I have stories I don’t usually share in polite company.
Stories that, when I recall them intentionally or they come to mind unbidden, cause my skin to crawl and my heartrate to quicken.
Stories of choices I made that deliberately hurt someone else. Of spreading lies.
Stories of wild risks that I took which, in hindsight, could have had life-altering – or ending – consequences.
Stories of things being done in my presence that I allowed without protest.
Stories of things being done to me.
Sometimes the behavior was mine and mine alone. Sometimes it involved others.
Sometimes it was intentional and sometimes it wasn’t.
We all have these stories. Stories of regret, of humiliation, of shame.
And there they sit, blocking our creativity. Giant boulders in the stream.
I have an estranged relationship with my father. After years of drama when I was a teen and into my 20s, we stopped all communication.
I look back on that time with thoughts of anger at his choices AND shame about my choices.
I can’t control any of it now. It happened.
If I changed any of it, I wouldn’t be who or where I am NOW. And while nothing is perfect, what I have NOW is a life to be grateful for.
But the story of it has blocked my creative flow for years.
He keeps popping up in my writing. Oh, there’s Dad again. Hello. I thought this was an essay about learning to paddleboard.
This is perhaps a complicated example, seeing as how shame is not the only emotion wrapped up in this story. But a lot of shame resides there. My face is flushed and my stomach is clenched as I write this.
You may never write about the story which holds the shame. THAT IS OKAY. I am certainly not telling you that you have to.
What I am suggesting is that the shame is in your way as a creative.
If any of this is ringing familiar, here are some simple – yet admittedly difficult – ideas for managing the shame.
When you’re writing about potty-training your puppy and it triggers a memory of a terrible break-up, breathe. In and out. As deeply as possible. It is not happening now. Let the memory float back out as easily as it floated in.
If you are writing about the break-up itself, treat yourself with compassion. Beating yourself up over poor or embarrassing behavior is only going to increase the feelings of shame and anxiety. Visualize 3-year-old you. Would you talk to her that way?
If you feel really compelled to write the story but aren’t sure you ever want anyone to see it, give yourself permission to hide it when you’re done. You might feel differently when it’s finished. Or, maybe, you are your own audience for this one. Write it anyway. Otherwise, it will keep popping up, like my Dad is doing.
At the end of the day, what is most important to understand is whether you are ready to write it.
Maybe you aren’t. Let that be okay.
And maybe you are. Maybe you just need to push yourself through the discomfort, coming out on the other side relieved that you finally got the story out of your head.
There is no right thing to do, except this:
Be compassionate toward yourself.
We’ve all experienced deep shame. It is part of being human.
You were perfect then, and you are perfect now.