I was 37 when I came across Brene Brown's book I thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) at the library. I didn't know that book would alter the course of my life, and lead me to the work I do. Most importantly, it would teach me about Shame and how I lived my life by its rules, thinking I was the only one who could possibly feel this afraid, this much of a failure, and this alone. When I picked up this book, I had just stopped trying to conceive with my husband at the time. We had tried for about a year. I never imagined the amount of shame I could feel over not being able to do something so simple as creating human life. I looked around and everybody else was doing it! What was wrong with me? About half-way through that dreadful year, I got a tiny little plus sign on my pregnancy test. I felt the instant rush of relief. "I AM capable of doing this thing that all women should be able to do! I AM worthy of love after all!" So, of course, I told my peeps the good news. After all, they were waiting to approve of me - they simply needed this irrefutable proof that, indeed, Sharon is not a failure at this important thing. She is worthy of belonging. Finally.
Three days later, I was not pregnant any longer. Shame waited so patiently right outside the door. Shame was right there for me when I needed it most, and did not miss a beat. We picked right up where we left off. I was in hell. And then I found Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability. It was like a shining beacon of "WTF?". Truly, it was disorienting to read other people's stories she shared. You mean other people feel like total failures too? Shut the front door. But that door would not shut. And through it came the pain I'd been avoiding of not feeling good enough, and I became aware that I believed if I could do something that would prove I'm good enough, then this pain would stop. If I could just become a mother. Me and Shame went waayy back. I lived my life in a constant effort to prove my worth, what Brene calls 'Hustling for your Worthiness'. The pain was so great, sometimes I wanted to die. It's hard to admit that, and even harder to believe I used to feel that way, but I did.
It's 6 years later, and I can honestly say that I love myself. Most days. And on the days that I don't feel that way, I know that I still love myself. Like when your 4 year old says "I hate you!" and you know they really don't. They just need a nap or a snack, or a vacation. This is how I treat myself now, and it took a lot of work to get here. I am sharing this vulnerable story with you because I want you to know you are not alone in whatever you think you are completely alone in feeling. You are worthy of love and belonging right now. Right Now. Exactly as you are.
If I could time-travel and sit with my self 6 years ago, I would say this to her:
"Sharon, the things that happened to you when you were very young have led you to believe you are not a good person at your core, and that you have to do a song and dance to gain permission to exist. But that's just a load of pure crap. You are so beautiful and smart and loving, and everything is going to be ok. Actually, it's going to be awesome. You will get divorced and think your world has ended. You will feel so ashamed and you will cry so much. Then you will get tired of all the self-hatred and one day you will say: Enough. And you will start treating yourself with kindness before you believe you are worthy of it. Then things will start to change so quickly. Eventually you will find yourself "arriving at your own door" as David Whyte says. You will tell so many people how you did this and they will believe you and they will thank you. You will love yourself one day. Until then, just take baby steps."
The girl in the photo is 6 years old. She came into my life just as I decided to go back to school rather than keep trying to have a baby in a marriage I could tell was falling apart. Her mother asked if I'd like a part-time job taking care of the baby she was having soon. Yes, I said. We've become family over the years, and I've gotten to be there for every bit of deliciousness: I've gotten puked on, cried on, I've watched her learn to walk and learn to spell. She calls me Mama #2. When I was at her house a few days ago, I saw this picture on the table. My heart melted. She loves herself - there could be no greater wish I could have for this sweet girl. And I wish that for you, too.