Shame On Me

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. – Brené Brown

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m not writing this for pity or attention. I’m writing this because I’m reading Daring Greatly again and it says that when we speak shame, it begins to wither. I’m writing this because I want my power back.

I recently asked my therapist, in a moment of overwhelming loneliness, why people don’t like me. Am I too needy? Am I too much or am I not enough? She told me to ask a few people I trust those same questions and see if I see any pattern. I refused. It would require too much vulnerability and I didn’t want them to think “Those are questions a 12 year old asks. Not a middle aged woman.” I decided that my loneliness was my karmic debt and this life was how I pay back my debt. I had to accept my loneliness and leave to be okay with it.

However, the next day, it dawned on me that it’s not that people don’t like me. It’s that I hide myself away from people. But why do I do that when the loneliness I feel is so painful? The word that came swiftly and loudly into my mind was shame.

According to Brené Brown, shame is the fear of disconnection. “It’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.”

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

She goes on to say that shame is highly correlated with addiction (hello) and depression (big hello!), among other things and that the pain of shame is enough to trigger the survival part of our brains – the fight or flight part – that runs or hides or comes out swinging. I hide.

I’ve lived with shame since I was a small child. It’s how my family did things. Teasing. Bullying. Negating. It’s nobody’s fault. I’m sure my parents did the best they could with what they were taught.

But early on, that shaming became an inside job and it has kept me from living my life. My shame hits me at the core of who I am. It’s more of what I didn’t do than anything I did. So, in the spirit of making my shame wither:

I am 55 years old. Yes. I know. It’s hard to believe that I’m not really 29. I quit telling people how old I was a long time ago.

I’ve never had a long term relationship and I’ve given up trying. Remember. I’m 55 years old.

I don’t have any close friends. I have friends (and I appreciate you all very much), but not the kind you tell your darkest secrets to or turn to when you’re sad. I keep those things to myself.

I don’t have any kids.

I don’t have any money.

I don’t even have a career to blame all the “don’t haves” on.

I have failed to meet any of society’s norms, which, I believe, makes me a failure.

And there you have it. I hide from people because I am ashamed of who I am and I don’t want people to know me.

I know these norms don’t make me who I am, but it’s how I feel people will judge me. I look at Facebook and all I see are people’s smiling faces as they have fun playing and people talking about their new and old relationships, their new business ventures, their new homes, their kids and grandkids. Their lives are moving along as they should be.

Meanwhile, the only things I have to talk about are that I’m so far in debt that I can barely buy food, that I’m depending on my sister to ease my financial burden and in turn, making life harder for her, or that I’m depressed 75 percent of the time and rarely leave my house anymore other than to go to work.

And to top it off, I work for a woman who treats me much as my shame treats me. She belittles me, negates my feelings, and shames me into disengaging, yet I keep trying to prove to her that I’m smart, capable, and worth the money she’s paying me. I’m looking to my shame for approval. How dumb is that?

Anyway, this is why I hide and this is why I don’t allow people to get to know me and this is why I am so lonely.

So there you have it. I’m speaking my shame in the hope of taking its power away. I appreciate you taking the time to read this. Again, I’m not asking for pity or fishing for attention. I’m just trying to face my fears and my shame, so maybe it’ll leave me the fuck alone for a while. Or preferably, forever.

 

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Empty

I have a vase.

I’ve had the vase since I was born.

I loved my vase. I thought it was pretty.

It could hold many things, not just pretty flowers.

Everyone else loved my vase, too.

Until I was five.

After that, whenever I tried to put something in the vase besides flowers, it cracked.

I was told that that wasn’t what the vase was for.

Everything I put in the vase was wrong.

Eventually, I stopped using the vase, but I still took it with me wherever I went.

Now, the vase is fragile.

It is a spider web of cracks and tiny holes.

I would like to find some use for the vase, but it won’t hold anything.

I have to repair the vase in order for it to fulfill its purpose.

A vase that won’t hold anything is worthless.

