It’s a bit scary to put this out into the world, but vulnerability is one of my superpowers, so I’m going for it.
It would mean the world to me if you shared this with any of your friends, family members, or colleagues who you think could benefit.
Life is messy, and none of us are perfect. I hope that by sharing something I’ve been so highly ashamed of, you might open up about something you’re ashamed of—you don’t have to share it with the rest of the world like I’m doing, but for your emotional health, consider at least opening up to yourself.
Shame is a vicious little beast that holds us back, preventing us from making changes we so desperately desire to make because it keeps us small and fearful. We don’t like something about ourselves, and we are harder on ourselves than others would ever be to us. For those of us who’ve suffered traumas, been abused, or had our feelings and needs neglected, our shame is dangerously high because we believe that we’re inherently bad for who we are. It can sometimes feel like shining the light on parts of us that we know are imperfect is just inviting unhelpful criticism, beratement, shunning, or, for some of us, even like we will be physically harmed for who we are.
For those of us who struggle with feeling fundamentally flawed, admitting things about ourselves we don’t like can feel like we’re throwing ourselves in the ring with an opponent to get pummeled. We’re barely able to defend ourselves from ourselves. We know there is no way we will be able to defend ourselves from the world, so we keep parts of us that we want to change to ourselves and leave them unchanged because we’ve learned it’s safer to hide than it is to risk airing imperfections.
I found alcohol somewhere around 16 years old—the same time I found cigarettes and marijuana, also—and they always helped me feel better. When I was a kid, a lot was happening at home, at school, on the sports field, and at my grandparents’ houses that made me feel unhappy, unsafe, unimportant, and insignificant. I expressed my feelings the only ways I knew how to—being only a kid and all—and adults’ reactions and responses to my cries for help made me believe that something was fundamentally broken inside me. As I grew up, food, alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana always helped me numb the sad parts of me that no one wanted me to have, and when I numbed them, I felt as though I could finally be tolerated and sometimes, even loved.
I’m fortunate that things never got too out of control. I have always been extremely resourceful and able to figure out how to get help. As a kid, I volunteered after school and on weekends so I could be in places where my positive traits could be appreciated and not feel as though I was broken. In college, I marched myself into the guidance counselor’s office and expressed to her the pain I was feeling as a closeted, unlovable gay man. When I moved to San Diego at 22, I started with a therapist and tried to figure out what was going on that had me feeling broken inside and have been working with therapists, coaches, and mentors ever since.
As a young adult, I had established dozens of compassionate and sincere friendships. I felt cherished as well as loved, but for whatever reason, the alcohol, cigarettes, food, and marijuana stayed with me. By my late 30s, I’d come to realize the truth—that nothing was wrong with me and that the things that happened to me which made me believe I was broken and damaged shouldn’t have, and while my heart and brain knew I no longer needed to hide my emotions and my feelings to be loved, I still had shameful and embarrassing bad habits that I remained unsuccessful in abating.
Growing up, Nanny (my grandmother) admonished people who were overweight. My parents admonished their parents for abusing alcohol and smoking cigarettes (fortunately, both of my parents abstained from both vices because they hated seeing their parents smoke and drink). Still, all the judgment and shaming around coping mechanisms never allowed me to explore why people need to cope in the first place.
I think it’s safe to say that most people want to live healthy and long lives. Still, for many reasons (TRAUMA), they cannot make the wise choices they’d like. The shame from our families, friends, and society around these coping mechanisms stifles any chance of airing self-exploration and asking for help as we remain engulfed with shame.
If you read last week’s blog, you know I’m OBSESSED with this notion of choosing inner peace above all else, and it’s completely changing how I’m approaching life.
While I’m fortunate things with the harmful coping mechanisms haven’t gotten too out of control, I often drink more than I’d prefer and say or do dumb things that fill me full of shame. I’m on blood pressure medication (and I’d like not to be), and my inner peace remains compromised, knowing that a more moderate drinking habit and less indulging on heart-unhealthy food would potentially offer me the opportunity to get off of it. I don’t have a lot of inner peace around the fact that I’m 40 and looking to bring a child into this world, and know I’m not doing all I can to remain healthy and give myself the absolute best shot I can at being around to watch them become adults. Also, when it comes to inner peace around the stress levels I expose myself to by remaining in situations and relationships that are out of alignment with what I know I need, I feel a notable lack.
Somewhere around my mid-30s, my doctor told me, “Matt, in your 20s, you’re generally able to do what you want to your body, and it will forgive you. Your 30s are where you need to learn to start caring because once you hit your 40s, your body is older and unable to forgive you like it used to.”