belonging, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, loss, parenting, shame, Uncategorized

shame and belonging

Lately I have been feeling so unsettled. I walk around my house and it doesn’t feel like home. It doesn’t feel like it fits. It feels like I am in someone else’s house. I used to come home and feel so good here, but I lost that feeling a couple of months ago and I haven’t been able to get it back. Every room feels off somehow. I look at my body and I feel like it is not mine. I feel like I am in the wrong skin. I don’t recognize the medical issues I am dealing with as my own. It’s as if they belong to someone else entirely. I drive or walk around my city and I feel like a visitor. I feel like I don’t belong here. I’m grasping at things from my past thinking if I could get them back, make different decisions, or get another chance to replay the last year of my life, but do it differently, I would feel ok again. We can’t do that though, can we? We can’t undo our decisions and we rarely get second chances. The last six months play over and over in my head  like Groundhog Day on repeat. As torturous as that seems, I have never been one who can leave a puzzle unfinished. So, if the puzzle is my life, I will replay every conversation and moment in hopes that I will find the solution or the missing piece.

Belonging is something that I have struggled with for most of my life. I moved to different towns and states several times in my childhood and beyond. I always felt like the outsider looking in. I would find things I liked in each house, friends I connected with, and value in each experience. Still, I never quite felt like I truly belonged or that I was truly home. That was always something I thought would come sometime in the future or was simply something that existed somewhere else.

The thing that is different now is that for the first time in a long time I love who I am and all I have been through and done to get to this very uncomfortable place. Until recently, I was ashamed of being a single mother. This meant being ashamed of who I was from the moment I woke up in the morning and looked into my daughter’s smiling eyes. The shame began at sunrise and continued through the two or more glasses of wine I used to drink every night. I was ashamed that my house was small, cluttered, and filled completely with secondhand mismatched furniture because that is all I could afford and that my car was old and beat up. I was ashamed every time I picked up the phone and asked for another loan from my mom to cover another cost so I could stay afloat. I was ashamed that at 41, I had a job that paid me less than the average undergrad makes right out of college, even though the work of that job made me happy and gave me the time I need to be a mom. I was ashamed that I had reached midlife without ever having a healthy or successful relationship with a man.

The thing about shame is that it imprisons you. You cannot move forward and you cannot open yourself up to other people or experiences. It causes you to live in the deceptive state of never being good enough for anyone or anything. It is not being embarrassed about something you did. It is literally thinking that407268_10150449280357005_1610035080_n who you are is wrong. Once shame takes over your life, it becomes your belonging. You can never fully belong to anything or anyone else, because you belong only to your shame. There is a twisted comfort in all of it as it becomes your self imposed identity. You never give yourself fully in any relationship, romantic or otherwise, because you already have one foot out the door ready to run in the other direction.

With the help of a professional, I recently did work on this shame to overcome it. I don’t feel the way I did before. I now recognize that I am managing a house on my own, raising a child on my own, directing a whole department at my job, all while training for a half marathon. None of these are easy tasks and there is no shame in them. Have I made poor decisions in relationships and in finances, and other areas of my life? Yes! We all have. We have all, at least once, royally fucked up. That is what it means to be human and that is where the real growth happens. It does not in any way make us less than anyone else nor does it make us any less worthy of receiving love.

So, in this place of discomfort and this feeling of unease, there is an excitement. Perhaps it is this post-shame world where I truly belong. It feels wrong and strange and it feels like I am an observer in someone else’s world. The pull to go back to where things were comfortable is strong, but there is no growth there. The push to be present and take it all in is scary and the unknown makes my skin crawl, but that is the place we often find ourselves before something truly great begins.

True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people — without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.– Brené Brown

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Uncategorized

shame.

