Shame: Five Letters

Posted August 8, 2014 by Marg Herder

"Smoke and Window" - Digital Image Created by Marg Herder
“Smoke and Window” – Digital Image by Marg Herder

Shame.

Five letters, spelling pain and confusion.

Shame emerges into the light of day disguised as silence and starvation. Shame tumbles down our throats, numbing our minds, obliterating our knowledge of our selves and our souls. Shame rages through our lives, leaving our gentle bodies bruised and torn.

Shame sneaks up on us— we are often deeply engaged before we realize what is happening. To seek the source of our shame is unimaginable, impossible. It’s so much easier to believe we’re hurt, angry, overwhelmed.

When shame emerges, shame owns our movements, our emotions, our thoughts. Shame is a powerful force that comes out of nowhere, unnoticed, unacknowledged, and lays us flat every time.

Five letters.

Five letters that have hijacked my life.

I’ve only recently become aware of shame’s omnipotence. I’ve paid thousands of dollars for the privilege of exploring it with professionals. I’ve spent hours and hours in 12-Step meetings, gleaning what I can from others engaged in the same inquiry. I’ve read books, written a hundred thousand words, filled out lists and questionnaires, and talked for days with those who love me. And, the whole time, it’s felt like exploring water by drowning in it.

There have been a few days I felt like surrendering to it and proving to all of you how unworthy of this life I really am. There have been other days I fought like hell to regain my sense of worth. There have been days I could do nothing but sleep, and other days I awoke and tracked shame’s path through my life like a bloodhound.

And I still don’t even know what shame is. I still don’t know if shame is an opponent, if it is something I might eventually learn to subdue, or if it is an illusion and someday I’ll pull back the curtain and expose it for nothing more than a complicated misunderstanding. My suspicion is that shame might simply be a companion, one I’ll have to learn to tolerate and tune out. But I don’t know. And I’m not too sure anyone else knows this, either. As many times as I’ve listened intently, as many times as I’ve asked, I haven’t heard anyone really say what shame is.

Five letters.

Five letters that root and bloom where Divinity is not.

Shame does everything it can to crowd Her out. Shame tries to fill up all the space in my heart and mind. Shame finds God’s resting place and throws an obnoxious party. Shame looks for stillness and fills it with trembling and all the wrong words. Shame knows, I think, that surrender to the sacred is best thwarted by addictions and by believing the lie that there is urgency to the mundane.

So, in an effort to open more space for the Holy in my life, I’ve been trying to stop my addictive actions, and I’ve been doing what I can to slow down. Basically, I’ve been trying to do what feels real and important before doing what feels compelling and urgent.

I’ve gotten into the habit of walking around late at night. I like it because I don’t pass anyone on the street. I like it because I can talk to myself, to Her, and no one stares, no one cares. I like it because there are stars and planets and the translucent darkness between them. I like it because I get to watch the moon move through all her phases, and it’s like watching my loved ones move through their lives. I like it because I am aware of Her walking with me. I like it because, sometimes, when shame steals upon me out there, God feels so close, She feels so strong, that shame can find no place to settle into me.

Where She is, it seems, shame cannot be.

And, not surprisingly, this is a basic tenant of recovery. That only through availing myself of God’s grace can I, Her precious creation, be restored to wholeness, to sanity, to a life no longer hijacked by shame.

Five letters.

Five letters that maybe, just maybe, can’t exist where She is.

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Oh Marg, your honesty and forthrightness is amazing! Thanks for opening up these insights to all of us – most of us have probably felt that five-letter-word many times – at least I have!
    However, I have never put it out there as you have. You are a bravely honest person whom I love!

  2. When we are able to let go of that which we hang on to that keeps us from fully living, then we can begin to really have that relationship with our higher being. When I gave up the option of suicide it was so freeing. I could now have that relationship with God that I longed for b/c God was about LIVING and not DYING as I had been living my life for so long.

    No matter who our higher being is, they are not about those negative thoughts we hang on to…they are about truly LIVING and BEING!

  3. I thought for a long time that I must have been the only one out there with this awful burden of shame. The more I grow and learn, the more I think every woman is handed this affliction. Knowing this doesn’t make me feel better, but it does give me insight and a handful of hope. I do believe its true, Marg, that these five letters cannot exist when the Divine She is with me.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Marg. LIke you, I’ve been increasingly attentive of the ways shame has shaped my life . I love the affirmation you ultimately offer, that where the Divine dwells, shame cannot be. I might just need to make that my mantra.

  5. Shame is a great topic. And I believe it is blown away by acceptance, which is felt in Her presence. But it can be big and dark and can seem to overwhelm.

    I’ve found through honest sharing, with people I trust to accept me warts and all, those who even love me more for seeing my warts, this brings light that destroys the darkness of shame.

    We’re conditioned to believe what is good and acceptable and what is wrong and thus bad. I’m learning there is no shame in being human, there is nothing broken about me. I’m realizing that we’re all doing the best we can. And there are no mistakes, only learning lessons. With each “mistake”, we find new ways to be kinder, more compassionate and loving. Sometimes it is only through doing it poorly that I can find the way to do it better. This is the journey as I’m discovering it.

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