Healing is elusive. I’ve written about this before. In the chaos immediately following trauma it seems the furthest I’ve ever felt it. With time and distance, healing seems more attainable in some moments than others. Some moments like breaking down in the middle of a run or pacing at 3a in my living room or in the fear after a night terror healing remains feeling elusive. When it’s the most elusive for me is in my moments of great happiness. How odd, right?
I’ll break it down: Shame is my biggest obstacle to healing. Shame equates to “I am bad” while guilt is “I did bad.” Every unhealthy coping mechanism is rooted in some protective mechanism. It benefits in some way. One of the functions of shame is that it creates the illusion of control and the illusion of control feeds into the illusion that I have control and could prevent something bad from happening again. If I am bad and that’s why bad things happened to me than I can change and be good and then bad things wont happen to me anymore. So any moment where I achieve a peak point in goodness it reinforces this false belief and the illusion created by shame. This is why I often feel triggered and empty after a positive event. My art is going on display or my blog is doing well and reaching a lot of people. Cue moment of happiness. Cue intense shame. The need to overcompensate all the feelings of being bad by being good can weigh heavy. The capitalist society and dichotomy of survivorship that tells me I must be successful and strong respectively in order to have value and worth works to fuel this fallacy rooted in shame. The directed focus to professional success does not appear to be alarming to people on the outside. Does healing seem elusive yet?
See, shame is insidious. If I negate the inherentness of being bad then I can be good. If I can be good then maybe the bad that I am (in reality the bad that happened to me) will be overrided. Shame becomes a monster that is almost uncontainable because it whispers self doubt in your most insecure moments. It fuels you to do better to prove yourself. So in a moment where I am the most happy or experiencing the most positivity I feel the most shame. How can I be this great if I am inherently bad? It must be that I am not good and can never be good. Shame is insidious. It is grossly terrorizing. I must keep trying then. I must keep doing good so I can change the bad and be good.
Then, one day you wake up and realize you are happy. Like I have been lately. Yet something still feels off. Every positive message from my support network sits ugly in my chest. Why? Because in the effort to be good to negate the bad I have transformed. I am actually strong and happy, that much is true. So why does it feel awful? Because I’ve been running. Desperately trying to bounce back so that it feels and looks like healing but it is not. I have fooled myself. This is not a healing moment because I have been chasing the impossible idea of negating an inherent badness THAT DOES NOT EXIST. I am not bad and therefore do not need to be good but because I was convinced I was bad I have been successful in an attempt to make myself good. The external positivity then becomes the cornerstone by which I assign worth and value to myself. Because the external is not the root of the problem it leaves me feeling empty.
Here’s the trippiest part: Running from my shame and chasing the impossible transformation from good to bad (which does not exist because I am not actually inherently bad) has led me to seek out another fallacy. I am attempting to rewrite my history and that is simply impossible.
I’ll give you an example: the other day I told someone I liked to spend time with them because I feel like I can be myself with them. They replied by telling me I would be myself with anybody.
I realized they were right. This is true.
I also realized this is NEW. This has not always been true. This person has had the privilege of seeing me at my best. I have a real opportunity to rewrite history here. I could go the rest of my life never telling them about my trauma and they would think I’m inherently comfortable being unapologetically and unabashedly myself. What an idea. I could have a little slice of paradise. I could pretend that I have always been a take-no-shit, strong, radical, human rights activist who is unafraid to call out injustice and advocate for myself and others. I can change the horrible past. Even if that reality only exists with this person. That is the insidiousness of shame. It leaves you seeking impossible reality under the guise of healing and so healing becomes elusive.
This is SO deeply tragic: to exist in a world where I want to rewrite history not necessarily because I want to change the bad thing that happened to me (although I desperately do) but because I want to change the fact that shame insists I am inherently bad.
If I tell this person I was in an abusive relationship it will be inconsistent with who I currently am. They may look at me so insanely puzzled as to how someone like me could “allow” that. They may ask me why I stayed. Let me be clear: I don’t know how this person would actually react. Those reactions are projections of my shame and fear of being seen as bad. Here the badness transforms into a different kind of bad. I am not bad and that’s why bad things happened to me. I am bad because I continued to let bad things happen.
Empathy is the single most healing act of human capacity. To be seen and understood is the most healing. This is how we fight shame. We must have empathy for ourselves. The key to overcoming the elusiveness to healing is to transform the shame into something else. I must transform my shame into compassion of myself. I must know and believe that I am not bad, not inherently nor as a result of what has happened to me and especially not because of decisions I made after the bad has happened to me. I must have compassion for myself.
Events that have transpired in my life which I had not control over and my reactions to those events are not all of who I am. They are part of who I am. And they do not define me.