‘The Secret’ to Ditching Shame: Take What Works and Leave the Rest.
Eight years ago, living in London, I found a therapist. Different from my first and longest confidante, who was all about boundaries and family healing.
This one wore leopard print heels and gave hugs at the end of sessions. But she was a small revolution in my world, and she helped shift my expectation that I can control my life and how it turns out.
We worked in new and interesting ways with shame and addiction, surviving existential panic attacks and how to live not die, how to stop being a victim, and how to confront death fears using energetics and neuroscience. And among other things, Project Me, which inevitably took me to the 12 Steps, and Overeaters Anonymous (a very misleading name, but cool in that it can apply to any eating disorder).
We have to invent a new name for an eating disorder. And not Ed, like some call it, because that is the name of my first boyfriend and love, and it’s also a masculine name and in no way related to food.
Eating disorder is so 90’s. I advocate for Fucked-up ways of eating which don’t align with your wisest self. Or Deep dark food-hole emotional denial. Or #eatmeupaddiction.
There is more wisdom to the 12 Steps than I could possibly write down. And a lot has been written about it. It was a revolution which started many others. Some things about it were not so cool for me, but as they say in the AA book, “Take what works, and leave the rest.” AA basically invented the inspirational, but actually useful, quotation.
So I joined. And in the room, out it all came, sometimes in my head, sometimes into the circle of secrets made un-secret. What I didn’t do so well at, however, was picking my sponsor. A sponsor is like a mentor, whom you work with through the 12 Steps, who is either a rock in your life, or can assist in your rapidly falling apart. I attracted the latter.
Her name was Lisa. By Step Three (or maybe it was Two) I had delved so fast with her into past trauma that I was in deep shit, the panic attacks were back, and she was telling me this was part of the process and was healing (it was not healing at all).
I ditched Lisa, and learnt not to let my shame encourage me to hand over my power so fast and so naively to anyone whom I deemed wiser.
But perhaps the second illumination I had revealed itself in an equally kak way and turned a few of my friendships upside down. It was when I decided to just share everything about my secret with three super close friends. I flew out of the sky and basically vomited in a speak-fast-‘cos-you’re-scared way, giving them so little preparation that I think two of them felt kind of punched emotionally.
It was my way of releasing.
Brené Brown (vulnerability rock star for her reveal, but not so sure on the development of it all into her current business) says the words below that are spot on:
Anyway, I shared with these two wonderful humans in the middle of some hectic and intense vision-boarding journeys they were undertaking. They were heavily under the inspiration spell of the woman who wrote The Secret.
In this book, she conveniently left out the sector of the globe who can’t positivize their lives or solve hunger and practical poverty problems through magical thinking. She focused on the marginal .42 of the 7.42 billion in the world who might have some black or white magic and for whom her formula would actually work.
And so I poured out my dark shame into the unready hands of my two friends, who didn’t know what to do or say. They were cutting out and sticking down pictures of their dream lives from magazines
And like attracts like, both in The Secret theory and often between real people in life. So I was unlike, because shame has no place on a vision board. Nor does a heady dose of confirmation bias (which I do believe in, on the other hand. Look it up).
I shrank down for the rest of that year, and somehow ever since then, with those two friends. Into a little snail-shell of embarrassment over my eating-fucked sharing slideshow. I put this secret back into its little dark spot in my stomach soul, and decided it was time to move on and keep darkness inside.
But recently I’ve stepped into the light of myself.
This has not been a magical feat, it has involved so much work. Awareness and clear-sightedness into my shadow. Fear. And commitment to the outcome.
In this light, I realize now how innocent my friends were. And without the tools to understand, or counsel, or empathize. Just the empathy alone would have drenched me with feelings of community. But as Italians say, “Nada.”
But it’s been my subtle choice to keep the shame cords tied to these two, because it reflects my own. And they represent the other 7-billion-plus part of the world I imagine is judging me all the time, instead of doing what they are just doing — which is, going about the business of living.
So, I take a lesson in discretion with my sharing now. Not to hand my power over to anyone who asks or looks worthy. There are some radical humans and some shitty ones, and we need to discern between the two before handing our souls and lives into their hands.
These days I am learning to rather forgive my shame and then disclose, otherwise you run the risk of inviting someone else in to forgive what you share. And if they don’t, you’re very fucked.
By the way, the third friend was wonderful and caring, and she is still my friend and now fellow shame-sharer.
If you own that book, get rid of it in a witchy magical ceremony. Tonight. But keep with the vision boards. Confirmation bias is epic, and it works, and beauty-joy-hope keeps us connected to the life that is worth living and worth investing in. Or just draw smiley faces and a sun — it’ll work too if you look at it enough.
Alex O’Donoghue is a South African Irish 30-something. She has just broken through her fear of writing and being judged. In the courage light, she is starting to submit her voice. She loves cats, coffee, learning to be embodied, and community of high-quality people. She has a weird laugh, laughs a lot and can’t click. You could contact her via Miss Muse.