For anyone who survived trauma, abuse, neglect, shame or similar atrocities at any age

this applies to you too.

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An Unexpected Find

I found this piece of artwork on my second or third day in the new city.  The store was closing soon, and all of my parts were tired from a long day walking and jet lag.  But this book store (New Renaissance Bookshop) is dedicated to helping people recover (emotional, physical, and spiritual health) through compassion and spirituality combined with alternative paths to medicine or healing.

As soon as I read the words, I knew it was mine.  But this was the last copy.  And I didn’t want one more item to carry home.  So I asked for it to be held until the next day.  The storekeeper allowed me to put it on hold, and I walked out feeling happy, yet ashamed of myself.  The nasty words and criticisms started up in my head…so quietly at first I didn’t even notice.

Blessings from a Higher Power

The next morning, I headed straight to the store for extra browsing time.  Each part of the store was dedicated to a different topic.  Along with books, the store sold healing crystals, hand crafted dream catchers, singing bowls, jewelry, meditation accessories, music, art, yoga supplies, tea, and more.  One might call it my version of heaven on earth 🙂

As I browsed through the store, something else caught my eye.  It was a book about shame:

It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion by Beverly Engel

But not the typical book that discusses shame in general terms and explains how to overcome or live without shame.  This book is dedicated to understanding trauma-induced shame and how that kind of shame negatively affects adult survivors (or former victims) of childhood abuse and neglect.

Adults, teens, and any other survivor who struggles with shame will find this book helpful relevant to their recovery as well.  And loved ones, friends, and connections of survivors will definitely benefit from reading this book.  The first part discusses in detail (without being dramatic or overly gory) the connections between childhood abuse/neglect, shame, how layers of shame can be induced by different experiences, the negative affects of shame in one’s life, and how shame is different from guilt.

Normally, I do not like to follow books that offer cures and programs.  They tend to lack flexibility needed to accommodate differences unique to each reader.  But this one is different.  I skimmed Chapter 1 because many of the case studies were similar to case studies in other books.  But I read Chapters 2 and 3 a few times; had to skip over some parts and go back because of triggers.

What Ms. Engel writes about shame answers many of the questions I’ve posed in other posts about shame in such a way that I feel validated for not settling by believing the current misconceptions about compassion, empathy, slow recovery, and bringing the secrets to light by talking about taboo topics.  And yes, I do talk about them in other places too.

I’ve just started Chapter 4 and will share what I learn in other posts.  But I encourage anyone who’s hit a wall in recovery or wonders how to work through the feelings of shame stopping them from moving forward or causing them to act out in ways they regret later (me) or self-harm through neglect, recklessness, injury, etc. (that is/was me too) to explore the book in the link above.  Amazon is great for reading samples and looking at reviews before making a purchase.

Making the connection

The next few days, I struggled with reading, not reading, following through on my plans vs. lying in bed and hiding, and ignoring the louder and louder critical voices in my head that exacerbated my physical pain.  The book came with me to bed.  It got carried down the ladder from my loft to the ground floor and stayed on a box.  It went into the bathroom and came out again.

Finally, I opened the book and started reading.  My head started hurting.  I had to put it down.  Later, I decided to start in another section of the book and go back and forth, re-reading parts as necessary.  And that’s when I made the connection:

The voices started because I felt happy and proud of myself.  For the first time ever, I bought a piece of art and displayed it in my apartment with pride and joy.  I walked around and talked to people on the street.  I took buses to different neighborhoods.  Rude people didn’t trigger panic attacks.  And buying a book about shame didn’t make me feel nauseous or panicky.  I shopped for home; spent money eating at different restaurants; drank beer with pleasure; got a library card; decorated my space; put together furniture; didn’t get triggered into a panic attack when people were rude or stared at me and  then ignored me.

The pain came because I exercised, walked, danced, and played so much that I was too tired to let the anxiety and adrenaline keep me awake in spite of jet lag.  I slept without nightmares, waking only because of time zone differences and the need to use the facilities.  Not until last night/this morning did I wake up in the middle of the night scared and unable to go back to sleep for hours.  A call to the hotline helped.  And making phone calls to follow up on packages, etc. did too.

But what helped the most was listening to the person on the phone as he listened to me, validated my feelings, saw my pain and offered compassion that I couldn’t give myself.  Eventually, I started to relax and believe that.  When the sun started to rise, I felt sleepy again and slept for a few hours.

Today I started Chapter 4 in Part 2 – the beginning of the program and exercises.  Reading these passages helped me realize that I hold myself back, stop myself from doing what I want, neglect personal care and house cleaning out of feelings of shame that stem from my abuse.  Moving helped.  But this will help more.  And maybe I’ll be able to clean house and stay organized like I wish.  Or go to the dentist and be able to take proper care of my mouth/teeth like I want.

Conclusion

Before this book, especially the questionnaires in each chapter, I never really knew how embedded shame is in my life.  It continues to stop me from living and being the best I can be in so many insidious ways.  Self-compassion is such a struggle, yet so beneficial.  Maybe this book will offer resources and strategies that bridge the disconnect between mainstream books and survivors’ or victims’ perspectives.

Thanks for reading

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