My Autumn Journey, Part Two

The greatest predictor of feeling love
is whether or not you feel worthy of love.

The greatest predictor of belonging
is whether or not you feel worthy of belonging.

Brene Brown.

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This posting contains scenes from my visit to New Brunswick in October, 2014.

I paused a long time before sharing part two, because I’m feeling vulnerable sharing shame stories and I wasn’t sure if anyone wanted to read about this anyway. Then someone emailed me about part one, with interesting and thoughtful remarks and asked when part two was coming. So If you’re not interested in this, just delete it, no harm done!

My Autumn Journey, Part Two
Learning How to Live a Wholehearted Life

Thank you for joining my journey!

In part one I introduced some ideas from leading shame researcher, Brene Brown, mostly from her book, “The Gifts Of Imperfection : Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life”. In this posting I continue this topic which came onto my radar while visiting Montreal. Issues come up for us when we are ready to deal with them, no matter where we are and what we are doing. Just because I am travelling does not mean I leave my issues on-hold at home. Quite the opposite is true for me, a variety of experiences bring-up a variety of issues.

As I mentioned before, we all experience shame in some form (with the exception of those who are incapable of empathy) so I hope you’ll take some time to examine your own life and the role that shame has played for you, and to see if maybe it’s time to change it’s role. This is about embracing ourselves fully and accepting that none of us are perfect. I highly recommend spending some time on Brown’s website: http://www.brenebrown.com

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As a kid I felt an enormous amount of shame and that tends to come-up for me every year on my birthday. I was ashamed for being who I was. I was ashamed that I liked to colour rather than to play baseball. I felt shame for wanting to create things rather than destroy things. I preferred quiet activities over physical ones. I “knew” it was wrong to like these things, although I had no idea why.

This was my early elementary school years, age 5 to 10. The most innocent years. Society, especially at the time, tied sexuality to things that have nothing to do with sexuality, but most people didn’t know better. There was also the misbelief that pursuing creative things would cause one to become homosexual, so many caring parents would try to guide their kids away from their natural talents with the best of intentions.

My fear of not being good enough (shame) caused me to retreat more and more. Added to this was being introverted (recharging by being alone) and being highly sensitive (overwhelmed by too much noise, light, commotion, crowds) , making school one huge confusion. I had a nice friend in grade three, but I felt unworthy of his friendship.

I befriended a kid on the fringes who I suppose I felt adequate to be friends with, but in so doing I lost my only real friend. I had feared his eventual rejection anyway, I figured it was only a matter of time before he realised I wasn’t good enough, so I hastened the process, around age 9. At that time I also remember feeling ashamed of my body, his body was much better than mine, more what it was “supposed” to be. Manlier. It could have been as simple as he was hitting puberty before me because I was young for my grade and he was a year older even though we were in the same class. My new friend had issues with obesity and I was more comfortable with him even though he tended to be loud and we actually had very little in common apart from both feeling like rejects.

My friend had a tendency to be obnoxious and by grade seven I could not abide his company any more. Knowing him definitely encouraged my introverted tendencies as he was really draining. I didn’t know being with other friends would feel differently. Everything went wrong in grade seven and I would become friendless for some years, although no one knew or noticed. I now know that this was entirely caused by me feeling unworthy to be loved – which translated to feeling unworthy of having friends. Being an outsider and not having any one-on-one friendships became my greatest shame that I spent a lot of effort hiding. Later as I started to notice an attraction to guys more-and-more and not to girls, that became another great shame.

Like so many of us, I still attach shame to my body. No matter what the shape, too. This was the case when I was a fit and muscular rower during uni, when I was very slim during my years in Japan, when I was carrying extra weight a couple of years ago, and still today when I’m an average healthy size. I looked back at photos from earlier years and was shocked to see that I had a great body. I remember being surprised even at the time when I saw the photo of me at a beach in Thailand. I hadn’t felt sexy, so seeing it was like, wow, look at me last week. I shared that photo with friends. I remember wishing I could feel the way I looked, but I still had shame for my body NOT BEING PERFECT. Luckily it was never enough to encourage an eating disorder as it is for so many women. That must be another whole level.

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Even if you are a hundred pounds overweight, that is not a moral issue and there is no reason to attach shame to that. You might feel guilty when you eat too much, or exercise too little because you know that those behaviours are not helping you to lead a happy and healthy life. But lots of people judge others and we judge ourselves based on size. I am well-aware that many of us do attach shame to our bodies and that we may even be shamed by others for our bodies. It is great to be fit and slim and healthy, a worthy goal for sure. Whether you are or not, you are still worthy of being loved and accepted as you are.

