I recall with an extraordinarily precious sort of Clarity the first Roots of Shame. I was seated near the Fireplace, at the Table nearest the Kitchen, and was narrating (once again) to my Mother a Sequence from my vivid Store of Imaginings. I was a deeply fanciful Child, with a mental Empire of Space, heavily informed by Star Wars and other fantastic Media. Much of my earliest Youth was spent expounding on the Characters and Events of this great Star Nation.
I do not recall the particular Events that I was relating, but I do remember their Character. They were replete with Cruelty and Viciousness, an unpleasant Episode in my storied State’s Annals. And I can summon, with enormous, crystal Replication, the sense that swarmed over me of Wrongness, when it was pointed out to me how awful was the Tale that I told. From the Crown of my Head to my Fundament, I felt it roll like a hot Wave of Misery. This gruesome History in which I had a moment before been taking such visceral Delight was now turned to Brussels Sprouts (the most disgusting thing that I could imagine eating at the time) in my Mouth. I had been so wrong – I must be a terrible Person.
Years later, in Conversation with my Mother, she revealed to me that I was (her Words), “an enormously difficult Child to discipline,” for, she said “if it was but pointed out to you that you had done Something wrong, you would spiral immediately into Self-Recrimination and Despair.”
Yes, I thought. That matches my Gasoline Mileage.
Still to this day, over Trivialities that no other Woman or Man would identify as worthy of an Iota of my Attention, I will spill uncounted Hours and drop hot Acid on the Foundations of my Self-Worth.
I am, often, undone by Shame.
Along with the Researcher/Storyteller Brené Brown, I share this Definition and Distinction between Guilt and Shame. And while I spend a nontrivial Percentage of my Time struggling with various Guilts, it is the Shame that still Waves over me like Surf on the Shore.
Four Years ago, in a music Shoppe in the Mall of Middletown, New York. I somehow made that poor Woman’s life more difficult, refusing to buy a Membership to the Store. I can still feel the Shame.
A Number of unwise, thoughtless, or intemperate Statements to various Paramours in my Youth. Some were quite cruel, and I feel the Sting of having said them as if they were my own.
The miniscule Lies, the grotesque Failures, the Moments when I let down my own Expectations of myself. Sometimes I feel myself drowning in them.
And let us not forget the incredible, indelible Shame of my over-hasty Marriage and appropriately-hasty Divorce, accompanied by a staggeringly great career Implosion. Neither Situation, romantic or professional, is irretrievable, but they certainly felt so at the time, and clawing my way out of that Pit of unworthiness is the Work of Years…if not of my entire Life.
All of this returns, again and again, to a central Point – a Question to which Life, qua Life, has yet to provide me an Answer.
Am I good enough?
My more loving and attentive Readers will (and have!) point out the Question itself is rather problematic, as phrased. Good enough for what? Or whom? By what Standard will I judge myself? Or be judged? Is not this Question rather Rubbish, as St. Paul would say (though our Translators have left Something to be desired in this Rendering)?
Yes, it is, though it has taken me some Time to acknowledge intellectually its Bankruptcy. And even then…it remains a central Conceit of my own life. Am I good enough? ‘No,’ says some significant Portion of my Inner Council.
Take this, then, as the hideous Origin of my magnificent Journey of Faith. For Good or Ill, when consulted, I am at best a ‘lean yes,’ on ‘am I good enough,’ and at worst, a definite ‘no.’ I am undone by Shame.