, and they were into it. I asked if I could specifically request a pep talk or compliments and they said, "Of course. You do it for me and everyone else all the time." I screen shotted that text and kept it, for when I need to remember that I am part of a network of people that love me. They can't read my mind, but they'll be there for me if I let them.

Where the Wild Things Are

To feel like you should have known better or that you've made an irreparable mistake, is human. Turning towards those heavy feelings is one more adventure in the human journey. Now go stock up on supplies, gather your crew, and get going. Whether I meet you in the emotional eating fort, blanket over your head, or eyes wild and sparkling as a wave hangs suspended over you, I wish you luck and care. We're on this journey together, and life is just too damn short to give up your voice to shame.

coping
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About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

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