I’m afraid that if I try to put something in it, the vase will shatter into a million pieces.

It’s the only vase I have.

 

My Debt Story

I recently read an article in Om Times that asked the question: What is your debt story?

“Look beneath the debt to find the mindset that got you here. There may be more than one story running consecutively through your belief system, and many stem from the insecurity of not knowing your own worth.”

I have two stories: the first has to do with inherited beliefs, and the second has to do with excuses.

A little background on the physical reality of my debt is that I’ve been partially living off my credit card for two years. I made a very bad agreement on salary with my employer a year and half ago in which I was making a salary, but not enough to pay my bills. I thought I could supplement my income somehow. That “somehow” was supplementing my income with my credit card. After two years, my card is almost maxed out. Needless to say, the finance charges on such a high balance are through the roof. I was even using the credit card to make its own payment. Dumb, I know, but this is where my debt story comes into play.

I grew up with a father who believed that some people had money and others didn’t. His father was a farmer and he grew up fairly poor. He married my mother, who came from a family that was somewhat better off. They didn’t approve of my father. The didn’t think he could take care of their daughter and he knew it. Instead of working to prove them wrong, he believed them and remained stuck in his belief that he would never have money.

My parents struggled financially, but were never left wanting because my mother’s parents gave them money whenever they needed it. With such a reliable back up and although my father worked very hard, he never put much effort into his career, because he knew he would always be bailed out.

So, I grew up believing the same thing. Some people had money. Others didn’t. My grandparents would help me if I needed it. After they died, they continued to bail me out with the money that they left me. I never had to try very hard, because I knew I would be bailed out.

Obviously, that’s not the case anymore, but I still have the belief that I will never have enough money. I don’t believe I have the skills necessary to get a well-paying job. I’ve tried several things over the course of my life and none of them have worked out. At this point, I’m afraid to even try.

Which brings me to the second part of my debt story. My debt is an excuse. It keeps me helpless. I’m the victim of being born to the wrong family. It’s not my fault. I am powerless to do anything about it. “I can’t travel, because I have no money.” “I can’t take the classes I want to, because I’m already in big debt.” “I can’t [fill in the blank] because I have to get all my debt paid off first.”

Debt is a great excuse to stay in my miserable little comfort zone. It’s like my debt is a boulder in a fast moving river. As long as I hold on to this boulder, at least I’ll know what will happen every day. I’ll struggle. I’ll feel like I’m drowning. I’ll fight. I’ll be exhausted. And I’ll be alone, because there’s only room for one person on this debt boulder. I’m afraid to let go of the boulder, because I don’t trust the river.

We’ve had a rash of big name suicides lately. Having been low level depressed my whole life, I can understand why they did it. When you feel the next bout of depression come on, it fills you with dread. It wears you down. It gets worse every time it comes and you get to the point where you just can’t go through it again. It’s the dread of the depression that leads to the suicide. (Don’t worry. I’m not suicidal.)

I’ve tried several paths in my life and each time, it’s turned out the same. I don’t make enough money. I hate what I do. I feel stuck. I feel like I’m drowning. I don’t think I’ll ever have a happy, fulfilling life. It never gets better. So, my debt protects me from having to try again and possibly face that disappointment again.

If I pay off my debt, I no longer use it as an excuse not to pursue my dreams. But what if it ends up just like all the other times? The dread of being disappointed one more time is about more than I can stand. However, the fear of regret on my deathbed is worse at this point than the fear of the disappointment. I can’t not try. As Erin Hanson famously wrote,

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

 

Homeless

I’m not literally homeless. I have a roof over my head and for that I am truly grateful. I am homeless nonetheless. Let me explain.

I was watching the new season of Chef’s Table. Two of the chefs featured were southern chefs. Just like many of the previous chefs, these chefs had to return to their roots in order to find their voice in cooking. They spoke of grandma’s cooking and home, their deep roots in southern culture with all its complications. Hearing their stories brought up a lot of emotion in me. Bottom line is that I don’t have those roots to depend on and that’s what I mean by feeling homeless.

