I’ve carried something my whole life. Many of us do. It crawls inside and latches on, usually starting when we are young. We don’t always know it’s there, but we feel something in the shadows gripping and suffocating us. It can grow with every passing year, feeding off our experiences, swelling its belly with our pain. Over time, it becomes a monster that tries to crowd us out. We push it down and try to deny that it exists. We don’t want to look at it and we certainly don’t want anyone else to see it, so we try our best to cover it up. We spend our lives designing a perfect protection. A shield to conceal the thing we cannot define. A mask to cover what we eventually come to understand as shame, only revealing what we believe others want to see. Only revealing what we ourselves are comfortable with.
Through a lot of hard work and daring choices, I have been lowering my mask, little by little. I have been shining a light on the parts of me that live in the shame-controlled shadows. Through sharing my truth, I’ve stared shame in the face - forcing it to take a few steps back. But the battle remains strong.
With every truth I tell, sometimes comes the unwelcome houseguest of shame right back for more. I question myself, I start to doubt if I should be so raw, so exposed. Last week, worry started popping up over some of my choices. These weren’t things I hadn’t considered before, but even after being proud of what I was doing for so long, suddenly late last week I was struck with fear. I wondered if my openness on social media and telling my story would hurt me. I thought about what people around me might say and how future endeavors might be impacted. I came close to wiping my name from social media accounts and even considered putting my writing back into hiding, all while being slightly terrified that it was too late. I was edging closer to lifting the mask and going back to where things were more comfortable. Then, as if the universe was witnessing my struggle, I was reminded of why all of that is complete bullshit.
I went to my first TEDx day this past Friday. For those of you who haven’t been to one, I cannot recommend it enough. At the very least, you may have heard some TED talks through a podcast or YouTube. If you haven’t, you may want to get to Googling. As I spent the day in the audience, I listened to the stories of real people. Powerful accounts of their lives and their experiences. There were tears, there was laughter, there were gasps and there was silence. The large theater was filled with people who were connected, who were hanging on every word. During breaks there were conversations with strangers and there were hugs to comfort people I didn’t know. The energy was visceral. While every speaker delivered a unique and beautiful message, there was one that reached right into me that day. When our local news anchor, Molly Grantham, took the stage, her talk instantly reminded me of the reasons why I don’t need to hide behind a mask any longer. It was titled “The Real We Are” and, in Molly’s words, it has to do with “the level of facade most of us play in our lives – for women especially – the armor we wear. How really, the authenticity behind our masks is what matters most.”
In an instant I thought of all the reasons why I’ve made the choices that I have. Why I quit drinking. Why I choose to share my stories so openly. I want to be real. I need to take down the mask and all that comes with it so that I can keep shining a light on that shame. I hope to inspire other women to lift their masks, embrace their shadows and tell shame to go live somewhere else. I still have much to unpack, so much yet to share, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let shame keep me from doing it. Shame has run my life for too long and it’s worn out its welcome. If there is anyone at any point in my life that doesn’t like or appreciate me for my choices, so be it. I stand firm in these choices. I stand firm in my authenticity, because it is what matters most.