SHAME CORKSCREW AND A FAIRY DRAGMOTHER
By: Lauren Anderson
Ever had those days/ weeks/ months/ moments in your life where you feel like you just keep falling short? Like no matter what you try and no matter how hard you attempt to show up for something, you just can’t seem to hit the mark?
Yeah… me neither. I’m perfect and this never happens.
Whew! Excuse me, but I needed that laugh.
For those of you who cannot decipher sarcasm on the written page, let me be clear here: I was being very very sarcastic. Because last week just about trounced me.
I felt like everything I tried and all my efforts were a day late and a dollar short. I thought I was giving my all, but it just never quite seemed like enough.
And then every time I attempted things and felt like I was failing, it made it that much harder to go out and do the next thing. It was like I was stuck in a machine of duplicating errors, each feeding off the other until there was nowhere to run. Like I was stuck in an episode of annoying propagating critters on the Sci-Fy network.
At least I recognized it as it was happening. But just because you notice a train being derailed, doesn’t exactly mean you have the Spiderman skills to stop it, ya know?
The worst part is, I bet from the outside no one would know this is what I’d been feeling. No one would notice the slight, yet ever-present, self-criticizing cloud that was covering me like dubious fog. Or maybe they did and just didn’t say? I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. Or maybe they didn’t notice and they just think I’m mediocre at EVERYTHING I ATTEMPT IN LIFE.
Oh dear. That’s bad, gang. I was in a real guilt/shame corkscrew. Churning down down down…
So what do I do when I feel like this? Well, in general, I think a lot of times I end up letting myself go all the way down before I can pull myself back out. It’s an unfortunate time-sucker, but I’ve yet to come up with a better solution. Sometimes the only way out is through.
But this weekend, I just had to look up.
I was walking downtown headed to work to do a show that I was feeling nervous about, really in my head. Running lines and trying to thwart off impending imposter syndrome. Trying desperately to avoid the old nag that tells me I’m not good enough. Or the angry voice in my head that says “Can’t! Shouldn’t! Don’t!”
And bam! I smack straight into someone on the street. I guess my face was pointing directly at the sidewalk, because I was dazed by the sudden impact. I stumbled back and was steadied by their hands.
They grabbed my elbows and said, “Whoa Sugar!”
It took the full force of the blow, and being called “Sugar” to break me from my trance. I looked up and saw a person dressed in full beautiful drag, holding my elbows and looking down at me.
“Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed. So embarrassed, but also in awe of the bountiful wig and sequins standing in front of me. It took this drag goddess, holding my arms, and holding me for me to really get it.
They just simply said, “No worries! Happy Pride!” And strutted across the street to join the party.
As I watched them cross the street, I noticed myself standing up straight, for the first time all weekend.
If this sounds like it’s straight out of a movie, well believe me, the serendipity of it all wasn’t lost on me either. Because I was shook. I stood on the corner, taking it all in. I looked up as if for the first time and noticed a sea of color and people on the street. Downtown was buzzing with all manner of Pride celebrations. There were literal flags on the lampposts encouraging us to love ourselves and each other.
And I missed it all.
Until the universe sent my fairy drag-mother to shake me from my own head. I saw people dancing and laughing. Out to celebrate who they are, and the right to be exactly the way they were created. A lot of them claiming victories that were probably more hard-won then I will ever know.
And I teared up. Oh yes. I teared up right there.
I was so in my head guilting and shaming myself for small crimes against no one, that I didn’t even realize how much I was missing. How much there was to be grateful for.
And I started to think about guilt and shame, and what it can do to you. Especially when you are forced to hold all that in, and keep it to yourself. I mean that’s kind of why these nationwide Pride celebrations started. Visibility. So no one would have to feel alone.
Later that night, I was talking to my bud, who is a huge fan of the author and Ted Talk guru Brene Brown. Brown defines shame and guilt in terms that I love. Because it really feels like the most accurate description.
Brene Brown says that Guilt means, “I did something bad.” Like when we make a mistake, or let someone down. We may have guilty feelings.
But Shame means, “I am bad.” I feel bad because I am bad. The things I do and think are wrong. Etc.
This is such a clean and clear definition of the two. Because I think they often get lumped together, but in truth are two very different things. And unfortunately, they often feed into each other.
I was feeling guilty this past week, because I wasn’t living up to the expectations I had set for myself. I felt like I was letting people down. And even though they never said, and there was no consequence– I just couldn’t shake the feeling.
That guilt eventually compounded itself, because I never spoke it out to anyone. I tried to hold it in on my own. So by the end of the week, my guilt turned into shame. Now, not only was I thinking I was I doing bad things, but now I was also thinking– I AM BAD.
So much so that I could be standing in the middle of a downtown bustling street during literally one of the most colorful celebrations of the year and not even realize it.
I had corkscrewed my way all the way down. And it took a little accidental intervention with a drag queen to pull me back out again.
I guess sometimes the universe really does send you what you need.
Because if that drag queen taught me anything this weekend, it’s that sometimes you need someone outside yourself to steady you by the arms and tell you to “Whoa Sugar.”
But what do I do now? As fortunate as it was, I can’t rely on that drag queen for the rest of my life. I mean, they’re busy! They’ve got masses to entertain! So what’s up? How can I undo the corkscrew when it decides to descend?
Well, again, I think I should be inspired by this past weekend Pride celebration. When I feel guilt and shame, I need to reach out. I need to be reminded that I’m not alone. That things are better than they seem and that there is hope in numbers.
After all, guilt and shame are part of the human condition. We are more alike than we are different.
And sometimes a courageous act is huge. Like defending the right to love who you want to love, and being who you truly are.
And sometimes a courageous act is small. Like confiding in someone that you’re feeling pretty guilty because you don’t quite feel good enough.
And a courageous act of any size is reason enough to be proud.