That bears repeating.

You are worthy of being loved and accepted as you are. However that is.

I think that when you feel worthy of being loved and accepted, you actually attract people to love and accept you. You can also send a signal of worthiness or non-worthiness. Twenty years ago, I came-out publicly after I had pushed-back the shame and fully accepted that I was gay. (That was a very long and difficult road for me.) I am sure that my own self-acceptance was instrumental in how people reacted.

I expected acceptance and most people lived-up to my expectation and accepted me at a time when few people around me even knew of someone being gay in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Except my church community – I was completely rejected there. I was expelled from the quartet, banned from the youth choir, cancelled as a soloist, and asked not to attend the university-age youth group. I would be allowed to attend as long as I didn’t “talk about it”, but people acted like I was highly contagious. Former church friends would cross the street just to avoid saying hello. Suddenly turn the opposite direction when they had been coming towards me at the market. I didn’t afflict my discomfort on them (not theirs on me), I never attended that church again. Nor any church for a long time.

This was before Ellen, before Will & Grace, the only icon I knew of was the late Liberace, who only added to the misconceptions.

I had learned that being gay was not something to apply shame to, but I continued to apply shame in other areas of my life.

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As for my birthday? It’s embarrassing for me to admit this but I am practicing vulnerability so here it goes. People hide behind pride and it only separates them from others. The specific yearly shame came from not knowing friends who I could invite to a birthday party, so I only had family birthday parties. Actually, I feared no one would WANT to come – I did know lots of people. I feared and expected rejection. This was from as young as I can remember until about age twenty. So when my birthday came-up each year, I felt embarrassed – and ashamed – that I didn’t have any one-on-one friends. I kept it a secret, I didn’t want anyone to discover my pathetic reality. And on the actual day I feared that someone might notice and point-out that I wasn’t doing anything with friends for my birthday. In high school I looked like a popular kid; no one knew how differently it looked from my angle. I should have felt like a popular kid too – I just didn’t know it. Apparently people liked me but I couldn’t believe it because I didn’t like myself.

This year I felt very loved sharing my day with mostly new friends in Montreal a few weeks ago. So thankful was I that I decided to write each one a thank you note that I gave out at the end of my birthday dinner. I put myself on the line being vulnerable, expressing honest love and affection to each person who attended, writing completely different notes for each person.

Everyone responded to my notes of flowing affection, thanking me for my words or expressing their fondness in return. Except for two. I had the feeling of dropping the “L-word” and then the other person awkwardly looking away because they don’t feel the same. All I needed to hear was, “thank you for the note” so as to not feel awkward about what I’d written. In my insecurity, I needed to know that what I had written was okay. This was highlighted by most people replying, so that those who didn’t stood out.

A number of days passed before I dropped the mental ball, eventually misinterpreting their silence about the notes as non-reciprocity of affection. I was no longer in Montreal, but we had a few casual texts. It blew-up in my head until I decided I must have shared too much and offended them. Why else would they not mention them like everyone else did? It seemed like the notes were something we would have to put behind us rather than the affirming expression of love I had hoped for. I regretted the whole day.

Notes to Self:
-Turn down the affection a bit.
-Work on reducing my insecurities.
-Don’t be so fast to anticipate rejection.
-Don’t interpret something from nothing.

I finally addressed the issue in the manner it had grown in my head and discovered my complete error. No, they hadn’t responded to the notes for any reason except that they hadn’t. We were totally fine. They also didn’t say anything because, of course they liked the notes, how could I think they wouldn’t? They’d shown affection by their previous actions, why would I think that suddenly changed? (Answer: Because of my insecurities. Because for many years, I saw myself as someone unworthy of friends.)

Notes to self: Turn down the affection a bit. Work on reducing my insecurities – don’t be so fast to anticipate rejection. It was a mistake for me to interpret something from nothing. My insecurities kicked in – my brain said, “You were wrong. The only person feeling love at your birthday was you – you only thought they were feeling love because you were.” My brain wants to repeat the same old pain story rather than change the record. I WILL change the record. It will just take more work than I thought.

My mantra:
I am worthy to be loved and accepted, as I am.

I know there are LOTS of people who would benefit from making this their mantra. Repeat it especially when you feel it’s untrue, because then you need to correct your thinking.

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And the struggle to live wholeheartedly continues.

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More scenes from the province where I was born and raised, New Brunswick, Canada.

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Here’s an old photo! I’m around 26 in this photo, in Ko Samui, Thailand.

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I hope you will join me for part three of this series of working towards living a wholehearted life.

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