By: Jessica Scire, Guest Blogger
Brené Brown is a professor and researcher who writes about shame, vulnerability, and courage—emotions that we all grapple with no matter how hard we try to dodge them. In her recent book, which I am recommending hardcore to everyone, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brown provokes many “Aha!” moments. Page after page, line after line, I found myself nodding and agreeing with her explanation of these imperfect emotions. It was almost as though she watched me grow up under a microscope and knew me better than myself. Often throughout the book Dr. Brown refers to her own “breakdown Spiritual Awakening” that led her to embark on a journey of Wholehearted Living: a powerful mindset that ensures the notion of “I am enough.” The reader sees Brown’s thinking as she crosses out the negatively associated word, “breakdown,” and replaces it with “Spiritual Awakening,” a beautiful lens to look at transformation. I think we all have had that light bulb moment, where an experience or event challenges the way we think, makes us aware and (positively) changed forever.
I was dating my old, high school boyfriend, my first love, my best friend, my everything. We had a connection that I couldn’t describe if I spent the rest of my life trying to. It was like our bodies shared the same soul and we couldn’t possibly ever be without each other. One day, I shockingly found out that my life for the past four years had been one, big, fat lie. He had deceived me in the worst way. He was incredibly untruthful about his actions and behaviors for a very long time, and I was naïve enough to never catch on. It felt like I was punched in the gut but the fist was never released. He was getting on a flight to Florida to get help, assuring me he was going just for his own therapeutic purposes. “I need to talk to someone about my anxiety,” he lied. And I, judgmental and angry on the inside, sweetly encouraged him to go, to take care of himself –totally ignorant of any boundaries I should have set for myself, like the right to know why he was leaving. His secret finally surfaced once it was too late: the lying, the stealing, the manipulation. He was already gone.
He was addicted to drugs, and I was addicted to him.
I got the phone call from his mom two days after he had left. Although she made it seem like it was news to her, I knew it wasn’t. That hurt a lot, and it still does. She knew. They all knew all along. I wasn’t important enough to tell, to save, to protect. Perhaps that is not how it was, but that’s how it felt. That was the day I decided that if I wasn’t important enough to some people, I was going to be important enough for me. I was going to be my own superhero, my own knight in shining armor, my own guardian angel. I was going to make myself a priority and set some Goddamn boundaries for the first time. While he was getting sober for seven months kicking his habit of snorting god knows what, I was getting sober from him and all of the delusional feelings and limitless boundaries that I allowed myself to carry throughout the relationship.
Shattered doesn’t begin to describe how my heart felt. I broke down, I cried, I yelled, I punched, I kicked, I screamed, I prayed. I had a lot of work to do, and this time I would be doing this work all by myself. I thought a lot about how badly he wronged me, but thought even more about how I wronged myself. I reevaluated my self-worth, my needs, and my limits.
“They were afraid that if you knew, you’d leave me and they were afraid of what would happen to me.” It all seemed like a good excuse as to why I wasn’t informed of his addiction. But then I really thought about it: What would happen to him? What about me? I was beside myself, alone, in fear, and incredibly ashamed of what had happened and that I let it happen (even though that is not what I believe today, it was how I felt).
I choose to tell my story here because I WANT to speak my shame. Shame cannot live once spoken. When we feel ashamed, we keep it to ourselves, and it boils up inside. Once we speak it, it has no room to grow. Once spoken and acknowledged, more than likely someone else will empathize and relate. Brown defines shame from her research as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” He left; therefore I am unworthy of love and belonging. Taking it a step further, I was afraid that if I spoke this shame, I would be defined by it. I would be the stupid girl who couldn’t even tell that her boyfriend had a major problem. I confided in my family; I had to as a means to survive. Then I started revealing my story to one friend at a time about what had happened. I could feel something happening. It was a feeling of liberation and safety. I felt free and I felt safe. He couldn’t hurt me anymore. I needed to share and own my story in order to access my feeling of worthiness. Shame cannot live once spoken.
I promised that I would set boundaries for myself, take care of me, and never be sorry for asking what I need because quite clearly, no one else is going to do it. I went to the mall and bought myself a “Promise ring.” It’s a pretty, little silver ring I wear each day. After I bought it, I rushed to the car, removed all of the frilly tissue paper and ribbons and slid it onto my right ring finger. I proclaimed out loud to myself, “Jessica, this is a promise to yourself. That you will always love yourself. You will always allow your light to shine and guide those who seem stuck. You will live honestly in laughter and in light taking care of beautiful you.” I remind myself of that promise and ask God to guide me in that each day.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown writes:
Before the breakdown, I was sweeter—judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside—but sweeter on the outside. Today, I think I’m genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental and resentful, and way more serious about boundaries. I have no idea what this combination looks like on the outside, but it feels pretty powerful on the inside.
Before my breakdown Spiritual Awakening, I was so sensitive as to how others perceived me. I wanted to be the nicest, the sweetest, and the kindest. What I didn’t realize was that if I wasn’t these things to myself first and foremost, it was pretty much impossible to be these things to others in a genuine way. I needed to understand my own boundaries, needs, and wants before I could respect anyone else’s. I needed to realize that things happen and sometimes we are not the ones to blame. Instead, we are the strong ones. We are the ones who can pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and say “Hit me again! I dare you!” I needed to know that everyone has his or her own experiences that shape who they are and why—and these need to be sincerely recognized. The breakdown allowed me to have much more compassion and respect for the human being and her experiences, emotions, boundaries, and beliefs. The breakdown allowed me to have much more compassion for myself.
Today, I do not desire to be the kindest, the sweetest, or the nicest. I do not spend half as much time thinking about what others think of me. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. It doesn’t matter because I know this: I made a promise to myself to live my life in light and love. If I can do that each day, and try my best to leave this world a little better than I found it because I genuinely care, then that is enough. If I feel like I need to talk about something, or confront someone about an issue, I am ten times more likely to do it now compared to before the breakdown, because I am confident in who I am and what I believe. Being myself, living honestly, and spreading the love makes for an incredibly powerful feeling—one I now cannot live without.
Jessica is a 26-year-old woman living in the Boston area. She teaches Pre-K in Boston, MA and is currently working towards her M.Ed.Jess is a co-leader of I AM THAT GIRL: Boston Chapter. She loves spending time with her family and friends, reading, laughing, playing with her dog, going for walks, and eating ice cream.
Featured image via redbubble.com