I’ve been homeless my whole life. The only “home” I ever felt I had was my grandparent’s home in Kansas and they sold it all to move to Texas when I was 16 or so. I haven’t had a home since.

My family home was in Amarillo, Texas, but it wasn’t a home. It wasn’t a place of comfort or a safe haven. It was scary and I didn’t feel emotionally safe. We weren’t a family unit. We were five people treading water, looking for dry land that wasn’t there.

Caldwell, Kansas was my safe haven. My brother, sister, and I spent a lot of time there, because my mother was in and out of the mental hospital and my dad couldn’t handle taking care of us and her at the same time. We were a burden to them, but at least we had a place to go.

It may not have been the warmest of environments, but we were taken care of while we were there. My grandmother was cold and demanding and even though there were kids in the neighborhood, she tended to keep us in the house most of the time. My brother and sister didn’t like it, but I didn’t mind. I liked spending time with my grandparents.

I would hang out with my grandpa at his farm supply store or in the garden and I would help my grandmother cook and clean house. I learned a lot about taking care of a home from her. She was a bit obsessive with cleanliness, which could explain my need to have a neat, orderly house. She wasn’t the greatest cook, but we were always well fed and I learned how to cook from her. My grandmother didn’t particularly enjoy taking care of a home and family, but she thought it was her duty and she did the best job she could and she taught me everything I know.

They had a pretty big garden in the back yard, where they grew a lot of their produce. My grandpa was the gardener. He’d come home from the store, eat his dinner, then go out back and putter around in the garden. His lawns were immaculate and his gardens were always well cared for. To this day, the smell of tomato plants, marigolds, and petunias as well as the call of the mourning dove and watching birds always takes me back to that small window of happiness in my childhood.

My grandmother was the cook. I remember sitting out on the porch with her, snapping beans into a colander and even though I don’t like beets, I loved the smell of beet greens cooking in the kitchen. We always had a wide variety of vegetables with our meat and potato meals and I was never too picky about eating vegetables. (Except beets and that came from being served canned beets at school and having the juice run all over all of my food. I’m going to suck it up one of these days and try them again. I bet I’ll like them.) It’s not like I want to go live in Kansas again, but I really want to recapture that feeling of home.

After my mom died, I felt it was my responsibility to hold my family together. Cooking and feeding people was part of that, but I wasn’t a very good cook. I desperately wanted to give my nieces and nephews that sense of grandma and home that I felt they were going to miss out on, so I moved into our grandmother’s childhood home in Oklahoma. It had history. It had roots. Our ancestors are buried there. But it didn’t work out the way I wanted. I found out that Grove, Oklahoma is a meth-infested, shit-hole and after I moved away, someone burned down the house and the barn, so now there’s no history left to go back to, which seems to be par for the course with my family.

Now, I’m living with my sister in a place that feels like home to her, but not really to me. I know a lot of people, but I don’t have any friends. One niece is here, but the rest of our small family is in Omaha. We are not one of those families that get together for the holidays and we don’t even talk that often. I think it’s because of that lack of home. We have no roots to return to. We’re still treading water.

They say that “Home is where the heart is,” but I think it’s more than that. Home is your safe haven, where you loved for who you are. Unconditionally. But home is also a place. It has history. It’s where you have roots and where your ancestors lived.

I feel so disconnected. How do I find my home? I don’t think I can make a home just anywhere. For me, it’s a feeling and a sense of belonging to a place. I never felt I belonged with my birth family. I never felt like I belonged in Omaha. I don’t feel like I belong here in Colorado. I’ll have to start looking in the only place that is really home to each of us: with myself. As Brené Brown says,

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

I’ll start with my body, my first and only real home. I haven’t treated my body very well over the years and it could use some TLC. I’ll start with cooking. I love to cook and I was actually getting good at it, but then I started having all the intolerance issue, so now I have lots of dietary restrictions, including being a vegetarian. Now, I’ll have to learn to cook all over again. And even though I don’t have the space to build a garden, I can make do with the space I have and grow as much of my own food as I can. Growing food has always made me happy.

