I came home from working a 24 hour shift and thought, I should relax and watch something funny before I head for my nap. I have a tendency not to follow through on such intentions very well. I tend to wind up watching a documentary about something heavy instead. My therapist Dr. O said my main hobby in life seems to be thinking and that has its benefits and its drawbacks. One of the drawbacks being my insomnia largely caused by my unending pondering. So I knew logically that I really should put on something lighthearted to unwind and then go take my nap, but logic rarely dictates what we do in this world and I am no exception.
In my defense, I did go to the Search area of Netflix and begin to type in “Sex and the City.” I can’t be blamed for Netflix suggesting I might enjoy the TED talks on the topic of sex and love.
The first talk was “eh.” It was about parenting taboos I didn’t exactly find earth shaking. Maybe because I entered parenting via the special needs route. I was doing calculus when the parents giving the talk were still learning to count. Not to say their talk didn’t have value. Sesame Street has a lot of value, for instance. But I digress….
The second talk was different. It was by Brene’ Brown, a PhD in social work, and it was titled “The Power of Vulnerability.” She talked about the most basic human need being connection. She said it was the meaning of life. She talked about the thing that keeps us from it too: shame.
She described shame as the fear of being disconnected. Our fear that if people really knew us, they would reject us.
She said something else too: the less you talk about shame, the more you have.
She said the key to happiness in life was vulnerability. Being willing to sit with uncertainty, taking risks worth taking.
She said that the difference between people who feel loved and connected in this life and those who don’t is whether or not you feel worthy of being loved and connected.
She said we numb vulnerability with food and buying stuff and drinking and medication but when we do, we also numb joy and happiness and make ourselves more and more miserable.
She said more in 15 minutes that is worthwhile than I learned in four years of medical school. My husband says I’m exagerating a bit when I say that. I’m prone to exageration, so I guess I’ll rephrase: what she said launched an epiphany for me that will make me a better doctor and a better person.
You see, PTSD is about disconnection and not being able to be vulnerable and numbing and shame. And shame. I’ve been trying to figure a way out of the disconnection and numbing and avoiding vulnerability piece. It didn’t occur to me that the key could be shame. And it didn’t occur to me there might be a simple mathematical solution:
Talk about the shame –> less shame
I always thought it was the other way around. Maybe that’s why therapy hasn’t done a lot for me over the years. Maybe.
So I’m on a mission to talk about my shame. Every last bit of it. Everyone has it except for psychopaths, so there’s no shame in admitting you feel ashamed.
I had a grrl band when I was in college called Dum(b). Don’t ask about the parentheses. I named the band Dumb because we were a grrl band giving voice to women’s and girls voices (dumb used to mean mute in addition to meaning stupid FYI). I used to be an oral historian trying to give voice to marginalized people (thank you Howard Zinn, God rest his soul). But it’s time to look at myself now.
I need to talk about the things I’ve kept silent so long. The things I have tried to stuff down with food, to forget in the rush of infatuation, have tried to bury under a pile of things bought with credit cards. The things that have kept me from being fully present, that have made me afraid to be vulnerable.
These things that keep you from being alive. The opposite of life.
When I look at my children it is so easy to see that they are extraordinary just as they are. So easy to know in my bones they don’t deserve to feel shame. What I have come to realize is that I need to feel that way about myself.
I have spent the past seven years surviving. Surviving for them, because I had to. But survival isn’t life. It’s a holding pattern. I need to live and not just for them. I need to be fully alive again for me too. Because I deserve to be alive and joyful and self-confident and full of plans and hope and possibility.
Possibilty. It’s been so long since life seemed to hold real possibility.
I went to sleep for a few hours last night during a lull in admissions for the first time in so long. I prayed and thanked God for what the Holy Spirit has revealed to me through a TED talk. And then I stopped thinking and went to sleep. Because I deserve it.