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Dear Shame and Guilt,
I wanted to write you a breakup letter.
You know, maybe Taylor Swift it and throw a nice sing-songy spin on the darkness you have ensued over my life.
I wanted to be angry, to feel sadness at your arrival, of how utterly unfair it was you were here to steal my fleeting joy and enjoyment.
But, then, I suppose, I’ve been trying to exile parts of self for my whole life and that hasn’t gotten me far. So, maybe, radical acceptance is where I’m being guided to next. But, first, curiosity.
Curiosity? What’s that? I ask myself, curiously trying to spark some lightness of interest without self-interrogation bent on self-flagellation and condemnation of the self, desperately trying to always appease another part of me—Ms. Perfectionist, always trying to get it juuuuust right.
But oh sh*t, “You went too far again…look what you’ve done,” she says, disapprovingly shaking her head. Her disappointment in my less-than-perfect choices and actions always gets me, gnawing at me from the inside out. Even in the healing and discovering of self context, she has found a clever way to use my stumbling and fumbling as ways to crucify me for the sake of “spiritual growth and needed suffering,” she tells me.
Because, apparently, there’s only one perfect way to heal, and always a thousand and one ways to f*ck it up. I guess I’ve chosen the thousand and one ways just to show her what I’m made of.
It’s like you’re in this prison of your own making, a tightly wound noose around your neck, always just inches away from self-strangulation. (Apologies for the vivid imagery of that, but if you know how it feels to feel like each slight move against the “rules” will ricochet a domino effect of doom and death, you know what I mean by this.)
If you’re at all familiar with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model, you might gather by now that, no, I’m not crazy (well, maybe), nor do I actually mean I have literal parts of myself at war, but rather internal systems of struggle, conflict, self-protection, and dialogue at play.
You see, we are multifaceted creatures, after all, all made up of smaller parts of self (the managers, the exiles, and the firefighters), according to the IFS model.
Of course, who is overseeing these parts? That is the better question, perhaps, because once we see that the capital “S” observer Self is overseeing these smaller, self-protecting parts, then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to create a little space, a little distance from the identification of self as the one judging, condemning our behavior and choices, or who is even identified as the anger, sadness, guilt, or shame.
It’s like mindfulness meets psychology, which has always been my way to discover more space, curiosity, and kindness between parts of self and Self witnessing selves. Ha, I know the nomenclature gets me all confused too.
In short, we developed protective parts as young, vulnerable, malleable children in our families (systems) when we were hurt, wounded, shamed, ridiculed, afraid, or rejected. We learn and take on certain voices of our family members (the judge, the perfectionist, the fearful doomsday voice). These become parts of the system (the individual) we become, and thus, we are now a whole bunch of parts living as one system.
Don’t get me wrong, this is pure survival. We were just trying our damnedest to survive future humiliation, pain, and rejection.
So, we learned how to self-protect.
I suppose by now this letter has turned into a monologue or perhaps a dialogue if you’re still reading this. I guess what I’m presently trying to see and understand is that even the sh*tty emotions are trying in their own, creative ways to protect us from the uncontrollable external pain.
The shame and the guilt. Those have been my fated frenemies since I learned that some God outside of me was keeping tally of my good and bad marks, and judging me accordingly. Do I believe in this God now? No. I believe in love, and still, I have these conditioned parts of self that still feel somehow safer knowing what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Black and white were always clearer colors than gray to see, after all.
But, I’ve been swimming (sometimes drowning) in the gray for many years now. Coming out of the totally straight closet into fluid bisexuality, coming out of religion’s closet of shame and judgment for being human and choosing instead to believe in goodness, believe in a kind universe, even when parts of me still worry if it’s safe to believe in that.
Gray has been my not-chosen color, as I’ve been healing and recovered for the last three years now from an eating disorder of black and whiteness, shame, guilt, and self-punishment galore—oh my.
So, forgive me if I’m still finding my way. Still finding my way of how to be a human with fluid emotions and fluid sexuality, of relearning my boundaries and what feels in alignment with my heart. Even when I get that “wrong,” I am learning.
Even when shame and guilt tell me to punish my body for acting on the impulse of sexual desire. Even though that’s what I, and maybe many of us, have learned in our purity culture, religious trauma, and indoctrinating lens: that sex, any and all sexual acts outside of one prescribed lens, is evil and sinful.
We can give ourselves goddamn grace and ample amount of permission to “not get it right,” to fumble and stumble as we learn what intimacy we choose to engage with.
At the end of the long, very confusing day of having these inner dialogues, we all want the same thing. Freedom. We want the freedom to make choices, to choose again, to try something new, to explore, to try something that scares us, to connect with others in new ways, to touch and be touched, to love and be loved. We want the freedom from internal judgment to live a life of experimentation.
And yes, we want heart and soul too. Depth and meaning. Self-alignment and soul fulfillment. And, we are always learning even in the experimentation of it all.
Learning that these parts of self—the protectors, the fear, the shame, the guilt—are just wounded parts of self in need of love. Learning to get curious about the shame. To ask it what its fears are. To ask it to share where it comes from. To be with it. To be the Self watching over it.
To tend to all parts of self with loving awareness of Self. Easy? No. Possible? I think so. We can create more distance between parts and identification of parts. We can find freedom again. To choose. To live. To “f*ck up.” To flail. To flounder. To feel f*cking human and not get it “right” or be perfectly spiritual and aligned.
So, thank you. Thank you, shame, for showing me what wounded parts of me need more love, not less. Need more compassion, not more judgment. Need more acceptance, not condemnation. Thank you guilt for showing me where I need more kindness. Thank you, anger and sadness, for protecting my more vulnerable self.
Yes, it’s scary to not think of having you all around to protect me from pain I can’t control, and I know freedom is worth it.
Thank you all for a lifetime of service. Thank you for saving me when I couldn’t yet save myself. Thank you now for showing me that I don’t need to be saved. That I can survive whatever emotions come my way, that I can get more curious with an open heart about any darkness of beliefs and feelings I may feel when I make new choices and when I make old, habituated choices too.
I am learning. We are all learning. How to be free. How to remember we are free. We are loving awareness, as the beloved late Ram Dass would remind us.
In case you forget today and the coming days of learning, exploring, trying, growing, and trying some more:
Repeat as many times as needed:
“I am free. I am free. I am free.
I am free from any and all heaviness and judgment of self I have felt in my past or present about any and all choices made. I am free to choose again. I am free to mess up. I am free to get it “wrong.” I am free to be a human. I am free to remember loving awareness as many times as needed. I am free to accept and love all parts of self. I am free to witness all parts of self with loving awareness. I am free…
Aho. Amen. And, so it is….”