I’ve also let my muscles go to pot over the last several years. I used to be so strong…sigh. Now, it’s like an old fixer-upper; it’s looks neglected, things are sagging, and it needs a little love and attention. One of my great loves is hiking big mountains and my body is no condition to do that right now. It’s time to fix that. It’ll be hiking season soon.

I have a lot of work to do on me and the time to do it is now. I’ve only got 30 or so years left and I don’t want to waste another second. One day soon, I’ll find my where I belong in the physical world, a piece of land on which to feel safe and cared for. In the meantime, I’ll work on finding home within myself.

Lessons From Chef’s Table

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When people ask what I wanted to be as a kid, I recall my friend and I convincing our science teacher to take us to the canyon near our home to gather rocks and arrowheads. The first thing I ever wanted to be was an archaeologist. I was fascinated with learning how people lived thousands of years ago. Even to this day, when I visit a historical place, I become almost dissociative. I can feel what it was like to live during that time. It’s my version of time travel, I guess.

I was also a big reader of biographies. My mom and I watched a lot of old movies together and I was fascinated with the 30’s and 40’s actors and actresses, so I’d scour the biography section at the library for biographies. I read about Francis Farmer, Carol Lombard, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland, to name a few. I felt like I had been born in the wrong era. Those biographies took me back to a time I never knew. Even today, my personal biography library takes up the most room on my bookshelves. I’ve got bios on everyone from Da Vinci to to Marie Antionette to Julia Child to Laird Hamilton.

The question is why biographies? I’m a notorious loner. I have a hard time connecting with people in real life. I have often said, “I hate people,” but obviously I don’t. In fact, people fascinate me, especially when a biographer gets beyond their personas. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for me to relate to people. I’m interested in the real story, not the persona you present.

Of course, I can’t judge. I am far from authentic myself. I’ve kept my real Self locked up so deep inside that even I don’t know who I am. I think the reason I’m so interested in biographies is because I’m looking for myself in other people.

I recently began watching The Chef’s Table on Netflix. It’s been out for a while and I love cooking shows, but I thought it was going to be about hoity-toity food and I’m not interested in that. It turns out, though, that the series is more biographies about the chefs themselves. Some are famous chefs, others not as famous, but all are super interesting in their own ways.

I’m a seeker. I have been all my life. I’ve often said my goal in life is to know everything and that includes learning about myself and growing as a person. I look to these chefs and I wonder what makes them so special. Why are they so successful, while I’m struggling? I’ve found some commonalities, which may seem like Duh! to most, but to me, they’re life-altering.

Each chef is compelled to follow their heart first and be true to themselves, above everything else. They are not people-pleasers. Chef Ana Roš said, “I never meant to hurt my parents, but my need to be true to myself and my sense of duty to my parents were fighting a battle. I chose to follow my heart.” And chef Francis Mallman said he felt compelled by “the freedom of believing only in myself and not letting myself be led by anybody.”

All my life, I’ve tried to please everybody and I’ve failed miserably. It didn’t make me happy and I certainly didn’t please anyone. Somehow, I never knew that pleasing myself first was an option.

Almost all of the chefs failed, or at least struggled terribly, when they first started. They questioned whether they should continue or give up. However, almost every time, the failure was a catalyst for the next phase, which ultimately catapulted their careers. They each said that they believed in themselves first and foremost and they loved what they were doing unconditionally. There never really was a question of quitting; they needed that failure and struggle to make them even more sure of themselves and their dreams.

I’ve always viewed failure as an end. I failed. I give up. It got to the point where I was afraid to even try. I believe that’s what’s causing me to procrastinate about doing what I want to do right now. If I fail at something I know I’m good at, if I fail at what I love to do more than anything, then that’s it. It’s all over. I’m afraid of that ultimate failure.

