I screwed up this week.
There is nothing malicious, harmful or illegal about what I did, and no one was hurt by my actions. Yet the shame that consumed me threatened to end my life.
This has been the hardest week.
I’ve been afraid to confide in anyone about my secret for fear of how they might look at me. Afraid that a lifetime spent trying to stay separate from everyone was about to crumble, and not being able to imagine what that would look like.
Before this week, I never thought I saw myself as above anyone else. But now, I see how the possibility of this secret going public could show everyone my human side—the side I’ve thus far attempted to keep hidden. All of my flaws and all of my sameness could be exposed.
This week my chest tightened, my sleeping ceased and my eating became erratic at best. At times it was difficult for me to breathe. At times I found myself crying alone in a coffee shop, my living room or my idling car. But still, I was able to participate in conference calls and small talk.
How much we don’t know about each other’s inner lives. How terrifying it is to be found out. How easy it is to judge.
Shame is not measurable or identifiable. And it is not the job of anyone else to see to it that someone is feeling the “correct’ amount of remorse. Of the loved ones I was able to confide in, some could not offer compassion. And I forgive them for this.
In their harsh words I saw every time someone needed gentle reassurance from me and I chose not to give it. I’m grateful that I was able to see their coldness as something other than my deserved punishment; that I was able to guard myself against seeking warmth and understanding from them at this time, but not against knowing I was worthy of it regardless. Knowing that at my worst, I was still deserving of softness.
No one could provide me absolution, but neither could they provide my sentence—only I could do that.
All I needed from anyone this week was willingness. A willingness to remain facing me, to not turn away. And to the beautiful souls who were able to do that, I say “Thank you.” You saved my life. And to those who weren’t able, I still say “Thank you.” You taught me much.
This week did not break me—or maybe it did. But my cracks have been sealed with the gold mortar of my tears and others’ compassion. So if you see me from a distance, when the light hits it may look like I am engulfed in flames and at other times—like right now—like I am lit from within.
Trust me, I am both.
Author: Pam Stewart
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Jean Gerber/Unsplash