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A recent personal experience gave me an inside and up-close look at the effects of shame culture and an understanding of how deep shame runs in our society.
The experience in question was a pregnancy—an unwanted pregnancy—the product of my boyfriend and I having unprotected sex.
I lived in a small mountain village off the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey with the man of my dreams when I realized that I was pregnant. I knew with immediate certainty that I wanted to schedule an abortion. So, with my partner’s support, we began the trying process of securing a safe appointment in our small, somewhat remote Turkish village.
This decision, though unwavering, did come with its emotional grievances. I was, after all, carrying the offspring of mine and the love of my life. I dream of having a family with this man one day, and this pregnancy pulled on those heartstrings like a harpist amid a bravado.
I quickly learned that there wasn’t space for my grief in the bulk of society. “You made this choice, so you will have to deal with those consequences without empathy,” the ghost of society whispered from the shadows. This message was communicated through words, faces, tonalities, and interrogative responses from people I talked to along the way.
I found that even people who were self-proclaimed “pro-choicers” would often ask intrusive questions, trying to get to the bottom of the decision I had made, to judge it properly.
Yes, I did make a decision. I’ve made endless decisions throughout my Earth journey, and those decisions inevitably have consequences that I must, too, face. Perhaps, every challenge we face is in some way a result of a decision we’ve made along the way.
I must wonder, have we collectively decided that compassion is conditional now?
The conditional nature of compassion these days has become the breeding ground for a rich culture of shame. Most of us hide our darkest and most painful secrets because we fear that we will be judged instead of receiving empathy if we share. And this fear was not born without cause, for we live in a society that is riddled with judgments, stigmas, and shame.
Most humans feel so disconnected and alone when in reality, we all have secrets festering away in the dark part of our closet. In truth, we are all connected through those shadowy secrets, which we use to isolate ourselves.
After I had my abortion, I decided to share my story publicly. The weight of secrecy and shame was growing heavier by the day. I decided it was time to shine a light on that which I had buried in the shadows.
First, I shared directly with the members of my inner social circle, then to friends and colleagues. Finally, I shared it on my public social media platform. Can you imagine what happened as a result? I received lots of messages of support and also hate. More than anything else, however, I received people’s most vulnerable, personal stories. I heard stories of abortions from people I’ve never met and some of my closest friends.
I couldn’t believe how common abortions were amongst my little community. The numbers were staggering, and I walked away, shaking my head in bewilderment.
We’re all hiding our deepest scars underneath our shame, but those scars are what connect us. We compare ourselves to fake versions of other people and perpetuate the illusion of separation through shame and silence. And until we can look at the truth of who we are (scars and all) square in the face, we will struggle to change anything in this world. We cannot change what we don’t acknowledge, and the shame we bury inside collectıvely is being reflected in the darkness of the world right now.
I need you to know that whatever you’ve done, you’ve done nothing wrong. Your feelings and your story are important and deserve a place in this world. Your shame and your pain deserve a voice and a compassionate ear. Whatever secrets you hold, I promise that you are not alone.
Perhaps we can begin to liberate the truth from one another by liberating the truth from ourselves.
I decided that I was not going to live in shame for having an abortion. Instead, I feel grateful for living in a time and place that affords me safe options. Instead, I feel proud for owning my story and permitting others to own theirs through that process. I feel connected to so many other women who have braved similar paths.
Shame gets to be a means of connection instead of isolation if we choose to use it as such.
It begins wıth reclaiming our voice and owning our story—our truth. In other words, we are letting the world see the parts of ourselves that we promised never to reveal.
Only from this place can we begin to alchemize heaviness into lightness, isolation into connectedness, fear into love.