On November 9, 2016, the emotional and ideological landscape of our country was transformed. We woke in a land that was unrecognizable. To survive and move forward in this strange new reality, we must create new maps. So together, we are connecting new dots, tracing out new contours. We hope these lines will lead us towards a new horizon, toward a better future we can’t quite imagine or see.
Creating this new map must begin with making sense of what is means to be here, right now. Now that our initial disbelief is not longer tenable (this is really happening) and the moments of gripping fear momentarily subside (California will protect our undocumented families and launch its own damn satellites) and red hot rage stops coursing through our veins (cue videos of baby animals!!), there remains one emotion we can’t seem to shake. It punches us in the gut when I scroll through new headlines or our Facebook feed. It sits with us like a second skin. It’s an inextricable part of our new national identity: shame. For me, at this moment, it’s helpful to take a look at shame, what it means for me and how it shapes the our new topography.
If you want to learn about shame, ask an addict. Shame is something addicts know very well. The downward spiral of addiction looks something like this: craving, resisting, indulging, soaring high, crashing, forgetting, waking up, temples throbbing, mouth dry, stomach gurgling, regretting and a slow descent into the slough of shame. Rinse. Repeat.
In the aftermath of an addictive binge, we find ourselves groping around a dark room trying to discern the many sources of shame. Our minds frantically dance around, picking up frayed wires and trying to figure out where all the loose ends might lead. We scan the room for clues. We check our cell phones frantically. We try to read our partners body language. (“Did I get in a fight with my partner last night? Do I have to admit that I secretly chugged vodka, because I was scared drinking 2 negronis wasn’t enough? What will I feel ashamed for later? Am I an alcoholic? What else don’t I remember? Fuck!) Once the mania calms and the discomfort sets in, shame comes and for the next four years, it’s here to stay.
I have been sober for 1 month now (woo hoo! my first soberversary!), so all of my shame is still very close to the surface. Experts in the world of addiction recovery say there is only one way to release yourself from the shackles of shame: you have to say a lot of shit out loud to a lot of people. You have to connect to others, to find a deep source of humility and admit the things you said and did and in order to begin to release some of the built up pressure.
This whole sobriety thing is new to me, so I am still learning how to talk about my shame. My shame stories come out in unexpected ways. Sometimes, I just blurt it all out in one go. Other times, I dance around the truth until someone forces me to look at it. For example, one of my soul sisters called me from the East Coast last Sunday. It was 8:30am PST and began the conversation with my proud proclamation, “look at me girl! I am now part of the not-hungover masses! There are a lot of old people up at this hour!,” I blurted out as a quickly paced across Asilomar Beach. I hadn’t spoken with her since I had admitted to all my loved ones that I am an alcoholic (read: previous blog post if you haven’t!). I felt like I needed to say something, up front, that acknowledged this new part of my life. Yet, it wasn’t until the end of our 97 minute conversation that I got up the courage to tell her about how I realized I was an alcoholic (read: sneaking vodka from my landlords cupboard and getting black-out drunk and screaming, crying and spewing out a bunch of disconnected thoughts about feminism, masculinity and Trump, and not remembering any of it). She, like a wonderful soul sister does, immediately validated my experience, “You’re so brave. I would never have the balls to steal vodka from my landlord.” She laughed, inhaled and said, calmly and sincerely, “Thank you for telling me that.”
This was the perfect thing to say. I knew she was not encouraging my behavior and she helped me feel like I wasn’t a piece of shit. Because that was shame does to you. It tells you that you are shit. She thanked me for sharing that wound with her and made me feel like I was still worthy of love and friendship.
Needless to say that all I wanted to do for the next hour was blurt out all my shameful secrets. Instead, I walked across the beach feeling disoriented and slight stunned. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and listening to the sound of the shore lapping on the beach. My partner kept asking me questions, but I couldn’t compose a response or even speak in complete sentences. Disconnected thoughts bounced around my brain. My soul sister was so supportive, so why did I still feel so strange?
I’ll spend my life trying to understand shame. Here is why I felt so light headed after my soul sister conversation and here what I know now: Shame grows from secrets. The more secrets we keep from ourselves and others, the more shame we feel. Over time, the secrets build up. Shame is heavy like lead. The weight of shame becomes familiar.
So, in my confession, a weight had started to lift. In it’s place, there is some emptiness. Now I feel some disconnected, frenetic energy bouncing around in that space. My high functioning addictive personality tries to fill emptiness quickly with goals, grants, aspirations and social events. But now I am slowing down. Stripping the bullshit away. Letting that shit go.
I hope that this energy, this empty space gives me the courage I need to keep talking, writing, connecting, to continue drawing my own map in this land that is entirely unknown to me: the brave new world of sobriety and the disgusting, shameful world that is now lead by Donald Trump.
This feeling of emptiness and exposure, of not knowing where to put all our shame and not knowing what happens next, is something we all feel right now. The threads that formed the fabric of our national identity have been torn apart and can’t be sewn back together. There is a part of me that believes that irreparable damage is a good thing. It forces us to confront the simple truth: things are not OK. I am not OK. We are not OK. We haven’t been for a really long fucking time. Let’s pull the skeletons out of the closet, America. Let’s look around, at ourselves and our community. Let’s start sifting through this rubble and come together in a more honest and truthful ways.
When the clock strikes midnight tonight and we say good bye to 2016, I hope to send some of my shame with it. I hope that we have the courage to keep connecting, to move forward towards that line where the sky meets the sea. To keep making our new map together.
As promised, many photos and videos of baby animals will be included in this blog. Above is a photo of Gordon Gonzo Gizmo Gorgonzola (Gizmo or Gizzy for short). We have had him for 3 whole glorious days. Everyday is filled with puppy love and incessant puppy psychobabble. I have referred to Gizzy as “moop bucket, cheese whiz, marsupial monkey pants” and a variety of other nonsensical nicknames aka gibberish, puppy psychobabble. The only disappointing thing about Gizmo is that he seems to be nocturnal. Above he is featured with his favorite pink elephant.