However, I’ve realized that I’ve had a few failures — logos for clients that simply quit responding halfway through, blog posts rejected for my friend’s business with no feedback as to what they didn’t like, posters rejected with no explanation — yet I’m still continuing to do design work and striving to learn more every day. Seems like struggle may be part of the learning process.

Finally, what ultimately came from their struggle was that they had to be true not only to their vision, but to their home. They were cooking French cuisine in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, even France, but the food had no soul. Only when they returned to the roots of their culture and the food loved by the people of their homelands, were they able to be successful.

Sadly, I’ve never identified with the “culture” of the US. In fact, I don’t feel like we really have a culture. Our food is almost exclusively borrowed and dumbed down from other countries, while we look down our noses at those very cultures. In my opinion, the US is devoid of any real culture, which probably explains why we are so unhappy as a country. We have nothing to bind us together.

Aside from the lack of culture, I’ve never felt like I had a family home either. I grew up in Texas, but we left when I was 17 and we never really settled down anywhere after that. I lived in Omaha for 20 years and never felt at home there. I live in Colorado now, but I don’t feel like this is where I belong. I desperately want to find my home, a place I feel like I belong. I’ve never had that before. My secret desire is to build out a van to live in and travel the country until I find a place that feels like home to me. My definition of hiraeth is being homesick for a place I’ve never been and I am homesick.

Chef’s Table brought that longing to the surface in a big way, but maybe it’s like trying to be a people pleaser. I’m looking for home outside of myself, like I was looking for approval from outside of myself, like I’ve been looking to these biographies to tell me how to live my life, but perhaps it’s as Hermann Hesse said,

“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”

Ultimately, I want to live my life by my own terms and follow my own vision, just as these chefs have, even though right now I don’t know what my vision is because it’s foggy from decades of people pleasing and begging for external validation. If failure is a catalyst for a big shift, then I’m in for a doozy of a shift. I’m ready for it. As chef Enrique Olvera said, “Success is being proud of what you do every day.” I’m ready for some success.

Sliding Into 2019 Like…

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2018 was a rough one. I spent the majority of it depressed. I was struggling with my self-worth, as I desperately clung to a job that didn’t value me and not knowing that I had other options. I moved to Colorado for the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, yet I rarely left the house except for work. I was stressed out, underpaid, undervalued, and miserable.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I started paddle boarding (I’ve always been a water lover, despite always having lived in arid or prairie environments most of my life.) I went to New Mexico for Sundance, which always helps readjust my attitude and later, I went back to Iowa for sweat and to see my tiyospaye. And we moved. That was good, but otherwise, I was didn’t move much. I was stuck.

However, all was not lost. The job that has had me down for so long, also gave me the biggest moments of growth. Their inability to see how valuable I am to the business made me finally stand up for myself and proclaim my own value.

I have been sorely underpaid for over a year, which has caused me to go deeper into debt just to make ends meet, so I wrote a email, telling them how valuable I am and asking for a raise.

I waited a month and got no response whatsoever. Finally, I asked for a meeting to discuss my salary and they proceeded to tell me that they couldn’t afford to give me what I had asked for. They made me feel as if I didn’t work hard enough for it anyway, like I was asking for too much. After getting my no, I was ready to be done, but I was asked to submit what I thought my job description was (I’ve never had a job description!) and how I could add more to it to bring in more money to pay my salary. (I’m in landscaping and we work on billable hours.) I was so angry and hurt. Having to prove my worth is the story of my life.

I had grown up believing hard work would speak for itself, but it’s never proven to be true. Those that toot their own horns are the ones that get ahead, whether they deserve it or not. I was tempted not to write that job description, but I did and I didn’t hold back. I told them every little thing I do. If they couldn’t see it, then they were blind and I was out.

I got an email a couple of days later saying that I had done a good job of selling myself. I was shocked. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I’d never done it before. I was proud of myself for tooting my own horn. I got a verbal that they would increase my salary in March, due to that job description, when we start bringing in money. I’m going to ask for a written agreement, so that I will feel safe that they will honor their word.

