Recently, I was advised to begin to expose the parts of myself I typically keep cloaked- to “embrace my shadow”. I’ve been on this road to recovery for a long time now, yet when I think about specific behaviors or current beliefs and distortions I have about myself, my life, or life in general that I know logically aren’t true or right, I still cringe. I often live hoping no one can read my mind or hear my thoughts. I fear what I’ve taught myself will be inevitably judged, thus keeping myself stuck in all of my own judgments.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that hiding, no matter whether it’s yourself you’re hiding or something else, is the best way to stay sick and stuck. I know that secrecy fosters fallacies. I’ve seen rationalizations further instill myths as truths. I’ve witnessed enough to know the veracity behind the necessity for honesty, openness, and feedback.
Taking my awareness around my distress and the recognition that exposure to the causes of this agitation is necessary, I have been embracing my shadow by noticing the places where I say what I think is right rather than what is true for me. Each time I’ve felt a hesitation or a desire to present something different than what is happening for me, I’ve stopped myself and forced out what feels hard. Each time I feel my chest tighten or identify an avoidance, I attempt to throw, or at least walk, myself into the fear, itself. What I’ve come across is shame.
Over and over and over again, I’ve been living in the embarrassment I’ve dodged for as long as I can remember. What I’ve observed is that the shame I’ve believed I’ve circumvented by holding back in exposing myself has lived inside of me along with all of my secrets.
The thing is, when you’re young and you learn to cover up your mistakes or insecurities after experiences where others made you feel embarrassed, you’re protecting yourself from further embarrassment. However, those choices also allow us no room to chance the story around those insecurities; we get no chance to feel secure. We find that safety through denial rather than acceptance- never wondering if that one kid who laughed at your ears was just one kid, nor that your ears could actually be just fine. The shame doesn’t disappear, it gets buried.
As I’ve been talking about and doing the things that make me feel uncomfortable with myself, I’ve started uncovering how much there is there, and how much it’s all my own. I’ve started to see that the cloak I put on, which, at first, covered the areas for which I had been mocked or ridiculed, now hid any fragment of my being which held potential for rejection. And, in denying myself that vulnerability to be torn down, all of the qualities with which I could be embraced or valued stayed hidden, as well. Since someone somewhere could reject pretty much anything, everything of mine has been held secure, unable to be brought into connection. The parts I’ve doled out have been hesitantly transmitted, at best. And, consequently, owning my shit has been hard.
I’ve begun to realize that I’ve spent most of my life as anyone but me.
This came to a crux a couple of weeks ago. Recently, I’ve been honored to write as a blogger for The Huffington Post and a staff writer for College Magazine. I am also surrounded by people 24/7 and unable to work in any quiet or contained space. My writing time is limited and my computer time, even more so. The positions and these limitations have not danced well together, but I have made do my best- scribbling in my journal late at night, then power-typing the next day.
However, despite the many years I attempted to be, I am not perfect, nor anywhere close. And as much as I’d like to feel free with that, it’s still hard to accept myself, with all of my flaws. In my writing endeavors, this became clear when an article I put out was published with several typos.
My first instinct was to edit, which proved immediately to be a dead end when I realized I didn’t have access to edits. Next, I sent three emails to my editing team begging for the changes to be made ASAP (which may or may not still be in the works… I’ll let you know when I stop checking).
After I’d hit refresh about fifty times to check for responses, I sat stuck in what next to do. I goggled my name and found the article at the top of my search hits. I flinched. I sent another email. Pressed refresh. And then I stopped.
It was the exact place I run from. I was feeling undeniable shame. I wanted to hide. What had been an exciting accomplishment- writing for and getting published by a website I love- had, in seconds, turned into something of which I was ashamed. I didn’t want to share it. I didn’t want to be associated with it. I wanted it to disappear. So, I copied and pasted the link to the article to every one of my social media accounts.
Knowing full well that each person who read would most likely notice the fairly obvious typos, I let myself sit with the fear and shame that came with knowing all of myself and presenting it to the world. I didn’t expect to be taunted or ridiculed, yet recognizing the solely positive feedback I received gave me full evidence that any of my greatest fears were simply my insecurities projected onto others. I learned that all of who I am can be okay and that any discomfort I feel is simply within myself, but not truly hurting me. I can have my mistakes, alongside my successes, and connect with other humans through my humanity.
Each time I breathe into the parts I hide, I step further into my soul. It is a process of integration, but we are all in some process on this planet.