Shame fascinates me. I am not saying that as if I'm looking at some interesting insect under a microscope that has no relationship to me -- I know shame well. We are ex-lovers who can't end things. Shame is the bit of nicotine that smoothes out the anxiety while it kills you with a sexy crooked smile. Yeah. I know where shame lives. And I visit her often.
I speak to shame frequently at work. I sense it and give it a nickname so the host doesn't hear me and shut down. Shame makes you feel like no one will like you. It mocks you and convinces you that it is right about you: you're stupid and that's why you don't know how to return that item. You're worthless and that's why you made a mistake and ordered the wrong thing. It teases your hope heartstrings and shades it in cross hatched doubt. By the time shame-molested people talk to me they already know I'm not going to care, help, or listen. For what feels physically like hours, I'll wrestle and caress its chin with my fingers, cooing softly while I pull it free. I can't help until I do -- shame is much too jealous to share space.
A few weeks ago a woman left a nasty messages on our company's Facebook page. She wrote about how our advocates weren't advocates at all. Our company was stupid and she would never buy anything from us again. She said that out of three orders we had only successfully fulfilled one. She didn't know how we stayed in business and she was going to tell everyone about how horrible we were. For a minute I needed to deal with my own shame demon so I could tend to hers. And then I went to work convincing her that I did care about the delivery we got wrong. I did care that it was inconvenient. I did care that it cost her time and energy. I waited for her to give me the information to help her further and then a message came into my inbox.
"I deleted my post. The covers for the sofa cushions were underneath the cushions the whole time. I feel so stupid. I am so sorry -- they were here all along," she wrote.
"I am so happy to hear that," I responded, "but you said that there was another order that we messed up, too. Let me see if I can figure out what happened."
And then this message... "You are so kind. I don't deserve it. I was so nasty to you."
I have thought about this woman for the last 2 weeks. Even after she erased the message on the page, the shame persisted. It was as if I was part of her play and was now cast in the role of Miss Ithinkyou'restupid,too. She waited for me to deliver the lines -- to walk downstage and give her exactly what she felt she deserved.
But I didn't want to audition. I only wanted to occupy a place where I could care about her experience. I only wanted a bit of elbow room to stretch and push against the concrete belly she skillfully constructed.
I don't know what it is in me that finds the most talented brick layers. I am not sure what type of ghost I'm challenging or what I'm trying to prove by doing my own version of exorcism day after day. I only know, more than I ever knew anything, like how to find Middle C on the piano or how to hold a double reed between my lips so my teeth don't get in the way, that I get it. There are a million things I've said and done and thought and bore in front of people with really great memories and cameras with terabytes of storage. I've said I'm sorry and stood there without the benefit of filters that blur back fat or creatively mask the dust of gray hair. I get how it feels to be present and hope that someone sees you and still finds you worthy.
Maybe the cure for shame is connection fueled by a ray of hope that leads you to people who find you precious because, not in spite of, your flaws.