My Autumn Journey, Part Three : Unconditional Love

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More views form my visit to New Brunswick in October, 2014.
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Most of my postings are travel-related but my Autumn journey to Quebec and New Brunswick became more an inner journey than an outer one. So thank you for joining me as I continue to explore the teachings of Brene Brown. As I apply them to my own life, I hope you will take the time to reflect and apply them to yours.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend visiting http://www.BreneBrown.com for these universal lessons.

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My August Journey, Part Three : Unconditional Love
Learning how to live a wholehearted life

Brene Brown studied people who she described as living a “wholehearted life”. Apart from feeling worthy of love and acceptance (belonging), she discovered that these people had traits that she would come to describe as “shame resilience”.

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I have now written several times that Brown describes shame as coming down to “the fear of being unlovable”. Being loved and belonging are the two essential traits of a happy life, in fact they are essential human needs. It should therefore be no surprise that without these things some people become depressed or even suicidal. It would seem that shame is the main block to feeling worthy and therefore the main block to being truly happy.

Brown tells us that to live and grow, shame needs three things. And unfortunately, these things tend to self-perpetuate when living in shame. It needs: 1. Secrecy, 2. Silence, and 3. Judgement. It’s pretty easy not to talk about our greatest secret, but over time can lead to all manner of mental health issues. For me, I have mostly suffered anxiety and depression.

In fact, my shame that caused me to suffer anxiety and depression grew still and I also became ashamed that I was depressed, and ashamed of my anxieties. The self-punishment we humans inflict on ourselves! I went to great lengths to hide my depression and was so successful that it was only discovered after a serious suicide attempt landed me in the hospital for some time. One of my doctors figured it out.

Eventually this led to my acceptance of being gay and the incredible release of shame that I had had around that. I was happy for a few years. How did I release my shame surrounding being gay? Exposure. First I met other gay people through a somewhat secret group organised by the counselling department of my university. In meeting other nice gay people, I realised that they were good people who should not be ashamed of being gay. I could see they were worthy of love and acceptance. Soon I was able to apply this to myself.

Shame hates to be exposed, it nearly requires secrecy and silence. And the judgement was both self-judgement and what I had been taught growing-up with Christian convictions. Most peoples Christian convictions have now adapted to accept people much more than at that time.

I spent the next few years after university mostly living abroad. It seemed I had recovered fully from my depression that had lasted through my younger years, that by releasing my shame of being gay and by living openly I was whole again. But it didn’t quite work out like that. That was a big lift, for sure, but eventually shame crept back again and brought with it depression.

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I went on antidepressants some months after my return to Canada. I just couldn’t seem to break a sadness that had re-occupied my mind. I had perhaps forgotten my past while living overseas, but I had not adequately dealt with it.

There is a difference between forgetting about something, and having closure with something. When we force ourselves to forget it may seem like we are healthfully moving forward rather than reliving the past, but in reality the past comes-out in our choices and our actions whether we want it to or not. We may end-up choosing relationships that repeat unhealthy relationships from our past, because they were not finished. We may unknowingly self-sabotage – feeling unworthy of being happy, or unworthy of being successful. We may make poor choices, clouded by repressed anger or frustration or hurt. My greatest tendency is to isolate. It comes from a fear of being unworthy combined with self-preservation. As in introvert, I need some alone time to recharge. If I don’t get that time, panic can ensue.

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For me, the pain of too much interaction is worse than the pain of too little interaction. I have come to see this as a strength – many people can not have solo travel experiences as happily and successfully as I do.

We humans are wired to connect with others. I prefer to do this meaningfully, I prefer quality over quantity. I am happy to explore all day by myself and if I can then meet people for some real conversation in the evening I have had a perfectly balanced day. I can even achieve this through Facebook or the phone or even email if needed. Many extraverts, for whom it often seems the world was designed, would find my current life painfully lonely. So it can be seen as a weakness, of not being able to always be with others, or as a great strength, of being able to be happily alone.

Antidepressants definitely have their place. I was trying therapy but had very poor luck with the therapist I tried, and I was quick to suppose that I had grown-up feeling depressed, so perhaps that is just the way I became wired. Eventually I also ended-up on ADHD meds, which also had an off-label use for treating anxiety. In my case, they may have contributed to developing anxiety, also a known effect.

I stayed on antidepressants for much of my adult life and I am thankful to have had them until I weaned myself off all medications during my India travels in 2013. I have realised since that even without the specific shame I had attached to being gay, I have a generalised shame, as so many of us do. That I am not good enough.

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In this next bit I don’t mean to mislead. Let me be honest and explain that I don’t actually believe in Jesus but I do believe in the metaphor of Jesus. Lately, I have even chosen to attend a Christian church that promotes love and acceptance for all. I attend because I believe in connection and community and moving forward and the positive values this particular church encourages.

It is interesting to me that even though I am unable to force a belief that Jesus existed, I can still embrace much of what he stood for as an icon. I even take communion now, whereas I hadn’t for some years. Because I believe that we are all one; we are all connected. We are all a part of the same universe. That when we hurt another, we hurt ourselves. When we help another, we help ourselves. We must love ourselves to love others, forgive ourselves to forgive others. We need to feel worthy of love to feel loved. To feel worthy of forgiveness to feel forgiven. The message is that we are worthy. So worthy, in fact, that we are worthy of someone sacrificing himself for us. So that we may live. Not just be alive, but LIVE. Even if I don’t believe it physically happened, I believe the message is true.

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The church has long used our shame issues as a hook, with the message that Jesus loves you (even if no one else will). This is a very healing message and it plays into our fear of being unlovable (shame).

We are told that God can see into the deep recesses of our heart (where shame dwells); that he knows our deepest secrets but he loves us anyway. With this belief we feel exposed to him and accepted by him. This, according to Brown, is exactly what is required to be healed from our shame. Exposure (telling someone) with acceptance (someone loving us anyway). Brown points out that we need to choose carefully who we share our shame stories with, the person needs to earn our trust first as someone who will accept us, as to not become a reinforcement of our shame story. Basically, we need to share with someone who will either not judge us, or who will exercise unconditional love.

The good news is – when we learn to be vulnerable and share our shames with these people we trust, we discover that many fellow humans can still love us too. Not just Jesus.

Because none of us are perfect.

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I hope you’ll join me for Part Four of “My Autumn Journey”. Click on “Follow” and enter your email address to get my postings (and nothing else). You can unfollow at any time with one click on any of the emails.

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My sister’s dog, Andy, also visited New Brunswick (from Toronto) when I was there. My sister came with him. Here he is reflecting on his own shame issues (most of us have some) while looking out to Mom’s patio.

If you’re not sure about your own issues yet, watch Brene Brown’s Ted Talk (that has already been viewed more than four million times) by clicking here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame

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