One of my pre-teenage memories of shame involved a launderette. I must have been 12 or so and Mums copper ( an archaic washing machine ) at home broke down so we trooped off to the local machine wash. My first embarasment involved both of us not knowing how to operate the machine – convinced that the whole launderette was watching us fumble. The shame of it all. The pain of public failure. Then THE most shaming thing happened. My mum opened the machine front loader and we both STARED at a very clean and hot used condom sitting all on it’s own in the metal drum. Silence kills. Do we remove it? or move to another machine having put the money in?
We called the service lady and shame clouded over in a flash as she fished it out with rubber gloves for all to see. Heads ducked down, papers read, windows were scoured and lips pursed. On another occasion when I was 16 we had moved to a new house and friends of my parents stayed for the weekend so mum & dad gave them their bedroom and so they slept on the PUT-U-UP in the lounge. In the morning I helped them fold the bed up and we STARED again at a torn Durex wrapper on the carpet. Can you imagine? They were still ” doing it “. The shame of it all.
In their book : Letting Go of Shame/Understanding How Shame Affects Your life – Ronald & Patricia Potter-Efron explain about shame being a universal emotion. ” Shame temporarily disconnects people from each other. For example, women in America and many other societies will often modestly look away when they notice someone showing sexual interest in them, even if they are interested in the other person. The message they may be giving ( only under certain circumstances, of course ) is that their sexuality is too powerful to openly express in public. Similarly, people will ordinarily avoid eye contact when a situation threatens to become too potent ”
This made me think how we interchange with each other on the London underground trains, the place where no-one speaks except crack heads, beggars or anyone from Spain.The British culture prefers to ” look away ” to avoid upset, confrontation or shame. Now good old British shame is no different from American shame or Swedish shame ( however – the Italians ARE shameless – look at the revolving governments ) and if fear is universal then shame follows close behind.
John Bradshaw talks about the core of codependency being ” toxic shame ” developed and nurtured from family of origin. Until we release our innermost shames we can never be free. We create our own prison cell. Anyone in 12 Step Recovery will understand 4th Step value or simply the release of sharing. This is all therapy is – letting go with love. It is also about booting out judgement and guilt – the mafia of the mind.
Next time you get on the Underground ( tube train ) use it as a meditation space. Watch and see who avoids your eye contact, be observant and recognise that you are part of these peoples lives, you hold a place, there is no separation of humanity. By observing others you observe yourself and by practicing the art of full eye contact when listening or speaking, you find more clarity within yourself. This is the antidote to shame. And next time you like someone who stares back at you in a sexy way – for christ sake SMILE not hide away. It costs nothing.
I am not suggesting you travel the tube or walk the streets with the smile of someone with the look of community care or just found Jesus but I am suggesting that you focus on each opportunity to drop shame and fear. Shame takes a long time to dissolve so erase the hasty cure with small bites, note each day where and when shame arises and use that powerful mantra FEEL IT, CLAIM IT, DUMP IT. Recovery is not about how much shame you have but how long you hold on to it once noted, so find a spiritual launderette to wash, spin & open up your heart to light.