Shame is a tyrannical companion. It secretly dictates every thought, every word and every deed. It is a bully. And often, as is the case with bullies, it's tactics are so difficult to define and nail down that it gets away with it's destructive antics for a very long time before it finally gets kicked to the curb.
Shame defined many years of my life. She was a tyrannical companion I hauled around, strapped securely on my back without my even recognizing it's existence. She morphed into a voice which I wrongly recognized as my own. She whispered to me 'they don't like you, you aren't accepted, he only sees your body, you'll never be good enough for them' and other angry and hurtful phrases. Shame murmured in my ear about rejection, disapproval, and mental illness. I wore her like a shield, unwittingly using her to protect me from reasonable expectations.
My stomach lurches uncomfortably as I consider the way Shame twisted my thinking. What a waste all those years were, when I believed that the babblings of shame defined who I was! I didn't notice she was an outside voice at all, it had become ME.
Reflecting over the past, I can see that I scarcely gave even the briefest thought to my actions in 1991. Such a foreign concept to me now, as today I analyze everything for motive and purpose. But then, I simply existed, with the hope that I'd somehow stumble onto the ONE who would finally cherish me. And yet......I had no real understanding of what love even looked like. Experience had been an effective teacher, love was sex, physical approval. That is what I sought. And that was distorted thinking.
Almost from the moment I moved out of the apartment Chad and I shared, I began hunting. I was literally grasping at anyone and everything that might fill the emptiness I held inside. One man I pursued a relationship with was a Deputy who was easily 10 years older than I and could most aptly be described as a womanizer. But I was too naive to realize his predilections. I suppose he was in the same predicament as I, he too was searching for something that was proving elusive.
Another man was really just a boy, perhaps 17, who thought he loved me immediately after we met. Interestingly, he was perhaps the most decent guy I encountered during that whirlwind of promiscuity. But he liked me too much and it scared me, perhaps reminding me of Chad. So I used him and went hunting again. The list goes on, but a couple stand out as especially harmful to my soul because I think each of them solidified in me an element of shameful identity.
The first was an encounter with a woman friend of mine. She and I had been friends for a while and she was in the middle of a separation from her husband. I'll call her Lucy. Lucy and I shared in the misery that comes when dreams crash down, this commonality brought us into a sort of sisterhood. We fell into the questionable habit of visiting one another and comparing notes late into the night. (I say questionable because, basically, we were just gossiping. No good ever comes of that.)
There's something profoundly shadowed about night and the way it sometimes seems to breed an even deeper darkness. Things you'd never consider in the light of day can be given birth in the dead of night. Perhaps that's why we have such phrases as 'dead of night' or 'witching hour'.
I can still see the way the room looked the first time we entertained the idea of having an affair with one another. We sat on Lucy's bed, chatting about intimacy, about what it was like to be a lover. A single bare bulb fixture lit the room, glaring a harsh, shadowed light onto the rumpled sheets. The naked lamp was a stark reminder of the painful reality of our lives. 'What do you think of trying something together?' I asked. Her face registered shock and surprise, but quickly recovered and turned into something sly, trying to laugh off the scandal of what I'd just suggested. Her manner held an air of superiority, as if she wanted me to know that she was greatly more expert at such considerations than I. 'Hmmm, maybe sometime.' she replied, and left it at that.
But a switch had been flipped in my mind. I began to obsess over this new possibility. For the next week or two I examined it in my mind. The idea of sexual intimacy with a woman seemed like it held a kind of safety. The fact that this woman and I already had a close friendship only served to deepen that particular appeal. Lucy and I shared many of our deepest thoughts and had done so for at least a couple of years. She knew me and I knew her and that was attractive all by itself. It seemed as though she really cared for me.
I pursued her. It was a recent revelation for me that I used to have a tendency to seduce. It's not something I like the sound of, but there it is, true. Seduction is self-serving. Its aim is getting it's own needs met. Seduction doesn't think for a moment about the consequence to the other party. In my case, I had a felt need and I reasoned that Lucy would be the safest way to pursue getting it filled. I never thought at all how it might affect her.
One night, during the hours when we should have been sleeping, Lucy and I gave ourselves to one another in sexual intimacy. This moment is one of the heaviest moments of shame I've carried. We each concluded that girls weren't for us and didn't need to experiment further to be certain. We knew. Yet the shame contorted my soul. I had the sense that no one must ever know about this and I carried that burden alone for 20 years before I shared it with another soul.
The other incident that is seared into my memory was one night with a seemingly anonymous man named Brock. I met Brock at a party on Davis Monthan Air Force Base back when you could still drive on base relatively freely. I'd been invited by someone I didn't know and when I got there, I still knew no one. The only thing to drink was beer from a keg, which is typical at such parties. I never have been a beer drinker, but I wanted to be part of things, so I grabbed my Red Solo Cup and began 'fitting in'.
I don't remember much about that party. What I do recall was that the house where it was being held was owned/rented by Brock. I stayed until the end. Brock was handsome....... if indifferent. The conversation I had with Brock is completely unmemorable. I think he was the sort of guy that had VERY LITTLE to say. What I recall was asking if I could stay the night, to which he responded agreeably. I recall sex.
Nothing like love.
What I recall was something that felt dead........empty.
And it all happened very late into the dark night.
I didn't sleep at all and in the morning, I simply left, with a bottle of orange juice in hand. It was Brock's only offering to me. I called him a time or two, but I never heard anything from him.
Why did that stick in my memory? I think because I felt so cold and dead before, during and after. It had felt mechanical. In every other case where I was with someone, there was at least some level of relationship. With this man, there had been nothing at all. Just sex.
I hear about people having one night stands all the time. In the world, there is an attitude that this is fun and exciting. People imply that it is an adventure of sorts and that they enjoy having no emotional ties. And yes, I do mean women, as well as men. I can't relate to that being a good thing. This instance may be one of the largest regrets I have because I gave something of myself to someone who literally couldn't care less. And I chose to do that. I could see right up front that Brock was indifferent and I went forward, allowing myself to be used with no tenderness of any kind. I think that to me, it seemed like how it would be for a prostitute.
I felt like a whore.
There'd been girls back in high school, my Freshman year, who'd walked behind me one day as I was heading to class, who'd said as much, only slightly under their breath. I'd been wearing a short, tight skirt and very high heels. I looked the part and I knew it. I didn't want to be labeled that way.........but there I was. That title had stuck. Slut.
With Brock, I felt I'd confirmed those girls title for me.
Shame, the tyrant, held sway over my heart for decades. Through the choices I had made, I'd given Shame license to teach me who I am.