Thursday, January 29, 2009

The shame of it all

Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You're able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment. Ralph Marston

Last night, at Project Forward (a course I teach at the shelter where I work) I told the class a story about a young soldier returning from Afghanistan who called his parents to say, "I'm coming home." Joyfully, his parents accepted the news and started making plans for their sons return. Just before returning home, their son called back and asked them if it was okay if he brought a friend with him. "He has no family and he was seriously wounded. He has no legs and is confined to a wheelchair."

His parents hemmed and hawed. We can help him find a place, they said, but having to care for a cripple is beyond the level of our ability. We won't have the time to commit. It will be too much for your mother.

The son said he understood, and told them he'd be home in a few days. A few days later the parents received a visit from the military police. Their son had committed suicide. "Did you know he was wounded and lost his legs," they asked the shocked parents.

I asked the class what that story meant to them.

One man replied, "He let his shame kill him. He was so ashamed of his wound, he couldn't tell his parents what had happened. I know how he feels. My family doesn't know where I am. I can't tell them."

"Are you ashamed of where you are?" I asked him.

"I'm ashamed that I'm here. Yeah. I'm ashamed of the things that happened that got me here," he said.

"You're here, taking this course. You turn up every Wednesday night. You do your homework. That takes courage. Will carrying shame get you more or less of what you want?"

He laughed. "Less. But, look what I did that brought me here. It was so stupid."

"Yup. The things I did that brought me down were stupid too. Carrying the shame, though, only keeps me mired in feelings of being less than. And, it's a good way of avoiding taking responsibility for what I did. Because it keeps me from loving myself exactly the way I am, warts and all. And if I can't love myself as I am, then I am denying part of myself."

The young soldier could not accept what had happened to him. In his inability to accept that, he could not tell his parents the truth. I don't know what was going on in his mind (it is a story though so I can imagine!). In my imaginings, I think he felt that if he was testing his parents on whether or not they could love him as an amputee. Perhaps the son was looking for an excuse to kill himself because he couldn't live as an amputee. By testing his parents, he gave himself the out he was looking for. Looking through his eyes of judgement, "I am less than a man", he ended his life in shame.

For the client at the shelter, shame of being where he's at, not wanting to tell the people who love him is equally as debilitating.

When I could say, "I am broken", without judging myself as 'wanting, less than, stupid, blind, etc., I gave myself the power to start healing from where I was at without fear of how other people saw me. As long as I held onto the notion that it was shameful to tell people how broken I was for fear that they might judge me as 'wanting, less than, stupid, blind, etc.,, I was withholding from myself the very thing I needed to heal -- the truth.

Once I accepted the truth, I could accept other people's offers to help me. I was broken. I didn't know how to put myself back together. I needed help.

There is no shame in falling. The shame comes when we lie on the ground and wallow in self-pity, fear and denial and refuse to see there are those who would help us get back up again.

The question is: Are you willing to let go of your shame and claim your reality today and love yourself exactly the way you are? Are you willing to accept help when it's needed?

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