SHAME vs GRATITUDE
Shame is a powerful thing. It locks things up inside of you that, if released, could free others of their own. It hides you away from the things that truly matter.
Nothing has ever changed quite so much for me as it has in 2013. And that’s saying something, because I’ve seen a lot of change. I spent my childhood on television sets and my adolescence in lockdown treatment centers. I’ve bounced around from state to state, never quite sure where I would land. Still, 2013 has been something special. Because for once, every change was a fire and no one but me had lit the flame.
I got into my top choice grad school. I graduated. I moved into my own place. Adult life has begun. It has stayed pretty consistent that way.
That’s not to say it’s been easy the whole time. Around the time of this cosmic planet alignment of prosperity some other things fell apart. I experienced a little bit of a nervous breakdown. I got a terrible and chronic case of hives that I’m still fighting every day. I was trying to graduate and trying to get ready for a new school I would start merely months later. I was dealing with the loss of moving out of my childhood home. It was a lot, and shame was once again my co-pilot, urging me to give up.
But 2013 has changed almost everything for me. I’ve entered a Marriage and Family therapy program that turned me upside down and emptied my pockets, shook me around a little and gave me a noogie as soon as I walked in the door. Every deep-rooted fear, anxiety, emotion, insecurity and doubt I’ve ever had is sitting passenger side along the ride every day, just as I expected it to be. I’ve met people who care more about me, and whom I care more about, in the short 4 months I’ve known them than I have ever experienced with other human beings. We explore our flaws together. We cry together. We share the humbling knowledge that we are being given the incredible power to help people someday, and we are terrified by the implications of that responsibility. Everybody is a little raw. But I think, already, we love each other. And that’s something special. That’s something I’ve never really had.
I don’t know what kind of therapist I’m going to be. But I do know that two years ago being a therapist was an often-quieted dream in the back of my head, something I pushed backward with another confirmation of “well that’ll never happen.” It went in the same locked drawer with my 5th grade aspirations of being a marine biologist. Why? Because I was sure I couldn’t do it. Because I was sure I could never be strong enough to help others when I can barely help myself. Because I was absolutely convinced that someone like me would never be able to graduate college, and the thought of a graduate program at a school like USC was absolutely laughable. Shame had made me absolutely convinced of my inevitable failure. It’s funny what happens when, just for a moment, you question shame’s convictions and see for yourself.
2013 has changed everything, and it’s easy to forget to be grateful. I never fathomed I would be here, and every day I doubt myself. “I could’ve done better on that test, I didn’t have the answer to that question, how am I ever going to sit in a room with a client and pretend to know how to help them? I’m not good enough to be here, they made a mistake admitting me, everyone is going to find out what a fraud I am any minute. Who would trust me with their mental health when I can’t be trusted with my own?” This is the mantra playing in my head every single time I’m at school. Rarely do I come home feeling good about myself and my future as a therapist. Often I come home and need a bubble bath and a glass of wine and try to keep from stewing in every insecurity I have.
Shame tells us we must wait until we’re perfect before we begin. But the moment we’re perfect is never going to come.
I don’t know yet what 2014 will bring. But as of now I’m pursuing my dream. I live in a nice apartment with a nice roommate and a nice job. I go to my top choice school and I’m on track to do what I love for the rest of my life. Everyone I love is happy and healthy and a phone call or drive away. It’s easy to forget these things when we’re caught up in the running dialogue shame puts in our heads. It’s nice to shut it up once in a while and listen to gratitude instead.