On healing from shame and taking up space.

“I’m not afraid of my truth anymore, and I will not omit pieces of myself to make you more comfortable.”

Alex Elle

I apologize so much. For everything. For none of the right things. For “being in someone’s way” in the grocery store. For “intruding”. For taking up too much space. For being seen. At a different time in my life, I was willing to risk my own boundaries and sanity for the comfort of someone else. I never wanted to be an inconvenience to someone; so much so that I would likely rearrange my entire schedule to make sure others would have a smooth day. It was exhausting. I became resentful and burnt out and frustrated so quickly. What was that ? Why did I do it? Why was I so afraid of taking up space?

The answer, now, is simple. Shame. It was only ever because I felt shame. After my traumas, I felt a very intense sense of fear and shame. About everything. I walked around like I had eggshells on the bottoms of my shoes. I had no idea, none at all, that part of my trauma response, part of my survival method was allowing myself to become a vessel for shame. It happened slowly, and methodically until I truly believed I did not deserve to be seen, take up space, stand in my power. I didn’t believe I had power. I didn’t believe I was even a human.

Shame. Where does it come from? How do we start to feel it? Shame is what happens when someone else crawls into your brain and makes you feel poorly about not meeting their expectations. Shame is what happens when you feel powerless. Shame is what happens when you stop being able to recognize yourself in the mirror. Shame comes from so many different possible places, but mostly it comes from within. Shame tells us that our existence is too much for the world and that we don’t deserve to take up any room. Shame is a lens through which we view ourselves because of the thoughts and beliefs we have about who we are or who we might have been. It is a lens that tints all beliefs about what we are capable of.

Shame. When I say the word, I imagine a rigid, cold person saying it as they look down upon me in some condescending manner casting judgement on something I did not do. It is harsh and invisible. It acts as a blinder that is always adjusting itself so you might never be allowed to see light again. It’s a heavy weight that rests on the nape of our neck to make it uncomfortable to find a blue sky.

But if shame comes from within, so does healing. Remember that.

I want you to get a bit visual with me here.

Imagine you are walking along the intricate path in the woods, and you are equipped with a bag. It has some things you might need. As you pass along on this road, you are meeting new people. Some with good intentions and someone with less than ideal ones. But each individuals gives you a brick. Some bricks are newer, some are older. All the bricks vary in weight, color, shapes etc. You have no place to put these bricks once your hands start to get full so you start putting them in your bag. Smashing some of your original items that you had placed there for a time of need. Eventually this bag is really heavy. You start to wonder if it will break. Is this bag really equipped to carry all of these bricks? You’re not really sure how long this little path is, but you do keep meeting people and you’re getting nervous about what you might have to do to make room for bricks. Sometimes people make you feel awful for carrying such a heavy bag. They even point and laugh. When your bag is full, they get angry with you.

To feel shame is to take on an incredibly heavy weight. It’s like carrying around a bag full of bricks. Sometimes the bricks have been in the bag so long, they become withered and eroded. Maybe you’re not even sure where the bricks came from anymore but they are there and that must mean they were important at some point, right? Maybe some of the bricks are new, perfectly shaped. A bit heavier than the others. Maybe you remember exactly where you picked them up along the way.

One of the first times I was told it was okay for me to take up space was in the grocery store by a complete stranger. I could have hugged her. I was looking at some produce and she was waiting patiently behind me, and upon my realization of her being there, I immediately grabbed my basket, said “I’m sorry, I am in your way and I will move” and started to walk away. She said, “No no no. Please don’t. You are just fine, and I am not in a rush. We all need food. You take your time, and put that basket down.” I was floored. Usually, in the grocery store people want you to just get out of their way. It used to be a high stress situation for me because I felt rushed and like I was constantly in the way. But here this woman was, telling me it was fine to be where I was; that my needs were just as important as anyone’s. I wanted to hug her. I still rushed picking out my peppers but it was a powerful day. I felt lighter that day. I felt one brick come out of my backpack.

My takeaway here was that it is okay to slow down sometimes and acknowledge that you have needs, and that as a human, you are allowed to exist in the space you need to do so. This is life changing. Especially when it comes to healing from shame.

So what does it mean to heal from shame? I imagine that this is different for each individual. But I can say that healing from shame looks a little bit like a snail making a really big trek across the garden. It’s a little creature and the rest of the world has no idea he is on a mission. But he moves. Persistently, avoiding dangers, focused on his mission. He is a soft, a fragile creature, but his shell protects him in the ways he needs it to. He allows himself the time to get to his destination. He does not judge that he has no legs. He does not judge that he is small. He might be wishful that things were different, but he certainly doesn’t focus on that. He is ready to take a bite out of a juicy, delicious leaf.

