Shame

This morning, I became the unsuspecting recipient of someone’s significant trust.  The person in question placed a fair amount of trust in me, by revealing something about himself which he has not shared with anyone outside of his own family circle and a person who is positioned to help him with the issue he described.

The person in question is not someone I have ever met in person, though I would love to get the opportunity, but he is someone I have gotten to “know” by way of the blogosphere and Twitter.  I can understand, from my own experience how it might be easier in a way to reveal information about yourself to someone you do not know in real life.  On the other hand, I can also understand how it might be much more intimidating to reveal something so personal and so potentially damaging to a relative stranger.  Long before this morning, I made a promise to this person to maintain his anonymity so I am and will continue to be very guarded about what I say.

The information that this person shared with me is something he wished he could undo, something that he would like to take back.  He’s working now to fix the problem he created and I’m confident he will be able to do just that.  But the exchange we had got me thinking about shame and how we deal with it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not expert and I’m sure there’s a lot to this topic that I don’t even know to say, let alone have the time for here.

Several years ago, I got a DUI.  (This is not news to many of you.)  I made a bad error in judgment.  I made a bad decision that I should have known better than to make but in the moment I didn’t exercise the kind of caution that I should have and I let my guard down and I took part in an activity that proved to be harmful and dangerous to other people.  And I paid a very dear price.

My friend did something very similar.  His issue wasn’t with drinking, but it was an issue of poor judgment.  It was a bad decision, not exercising the caution he should have.  He let his guard down and took part in an activity that proved harmful and dangerous to other people.  And in his words I heard a lot of shame, embarrassment.

For a long time after my DUI, I was ashamed.  I was embarrassed around the few people who knew about it and I went out of my way to make sure no one else found out.  Whenever I drove past the site of my arrest my grip on the wheel would clinch and my eyes would squint, tightening around the bridge of my nose.  One day I realized, I was holding my breath as I drove by.  I was angry at myself for allowing such a thing to happen and I was ashamed.  I wasn’t moving forward.

I’m not really sure when it happened – I didn’t have anyone tell me what I needed to know – but one day I realized I had to stop being ashamed.  I had to stop the negative feelings that surrounded this terrible thing I had done.  It didn’t mean I was going to be proud of myself.  It didn’t mean I needed to advertise it to the world, it just meant that I had to stop letting the shame overtake me.  One day, I drove by the fateful locale and I looked at the side of the road where months earlier in the wee small hours of the morning I had stood, touching my nose and walking toe to heal, and as I started to tighten my grip and squint my eyes, for just a moment I stepped outside of myself and I looked at what was happening to me…  And I issued a command.  “STOP”.  That was it; just stop.  Stop getting worked up.  Stop letting yourself be hurt and angry and depressed over it.  Stop allowing the shame of your actions over take you.  And it worked.

I realized that DUI didn’t define who I was.  It didn’t make me a bad person; it just made me a person.

There’s a difference between being proud and not being ashamed.  We all have things about which we are not proud, if we were proud of those things there would be something seriously wrong with us.  But at the same time, we can not allow ourselves to feel shamed by these things.  We can not allow the shame that we are inclined toward to affect us and the rest of our lives.  It’s the difference between being ruined by this event and living your life.

I hope these words helped my friend today…  I hope, maybe, they help you, too.

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One thought on “Shame

  1. You know what? You’re right! You’re so right. I’ll bet that DUI was a much bigger deal to you than it was to anyone else. To the rest of the world, it was a mistake that you made; the same mistake a lot of people have made. I’m sure no one else judged you as a lesser person because of that mistake, but as you describe it, you yourself did.

    The most important thing for you, and for your friend, and for the rest of us who have things in our lives that make us feel ashamed… the most important thing is that we learn from those mistakes.

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