In the last week, I have been filling out registration forms for preschools. My daughter’s school unexpectedly closed and I have been scrambling to find her a new school. Doing this requires filling out parent information and sending in copies of her birth certificate; the birth certificate that reads, “Father: Information not recorded.” This is what a birth certificate says when a baby is born in a hospital and the father is not present and later does not claim the child when the state sends him paperwork to do so. It took six months for me to receive my daughter’s birth certificate while we waited for this process to happen. I feel shame seeing this again. A birth certificate should be a happy thing, but somehow this one makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong.

Typically, I feel like I am like any other parent for the most part. Like any parent, I work hard, try to do the best for my daughter, and have good days and bad. In school or play groups, I am usually the only solo parent, but I only think about it if I see a list of parents and students and my daughter is the only one with one parent on the list.  Aside from these tiny moments, I feel like the joys and hardships I feel and experience are the same for most parents.  But when a school application is in front of me and the whole page titled “secondary parent” is blank, I tend to be overcome with shame. It is not sadness or loss or a desire for pity. It is this deep seated belief that I have somehow wronged the world and wronged my daughter. It is a belief that there is something wrong with me and that has always been wrong with me to make me so irregular. I am somehow unable to have a normal relationship or a normal job or simply live a normal life. And, now I have brought an innocent child into this strange abnormality.

Growing up I was the third child. Somehow I was raised in the same house as my siblings, but always did things and lived my life differently. I didn’t have a relationship in high school, I went to three very different colleges to finish my undergrad degree, I moved around and traveled and basically could not sit still in life. I always admired my siblings. They seemed to have traditional college experiences and lives and got married and had children and stayed at jobs for normal amounts of time. If our lives were puzzles, theirs always seemed to be complete and mine always felt like it was forever missing pieces. There was always some messiness about my life. This carried out of my home into my friend circles as well. I always felt like my life was somehow different and weird and not “normal.” When I found out I was going to raise a child alone, I remember thinking, “God, can’t I even do parenthood normally?!” Instead of just accepting this as being who I am, or even celebrating it, I have always felt shame about it.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, became pregnant when she was 35 with the child of an old friend, who upon discovering she was pregnant, became angry,  walked away, and made it very clear he would not be in the child’s life. Her story is so parallel to my own, that literally dozens of people have suggested I read her book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. The book is beautiful for any parent to read. I laughed and cried and was overjoyed to hear an experience so much like my own. In it, she addresses shame in the most perfect way,

“I have these secret pangs of shame about being single, like I wasn’t good enough to get a husband. Rita reminded me of something I’d told her once, about the five rules of the world as arrived at by this Catholic priest named Tom Weston. The first rule, he says, is that you must not have anything wrong with you or anything different. The second one is that if you do have something wrong with you, you must get over it as soon as possible. The third rule is that if you can’t get over it, you must pretend that you have. The fourth rule is that if you can’t even pretend that you have, you shouldn’t show up. You should stay home, because it’s hard for everyone else to have you around. And the fifth rule is that if you are going to insist on showing up, you should at least have the decency to feel ashamed.
So Rita and I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”

Shame is not something others can make you feel. Your friends and family can possibly cause you to feel guilty about something you have done, but I believe shame is self-inflicted. It is something we believe about ourselves. It is not the feeling that we have done something wrong but that we ARE something wrong. It is debilitating and, quite frankly, a lie. If we truly believe that we are made in the Creator’s image, then shame should never even come into play. Each one of us has this piece of the higher being within us and that should be greater than any inadequacies we feel.
My struggle with shame is my own. It is one of the biggest ways I have wronged myself and those around me. Being a solo parent or having a gypsy spirit or not being able to function in a relationship may be a little different, but it is not wrong. IMG_3491As a parent, I don’t want my daughter to ever feel this shame. As weird as she is, or unconventional, or totally “normal,” I want her to just love herself and be proud of the amazing little being that she is. This desire for her makes me more aware of the fact that I need to “get over it, show up for my life, and not be ashamed.” I truly believe when any of us can be ourselves, embrace our quirks and differences, and celebrate those things that make each one of us unique, we will be able to free ourselves of shame and genuinely live our lives.

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