Healing is seeing the mission ahead of you, knowing it will take a while, and still doing it anyway. Healing is providing yourself with those juicy leaves of nourishment. Healing is watching your face change when you see yourself in the mirror, from a scared frown to being able to admire the wrinkles forming on your face. Healing is love. Healing is recognizing the power within the vessel you possess. Whether it’s wiggling your toes and stretching in the quiet moments, or sipping tea, or dancing, or taking a peaceful moment on the porch. Healing is a conscious decision to admire the human condition–your human condition– as you stand in what you know to be as your truth. Healing is boundaries. Healing is reclaiming. Healing is loving yourself up in the ways you were afraid to when you were told you weren’t worthy. Healing is soft fabrics and arranging your space. Healing is cooking a meal for yourself and providing nourishment. Healing is finding freedom. Healing is deep, reflective self-care practices. Healing is reconnecting with others and reconnecting with you. It is lightening the load you’ve carried for too damn long. Healing is taking up your space, and learning to make a home fro yourself within that space. Healing is understanding that space can change. Healing is not only rejoicing in your comfort but embracing your discomfort. Healing is seeing a therapist, or having a friends night, or walking alone in the morning. Healing is not linear. It is not routed out on a map for you. So of course, it will be confusing and frustrating. There will be days that you feel like it is not happening. Be patient with yourself on those days. Trust your healing. This is not a race. Feel what you feel and let it come and go as it needs to. When healing becomes confusing, look inward. Your instincts are right. Healing is owning your story and choosing to recognize that that story, isn’t some made up shit, it is real, because you are real. Healing is not just existing in your body but living in it. Planting your feet in the ground and knowing your strength is what led you to this healing path.

You got yourself to this healing point. Wherever you stand in that journey, you did it. You are doing it. You are becoming. You are healing. And it it is okay, and good, and critical even, to take up the space to do that because every fiber of your existence works so hard just to be here. You deserve to take up the space you need. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are not for you.

I still become nervous at the thought of taking up space. When I first started this blog, I was nervous that showing myself to the world would only hurt me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It has liberated me. I have some major projects to accomplish this year. I am terrified. Not of failure. Not even of success. I am so afraid of taking space in the world to do it. But I am going to do it anyway. Because it is part of my healing, and I need to own my story. Because that is truly what taking space is– owning the story that leads to now so much so that it becomes a badge of honor. I am certainly no master of this. But I can say the time I have taken to take up space and own my story have played major roles in my healing.

Taking up space is not selfish or wrong. It is natural and human and important. it looks different for every human. Sometimes it’s a blog, and other times it’s public speaking or social media, or simply chatting with a friend. All are valid.

You do not have to apologize for existing. This can be a hard one to take in. But you never asked to exist. You were forced into it. Now you’re just doing the best you can with what you have to create the most meaningful existence you can. But here is what is so lovely about that. You still get to decide what holds meaning. You still get to decide what your space gets to look and feel like. This is where owning your story comes in. You get to acknowledge all that has happened and decide which parts have been the most pivotal. You get to decide what each experience means for you. There is very little we have control over in the human experience, but one thing you always have control over is how you make meaning out of the experiences you have had up until this point and how they might impact your next steps. Shame does not have to be permanent. You get to decide how you heal and what that means for you.

Coming back to the brick visual, I want you to imagine you are walking along on this path. Exhausted. Fatigued. Resentful. Angry. Full of shame. Now pause. It is quiet. A little brisk. No one is on the trail right in this moment. You finally have a moment to yourself and you have a realization. “I need to unpack some of these bricks”. That is what healing feels like. Unpacking the bricks you have been carrying for far too long, in a backpack not equipped for carrying that amount of weight. You were not meant to carry everyone else’s bricks. You were not meant to carry bricks full of shame and hurt and pain for years. You do not have to feel badly about not being able to do so. Stop carrying around whatever is not meant for you to carry. Stop carrying what no longer serves you.

I will leave you with this today:

How do you know when your backpack is full of bricks? What do you need to do to empty it out a little each day? How will you know when you are healing? What stands in your way of taking up space? What do you feel in your body when you start to think of that ? What changes do you need to make to start claiming your space? What does your space look like? What does your healing require of you today? What are you carrying around that no longer serves you? How will you part ways with that?

Warm regards,