Speaking shame

Locking the front door behind me, I walked to my car last Monday morning as is my ritual, headed for the gym. I opened the driver's side door and saw my new Indio bag dumped on the passenger's side seat, emptied of Kleenex, lip gloss, lotion, random purse detritus and my wallet. Sunflower seeds were everywhere, as if trying to punctuate the awful event. The console was open; my iPod was gone. I remember my heartbeat increasing, breathe getting shorter and stomach churning in that sick, fluttery feeling. All characteristics of me feeling shame.

I hate writing the word "violation" because on top of the horrible act, just using the word feels shaming, as in "I'm bad,". But it was a violation and in this case, my "badness" feels not only accurate but true. I had done something bad. Two bad things in fact: I had left the car unlocked when everyone knows that's not safe and I kept my bag in the car overnight, another "everyone knows" . But as Brene Brown tells us, not talking about shame allows it to thrive. And since I knew that was the last thing I needed, I decided to talk. I alerted the neighborhood list serve. I called the police and told my husband. I told my officemate; I talked about it with a friend and then a local shop owner. Interestingly, it ended up being the Durham police officer who took the report who made me feel okay again first, "It happens to everyone," he told me. "the first time I left my Jeep unlocked, my GPS was stolen." I'm not sure why I assumed a policeman would not be someone to share a violating experience, but there it was. I immediately felt better. He did something that I did and he told me about it. That can be worth its weight in gold to someone in shame.

Here's the thing, even though not everyone's response was as empathetic as the police officer's (I received a single, one sentence email back from someone on the list serve asking which street I lived on, not after me or even sympathy for the crime), I'll do it again. And again, and again and again. Because even though everyone had forgotten that a crime had been committed and some empathy is absolutely deserved, I'm not "bad". I'm a human who made a mistake. In owning the mistake, in sharing my failure and actually dwelling in it a bit, I became in a better place to move past it and not get caught up in negative self-talk or waffling indecision. I know I need that closure to be in the present, focus on what's important now and not get bogged down by what I can't change.


If you're a survivor of family violence/domestic violence/intimate partner violence, you know shame. I know you do because I've been on that shame ship too. A new support group for survivors next week, starts next week, offered for free through Durham Crisis Response Center, facilitated by yours truly. I hope you'll join me.