Song Dedication: Severed by The Decemberists
My writing goal today is to be extremely gentle with myself. I suffered a migraine attack just as I was preparing to write an hour ago, residual adrenaline still flickering in my veins from what had just happened…22 years in the making. Perhaps my song dedication should be Handle With Care by the Travelling Wilburys (one of my Father-in-laws favourite songs). I’ve been uptight and made a mess…I’ll clean it up myself, I guess…oooooh sweet smell of success…handle me with care.
Commence Deep Breath. And go.
When I was sixteen-years-old I made a choice and, like a shackled ghost, it has inhabited my life in more ways than I could have imagined at the time. I worked weekends at a small family run business who gave me a job on account of being family friends. This was all fine and well and allowed me to save money for university (my parents wishes not mine, but since this made them proud I was game). What was not fine and well was my emotional stability and need for acceptance and approval. I was in no psychological shape to be able to discern all of these factors at the time, relying more on my reactivity and impulsivity of teenage hood. I decided to steal money from the til.
It started out with small amounts of change and as I became more brazen, began helping myself to $20 bills. I used the money to buy lunch for my friends or extra gas for my car – I used it as my play money, all the while still seeming post-secondary committed to higher education with my regular paycheck. After a while, as erosion always does, this skimming became more evident and a few months later I was found out.
The fallout of this life event turned out to be very traumatic. I realize now as an adult that the actions of stealing and lying themselves, were a response to my own attempt to gain control in the quickly careening rollercoaster that was my life. I was holding it all in, sucking in the unsightly gut that I carried around in the form of unworthiness, self-criticism and frustration. The more I built up a perfect exterior through material objects, lots of friends, a car, a boyfriend, and captain of the volleyball team all the while receiving accolades for art and academics, no one could ever know how much self-loathing I held for myself, not even myself. It all catches up though doesn’t it.
Overnight, actually more like within 5 hours (that’s small-town for overnight), the seditious news had spread like wildfire through our community. People lapping it up and sharing it with anyone and everyone who had ears (who needs facebook?). Many friends turned away in judgement and I was left with a great big steaming pile of shame on my doorstep. My parents were also ashamed of what I had done and in my loneliest time they didn’t speak to me for a while, struck with such a profound sense of disappointment and disdain for my dishonesty and lack of character. Communication was used sparingly only when it came time for punishment, which was repayment of what I had stolen, discussions/lectures and apologies and grounding for a very long while (again).
When the weekend had ended I was forced to go to school Monday to face my peers. This was one of the hardest things I had to muster and it was so excruciating that in my pleading to not go public with my presence just yet, I finally shared something much darker that I had been wrestling with, even prior to this painful event. I wanted to kill myself. This broke my Mother’s silence (and heart) and she reacted accordingly, getting me into a counsellor asap. Through time and space and professional help I was able to crawl out of the pit I had dug myself into. And then after a few months, I was in a new normal; life proceeding, striving for perfection but with a new bag to heave about; shame.
I have carried this bag with me now for 22 years…granted it changed in size and manageability over the years and I learned how to cope and think the negative thoughts I now was sure were true about who I really was as a person; bad. It didn’t matter how much volunteering, leadership, teaching and mentoring I did, I could not shake this loss of self-worth.
Fast-foward to my recent work and now, finally, I am ready to severe this tumour, before it can metastasize to my being and life any further. I have paid dearly for a stupid teenage decision I made decades ago and it is my big work to cut it out surgically. The time is now to put this to rest.
In my last blog entry I wrote about events and people being our teachers, through provocation they help us to awaken through acknowledgement and change. Just so happens this enlightenment came from my yoga instructor in Tuesday’s class and today’s yoga class went beyond enlightenment…it was more like a blinding light, spotlighting the need to shift from shame to openness (things I believe and have felt as opposites). Also just so happens that the yoga classes I have been attending are also the yoga space for one of the family members from which I stole all those years prior.
That’s right, at least once a week I have been subjecting myself to those old mindsets as I sit in this space of healing and transformation, wondering if I am ruining her yoga experience with my presence. Again, my unworthy self-talk says, Well Sarah, this is the price you pay for stealing and you will never be allowed to forget it. I think I was even investing so much into this idea that it was becoming a bit masochistic. Would the shame dissipate if I could endure a weekly self-reproaching? The answer: not really. I felt there was more work to do, but was scared shitless to make that axe-swing…I mean no one wants to cut their own handcuffs with a sharp object for what will obviously happen.
Once again, at the end of class my wise yoga teacher came through, cutting through all my bullshit saying something reminiscent of …giving yourself enough compassion to become authentic. And in the middle of shivasana my corpse pose came to life with adrenaline. Was I going to fight, flight or freeze?
I knew what I wanted to do but I initially packed up my yoga mat fleeing up the stairs to the safety of my car. Then I froze, sitting and waiting for her to emerge from the studio door. And when she appeared, I went into fight. Not with her in the sense of provocation. I needed to fight for myself. Something I never did before this point because I did not know how. I was ready to fight and put down the shame.
As she waited for a car to pass so she could cross the road, I left the safety of my vehicle and called her name. She was so calm, just looking at me without any trace of negative or positive emotion. That scared the shit out of me as I looked for some sort of cue to lead with the right word choice. I asked if I could talk to her for a moment and she squared her body to me, looking me in the eye…something my shame wasn’t ready for…being looked at so directly with her knowledge.
She heard me out and I almost thought I was going to need to accept that her presence was all she was going to gift me, listening and then walking away. But after I spoke through some tear stained sentences explaining my wish to apologize for taking advantage and breaking the trust of her family who were good and kind to me and then thanking her for having the foresight to wish me the best in the heat of that 16-year-olds moment and hoping that I would learn this lesson then and take it with me in life, I paused. I breathed in exchange for passing out and she responded.
She thanked me for speaking with her and shared the sentiment about wanting our yoga class to be positive as well rather than having this float around us. She reiterated what she had so long ago, people make mistakes and that kids definitely are going to screw up, these things happen and she was happy that I was taking care of myself and working to get beyond this. She was accepting and gracious and this interaction was transformative for me.
So now I am taking it that one step further, going fully public with it. Shining a spotlight on this shadowy hold of shame I have carried for so very long. I can see and feel the shame recoiling, the narrative losing all its power as it shrinks from the windows and doors I have been able to unlatch, removing the nails from the storm shudders I had hastily put in place to keep the badness in and the perfection on the exterior, hoping no one would get a glimpse of what was inside lurking about.
One more step into the lightness where I will
survive flourish unencumbered by my shame.
It is with great trepidation that I click Publish today. All these years I’ve worked so hard to keep this secret for fear of judgement and some form of further reprisal. I understand it will change how some people know me or think of me, wondering about my trustworthiness and character. I can only hope that there are enough people out there who have themselves made poor choices and even hurt other people in their wake, that will receive this story, my story, and respond with empathy and understanding.
(It’s not technically Friday yet, unless I am in another timezone, but if I don’t commit now I may lose my nerve…bombs away)