When Shame Bubbles To The Surface

By Sara McGlothlin

This morning in my meditation, I felt my shame so distinctly. It was almost like I was seeing it for the first time. So much shame came bubbling up to the surface. I will spare you the nitty-gritty details, but I felt shame for childhood trauma, my upbringing, current family stuff that often feels too heavy to carry so I don’t. Or rather I think I don’t, but I do, while avoiding it with a ten foot pole. Shame for my past disordered relationship with food, exercise, body image issues, but here I am a wellness entrepreneur who shares messages around nutrition, mindful movement, and accepting yourself. I guess sometimes we teach what we need to hear. Shame for my past relationship with alcohol and my tendency to be “that girl” who over-drinks on occasion; behavior, that when I look back, I believe it is to blame for losing friendships over the years. I feel shame for that too.

I feel shame for not *feeling* further along in my career, whatever that should mean, and with what arbitrary benchmark I am using to measure “success.” On the outside, I am sure it appears that I am “killing it,” and when I hear someone tell me that, I cringe. I feel shame for that too, because it feels like after three years of setting out to build this dream of mine, I have only circumvented to what seems to be the ground level. That I spent three years walking up a million flight of stairs, only to reach a door, and when I walk through that door, I’m back down at the bottom of the stairs. Or that I’m a pawn in a giant game of Chutes and Ladders, and with one wrong roll of the dice, I find myself sliding back down to where I started. I feel shame that I feel that way because I know it isn’t true. That in my heart I know I had to walk this path to get here and I have grown so much along the way.

I feel shame that sometimes I feel so frustrated and annoyed, at what I am not so sure, but if one pin drops I will lose my shit. But I am also so damn grateful for my life that there is shame in feeling the shame. It’s like looking through a funhouse mirror, and I am unable to distinguish between what is the core shame and what is the shame for feeling the shame.

Shame. So what do we do with it? We feel it. We breathe it away. We observe it with compassion and also a little bit of objectivity because it is a part of the human condition.

In seeing my shame this morning I have been able to connect the dots. It has been a driving force behind so many of my habits of behaviors. But awareness has served to stop them in their tracks. I now realize I can’t work away shame. I can’t exercise it away or drink it away or social media scroll it away, eat sugar or clean and organize it away. I can’t busy it away with piling more projects on my plate.

So what do we do with the shame? Journaling and writing about it helps. Yesterday I sat down to my journal and stared at the blank page for a few minutes before writing down three things I felt grateful for and calling it a day. This morning is obviously different. I’ve written almost four pages, so clearly something had to come up and out. And I probably wouldn’t have started writing if it wasn’t for my meditation practice. Meditating this morning wasn’t easy (it rarely is). I laid awake for hours in the middle of the night before I realized that ruminating wasn’t getting me anywhere so I got up. Meditation serves to calm my nervous system, and in that moment I knew I needed it. Awareness is key.

It feels very uncomfortable to be meeting my shame head on, yet I know it will end up being so cathartic and freeing. A release if you will. Perhaps on some subconscious level, it’s responsible for my insomnia, so I am hoping to feel relief from that too. And if there is anything yoga has taught me, it’s that sometimes we have to sit in the discomfort to relish in the joy of the more easeful posture. It’s why I love a good forward fold after twisted chair. But there wouldn’t be the ease without the effort.

How life is a teacher. Over the years I have collected all of these tools in my self-care toolkit, but it is in this moment I am realizing their importance of them for my spirituality and growth. Yoga, meditation, journaling can often be dismissed as cliche in the wellness world. Practices to aspire to but are only performed by certain “woke” people. But as a human being they are not cliche; they are crucial.

If you are also someone who is working through shame or other big human emotions, know that you are not alone. Disclaimer: I am not a lincesnsed therapist of mental health professional, just a fellow human with a list of things that are helping me. In addition to maintaining my meditation, journaling, and yoga practices, I have created an affirmation around self-compassion, acceptance, self-love and feeling safe. I work regularly with a life coach and she will forever be a part of my support system. I once did acupuncture pretty regularly, and plan to pick it back up. Brene Brown comes to mind as well – she is the shame guru, so I suggest checking out her work if any of this is resonating with you. Coincidentally (although I don’t believe in coincidences, rather synchronicities), I am currently reading Gabby Bernstein’s book Happy Days, and she writes all about this. Just this morning I read a chapter in her book that encourages “speaking your truth” when working through shame. She argues that “a powerful way to shift the shame from the past is to speak your truth in the present…The more we speak up about our suffering the more we contribute to ending the stigma and shifting the shame.” So I guess that is what I am doing too. And you know what? As scary as vulnerability can be, it is the ultimate unifier and I sure do feel better.