Accepting What Is, Part II: Healing Shame with the Power of Counseling

With my childhood being what it was, and my life since then being what it has been, I have carried the weight of a lot of shame without even realizing it. I knew even as a young child that the food stamps my mother fed my brother and I with were BAD.

It was BAD that my parents were divorced, BAD that my parents got remarried, BAD that their marriages were abusive. It was BAD when my mother lost her health and became disabled, BAD that I was a child with health concerns that were often humiliating and made me the subject of scorn and ridicule both at home and in public.

I was BAD too, because I struggled to cope with being abused so viciously that I was stripped and photographed by the police in the counselor's office at my school when I was in third grade. Because I had it BAD at home. I was BAD because I struggled to cope with the presence of sexual advances I shouldn't have had to live with, BAD because my self-preservation as a second-grader ended up putting someone else in danger. BAD because I was the poor kid, the fat kid, the kid with health problems that were all too visible. I was BAD because I struggled in school - not because I wasn't bright, but because I couldn't focus, because I lived in a state of constant fear and anxiety, because I never knew where "home" would be at the end of the day or when I would have a chance to feel safe again.

I was BAD because my mother suffered crippling health problems worsened by PTSD and other mental illnesses that led her to become increasingly unstable. My uncle told me I was BAD because at fifteen I had a boyfriend and at sixteen I accepted a proposal from him. It was BAD because I was in a committed serious relationship that was sexually active, and I made our family look BAD because other people would think I was a slut. I was BAD because we were poor and somehow it was my fault, BAD because the bills didn't always get paid (even though I was too young to do anything about that, nor should I have had to). BAD because when I was sixteen, my mother, my boyfriend and I were homeless and living in a motel room. BAD because even though I was still struggling to succeed in school and overcome the stigma of what others knew about my health, it was somehow because I was so BAD that we were in such a tough spot.

It kept on from there, and somehow I never managed to get less BAD. I was a BAD girlfriend, a BAD wife. When my first daughter was born with a heart defect and correcting it brought her ADHD to full fruition, I took the next step and became a BAD mother because I chose to medicate her and give her the chance at success that I never had, rather than abuse her in an attempt to spank the ADHD out of her. I was also BAD because I was a stay-home mother for many years, secretly battling the decline of my mental health as I endured a relationship I deeply valued but never quite seemed to live up to because I was BAD at being kinky enough, being fun enough, being ... anything enough.

It took me years to overcome the soul-deep belief that everything I just typed was true. It took me years to overcome the pain of believing that I somehow deserved to be abused, that I deserved to be openly despised as a second grader, that I deserved to be beaten so severely and so frequently as a third grader ... that I deserved to be sent away to a group home as a fourth grader.

And maybe? Maybe I'm not quite over that. Maybe it's all still with me.

Maybe it's why I was so ashamed for so long that I actively denied my need for help and refused to seek counseling. Maybe it's why it took figuring out the right way to kill myself - because I firmly and truly believed that I held no inherent value to anyone and that would never change - to scare me into going to therapy. Maybe it's why even that was borne of shame, because my desire to avoid suicide and my determination to never even attempt to take that step lies only in the direct and personal knowledge of what it feels like to have a parent attempt suicide, rolled together with the rock solid promise that I will never allow my children to feel that pain.

Maybe it's because I wanted so much for my children never to suffer the sense of unmistakable, unescapable BADness that I grew up so convinced of.

And yet, they do. Through their exposure to the coldness of our society, they are shamed for their appearances, for their bodies, for their health problems, for their friendships, for their clothing choices and music preferences. They are ridiculed for the toys they enjoy, for the frequency of their desire - or lack of desire - for physical affection, and even for the utensils they eat with. They are shamed for their circumstances, for their presence, for their age-appropriate and entirely normal reactions to the challenges before them. They are shamed for their fears and desires, for their dreams and their wishes, for their vulnerabilities - and yes, sometimes even for their strengths. And it breaks my heart to watch them learn how to be small in a world that needs their smallness in order to feel bigger and better.

And I? Well, obviously, I am still BAD - because it is, after all, my BADness that brought it all on, my BADness that rendered me unable to pull up my bootstraps and "get over it," my BADness that made me not only deserve the circumstances that were handed to me. And what's worse? The WEAKness that still holds me unable to ever come close to being GOOD enough to deserve even the chance to hope for something different. Because when I strive for better, when I plan and brainstorm and throw myself into the effort to prove ... something ... it is never enough. And when I settle for what I "deserve," then it is a disappointment, a lowering of a standard, a settling. Which is, of course, BAD.

This is why I'm still in therapy, why I'm so thankful for the work my therapist puts into encouraging and empowering and rebuilding me (and my youngest daughter). This is why even as I struggle to make a better way for my girls and I, I am crippled by shame and paralyzed by hopelessness.

This is depression. This is why counseling is such a necessary thing, why mental health awareness is so important, why the stigma and shame of struggling to battle invisible wounds is such a huge problem in our society - and why I'm so grateful for my therapist, who works with me even when I can't show up, who has patiently listened to everything I've been through with a willingness to not only empower me to advocate for something better, but also with the compassionate spirit needed to be able to validate the truth of my story. She made her office a comfort zone for me, a place of security.

But what I love most about the progress we've made in the mental wellness community is that for those unable to find and take advantage of such amazing mental healthcare, sites like BetterHelp are there to allow people an extra measure of comfort and freedom. Right from the relative safety of home, BetterHelp puts people in need directly in touch with personally matched therapists and counselors qualified to empower those suffering from mental illness to change their lives and heal their spirits - bolstered by the encouragement, patience, and compassion required to inspire growth and progress. And well ... it turns out that's the very heart of what it takes to create the courage of the Undaunted.

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