Friday my dear friend Lisa blessed me with an hour-long phone conversation. She’s one of those friends that everyone needs in their life.
The friend who isn’t afraid of tough love. The one who outwardly calls you on your stuff and doesn’t back down until you promise her you will start thinking differently. But also isn’t afraid to share her own stuff, too, so you don’t feel alone.
We got on the topic of shame, and I told her I don’t understand why I feel the way I do right now because I’ve worked hard over the past few years to let go of my shame. As a pretense, I was having a woe-is-me moment thinking about how my 40th birthday is around the corner, and my life doesn’t look like I’d imagined it to be at age 40.
I began ticking off one-by-one all the shame I felt about my past and how I’d let it go.
She said, “Kellie, you think that shame fits into neat little boxes. This shame fits in this box, and I will put this shame in another box. It doesn’t work like that. Shame is a feeling of being unworthy, not a series of events.”
I knew she was right. I’m a master compartmentalizer, and I wanted shame to fit into tiny cardboard boxes I could seal up and stow away like unsolved FBI cases.
She went on to ask me if I trust my kids. “Of course I do… for the most part.”
“And do you trust yourself.”
A long pause followed before I replied, “Not really. But I’ve done a good job at teaching my kids how to be in tune with their emotions, and pretty much all the skills I lack as a human.”
I chuckled. She didn’t join in.
“Kids learn not by what you say to them, but by how you act.”
Inside of these unsolved case files I’ve piled high in my gut, I’ve also stuffed emotions. Nearly the entire spectrum of emotions that we are supposed to feel. I confessed to her that I can’t cry. Not for myself. I cry if I see someone else in pain, even if it’s a movie.
But I can’t cry over my own pain.
“Like a cyborg.”
“Exactly. I’ve gotten the life coaching. The therapy. I’ve read every book and study and article on shame and emotions. I can only describe myself as stalwart and steadfast. If something goes wrong, I am determined to forge through it-- bullheaded as I can be.”
“You are not a cyborg. I want you to stop consuming information and start writing. Journal about your emotions. Your shame, your own feelings.”
“Got it.” If I can do anything, it's check the boxes. She was giving me another box to check, so I thought, and I love the satisfaction of checking boxes.
“Sooooo… if you were to have me read one book on how to do this, you know, journal about my feelings…”
“Kellie, don’t read another damn book.”
I sat with this all night. I shared the conversation with my daughter in the car the next day. “I think of myself as having high emotional intelligence. I get other people’s emotion. I can feel them in my bones. But I don’t get mine.”
She stared me dead in the face, “Uh, huh.”
“I guess everyone knows this about me, but me?”
I took a deep breath. I had to figure out how to do this. The emotional journaling. I stared at the blank pages trying to muster thoughts about my emotions.
This morning while in the bath I played Oprah’s Super Soul interview with Brene Brown on her book Rising Strong. I did promise Lisa no more information consumption, but as someone who prides herself on being a human encyclopedia…
… that task was harder than writing about my feelings.
In the interview, the women talked about regret. Brene said something so profound it rendered me breathless for a moment.
She said, “I’ve grown to learn regret is a fair but tough teacher. Regret is a function of empathy. So when people say, ‘I have no regrets’ I think that seems dangerous to me.”
That’s my emotional blockage.
I’ve been carrying this prideful story around of ‘no regrets’ in my life. Telling everyone and anyone I meet, “I don’t regret anything in my life, because every stitch of my experience wove the fabric of who I am today.” blah blah blah
This fabric of me. The fabric dyed onyx with shame, I learned to wear it as a badge of honor.
If I wanted to let go of shame, really let go, and start feeling through my emotions I had to admit my regrets.
Not necessarily to the world, but to myself.
I held zero space for self-empathy because I didn’t allow an ounce of regret to seep into the threads of my tapestry.
In truth. I regret a lot in my life. By pretending these regrets don’t exist, I’ve stained my emotions with this black, sticky ink that hardened my feelings.
How can I proclaim to be an empath for others when I have no empathy for myself?
If I cannot go soft and limber, fall to my knees, and ask myself for forgiveness? Who am I to say I express forgiveness for others?
I began to feel an emotional release when words flowed onto the paper admitting my regrets.
Like being underwater holding stale air in my lungs. I was afraid to exhale because I didn’t know when my next breath would be… it was finally released.
A long, full exhale knowing my next draw of oxygen was pure and fresh… and there would be another and another just like it.
I learned it’s okay to have regrets because, as Brene says, they encourage us to act differently when given another chance. We regret something when we still have a chance to do-over.
There is not a day in our lives that we can’t do-over. We have to wake up and make a choice to act differently than the day before.
When we say we have no regrets, we are only fooling ourselves. Instead of forgiving ourselves and moving on, we flail about in the riptide until we can no longer stay afloat.
That’s no way to live. Going forward, I think I will choose to live with and release regret.
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