This is huge for me. I have always looked outside myself for my value. From my parents to professors to employers, I begged them to tell me I was worth something, yet they never did. I see now that no one will value you unless you first value yourself and for the first time in my life, I am beginning to see my own worth.

So, 2018 wasn’t a total bust. It wasn’t fun and I’d prefer not to have another year like it. However, I know that the Universe gives us everything we need to grow. The lessons can be easy or they can be hard. A lot of times, we believe that things aren’t worth it if they’re not hard and I’m definitely one of those people. These lessons have been hard and the changes outwardly subtle, but on the inside, for my Self, the changes have been huge. Here’s to continuing the trend next year.

 

A Soft Left

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Several years ago, my nieces rode the train to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with their mother. I’d never spent Thanksgiving alone. I thought it wouldn’t be any big deal for me. I was used to being alone. However, I got horribly depressed when I thought of all the families gathered at Grandma’s house to spend time together. I went for a long drive, just so I wouldn’t have to sit in my house all alone.

Normally, over the years, families tend to get bigger. Like a tree, the family branches out in all directions and like it or not, they all faithfully get together every year. Our family never did that. Due to death, distance, and divorce, we all drifted away. I still tried to cling to the dream of having a big, tight-knit family, but I’ve had to give up that dream. It wasn’t meant to be.

As I explained in an earlier post, I opted out of Christmas this year. I thought that by ignoring it and not participating in the festivities, I would be happier. And I was, most of the time. I didn’t have to go shopping or go to Christmas parties or wear red and green. However, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day turned out to be much harder than I expected.

Just like that Thanksgiving I spent alone – and even though I chose not to participate in Christmas – I felt abandoned and left out. I stayed up in my room, while my family gathered downstairs to exchange presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas day, I went for a hike by myself, while everyone else gathered at a friend’s house. I could have gone, but since I had so publicly announced my Christmas Opt-Out, I was too stubborn to admit I was wrong.

I read that when people are super controlling – like me – they end up being easily disappointed when things don’t go exactly as expected. I think that’s what’s happened with me and Christmas. I tried to control everything and expected for everything to go a certain way and when it didn’t, I became more and more disappointed. For me, disappointment is experienced as sadness or anger, which is where I live most of the time. I am perpetually disappointed.

As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I’ve been trying to do things the “right” way, but it’s always been a struggle for me. I don’t do well in jobs, because I am too easily bored. I also never really wanted to get married, although I don’t necessarily want to be alone. I’m past the age of having kids, even though I thought I wanted them. I’ve never followed one career path long enough to become successful or even make a decent living. And yet, I’m still trying to figure out how to make that same, albeit slightly altered, path work for me, and every day, I become more and more disappointed. I should be able to figure out how to be like everyone else. I should have a family, a husband, a home, and a successful career. What’s wrong with me?

What’s wrong with me is that I’m trying to fit into a mold that wasn’t meant for me. I don’t think I came here to follow the usual path. There’s got to be some outliers, right? Yet, I’m still trying to shove my square peg into the round hole of societal expectations and I’m disappointed when I can’t.

I’ve realized that I’m in a rut. My rut is so deep, it’s more like a slot canyon. I can barely see blue sky overhead and the walls are so smooth, I can’t climb out. 

I need to do something drastic. Something big. I cannot keep doing the same thing over and over and continue to be disappointed and depressed when I get the same result. I also know that I can’t control, or even be in charge of, what that something is. I’ve been in my rut so long that I’m unable to think outside of the rut anymore.

I’ve asked the Universe to help me. At first, I said that I needed to take a hard left, but I’ve lived a life of hard and if I asked for a hard left, the Universe would give me a hard left. So, I’ve edited my request. I’d like to take a soft, gentle, easy left to move me permanently out of my rut and I’m going to hold this intention with an open, non-controlling hand. In order to make a big change, I have to let go of my alleged control and allow the Universe to give me exactly what it knows that I want. No expectations.