“I abort everything,” my friend said to me the other night.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“First my baby, then my dream.”
“What was your dream?”
“To have a baby. Now I don’t deserve one,” she said.
Shame has a way of growing inside the womb like a fetus, like that baby my friend believes she no longer deserves, because she carries Shame around instead. With enough sick-food talk, by the time you give birth to it, it’s a grown sociopath, wrapping its hands around your neck till you beg for mercy. Shame over that one thing you did or didn’t do, or should have done, or could have done, if you weren’t so weak in character. If you had a kernel of courage. If you were a different person entirely. If you were kinder, more emphatic and had a moral compass that points true North instead of one with a needle that spins around in dizzying circles.
You know, like that PTA Mom. The one you admire; the one you look up to as if she were ten feet tall. The perfect Mom. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. That woman whose world is a fine tuned instrument. She’s the one who has that something that if you had it too, you wouldn’t be lugging Shame around in your womb, waiting for that birthing day, waiting for Shame to kill every dream you ever had, because somewhere, deep down where you don’t dare tread, Shame whispers, “Let me remind you of your mistakes.”
And then a long list follows of where you fall short. You suck at parenthood. I mean, how could you have said that hurtful thing to your kid? Yup. You had to go and pop that movie in so you could make dinner for the tribe. You’re not that great of a friend, either, but you would be if you had more time. How come you can’t manage your time better? And while where on the topic of time, how come you can’t eke out a few more selfless hours to spend with your aging parents? And as a lover? Forget about it. On the sex-o-meter, you come in at about a 2 on a 10 rate scale. Your too-not-something-self curls up inside your own shadow at the end of the day as you get on your knees and make a rock-solid promise that tomorrow you’ll be a better mother, wife, daughter, employee, lover. You WILL be better at your X’s, Y’s, and Z’s.
For some of us, Shame plants its seeds inside the womb later in life after we’ve had ample time to fuck up in some substantial way that’s gossip-worthy. For others, like me, the seeds are planted earlier without our knowing, until one day Shames bubbles to the surface and we cock our head and say, “Hmmm, I wonder where that came from.” This kind of shame is a result of harm that was done to us and we internalized it; we feel ashamed because of it.
It took me decades before I understood when and where and how my first seed was planted. Shame didn’t kill me, but it wanted to. I saw it every time I stared into those black, bottomless eyes. If I jumped into them, I never would have hit bottom. I’ve always been a small person, and as I child, I was barely there at all. I was in the second grade. I wore a red velour dress with a white collar embroidered with Snoopy, and matching red shoes. Three boys stood around me in a circle, pointing fingers, laughing and hurling insults. “I’ve never seen a real midget before.” “Go back to Kindergarten.” “You’re a baby.” “Only babies where red shoes.” “Go home and cry to your mommy.”
I don’t recall where the teacher was at the time, because I crawled under my desk, stared at my ugly little red shoes, and ran a tiny-trembling finger over Snoopy, willing him to magically come to life and bite those boys. But snoopy was nothing more than threads on my collar. So I pulled my knees into my chest, slapped my hands over my ears, and cried my little-girl grief back into myself, where it traveled through my body and planted my first seed of Shame.
That’s the thing about the first memory of Shame, it burns the skin like a hot poker. I fed that seed for a good part of my life, because my child-self had taken that experience and decoded it to mean: “I am small and ugly and insignificant.” Of course I hadn’t connected my later years of being afraid to takes risks, or whip-lashing myself every time I made a mistake, big ones and small ones—of which I’ve made plenty—to that one moment when I crawled under the desk and wanted to scrape my nails against the floor and dig deep down into the bowels of the earth.
I continued to feed my growing seeds of Shame throughout middle school and high school. I opened my mouth wide, like a hungry bird and devoured comments made from my tall beautiful friends. “You ought to wear heels to give you a little height.” “I feel like an amazon when I’m around you.” “Where do you find clothes that fit? You must have to shop in the kids’ department.” “You shouldn’t really wear long skirts; it makes your legs look even shorter.” Though my friends were not trying to stick me with that hot poker, I became that ugly-red-shoed girl under the table, seven all over again, feeling the smallness of my being.
It would not be until I went to graduate school for a Master’s degree in Social Work that I’d be given the gift of understanding Shame, my own and others. I was able to give birth to my Shame and watched as it walked away, leaving me free to believe, to know, to embrace the shining light of my own soul in my small body.
Have you given birth to yours yet? If you haven’t, it’s time. Wherever it came from, whatever you did or didn’t do, whatever was done to you, know you have a perfect, unique blazing light glowing within your perfectly imperfect self.
If you’re willing, share a time of when you remember when your seed was planted.
23 thoughts on “My Little Red Shoes”
Great post, Susan!
I’m not sure who left this post, but thank you for reading and thanks for your comment.
The seed of shame that defines my world:
I am still unable to overcome the feelings of “Loss” created in the wake of my daughter’s birth.
Yes, Denise, perhaps so…and perhaps you don’t ever need to “overcome” them, but simply grieve the loss and accept the beauty that you’re creating with your daughter. I love you.
Thank you for shining the light on it Susan! We all have shame but it shrinks in the presence of love and truth.
Ahhhh…yes my friend…it “shrinks” in the presence of love and truth…thanks, Mel…love your words and you!
Great post…really makes you think…deeply!
Good…I’m happy to hear this…it is my intention to have a place where we can share out life process with each other.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
With gratitude and love,
Listen here, you…I wouldn’t have been able to pick you up and fling you around, Paula Passion style, had you not been EXACTLY the way that you are! I love you, and I know shame, too…see the red-faced misfit, for example. Thank you for your honesty.
And throw me around you did!!! hahaha…Alissia, post your blog here so people can hit the link. I’ll also post in on my FB page. YAY for the “misfits!” Love you!
Sounds like a very fond memory. 🙂
Susan, thank you for your courage and insight. You are an amazing woman who is so open and full of love.
My friend…thank you. I could simply say, “DITTO.” I’ve always admired and adored you for you creative, inspiring spirit and your love for your family, friends and generous heart! xoxox
very nice…..too bad we are so hard on ourselves. We truly are our own worst enemy.
Jan, thank you…yes…we are our own worst enemy until me learn to be our own best friend. Thanks for the comment. Love you pic by the way:-)
Wow, another amazing post. We can all be so very hard on ourselves. I too had a inner critic who was every bit as merciless as the bullies on the playground. When that seed was planted I’m not sure. Your story did bring to mind a moment when I was about 9. I’ve always had rather large front teeth and with quite an overbite, I would bite into an apple and my best friend would point at the indentations in the apple and say: “Geez! Look at that! You REALLY need braces!” She was right ofcourse, but it resulted in me feeling ashamed of my smile and hiding my smile behind my hand. Years later, I did get braces and lined up the teeth (although I still have the overbite). I hid my smile for many years, until I finally embraced the way I look. Your post brought out a big, big smile 😀
Come to think of this I realisee I have since learned to love my reflection in the mirror, but I still struggle seeing pictures of myself. There is still work to be done. But I notice that with a gentle smile on my face, knowing that I can heal that too.
Thank you for the inspiration my amazing friend. You rock (as do red shoes).
Funny that you bring your teeth up. When we had our call on Sunday, I was (TRULY) thinking how gorgeous your smile was. I LOVE your story because I resonate with every word you’ve written. I, too, have a big teeth and an overbite and begged my parents for braces…but the dentist said I didn’t need them and gave me a retainer instead. I hated my teeth and smile for so many years..BUT, I’m grateful that I have teeth:-) I just love this comment…thank you for sharing.
Hi Yvon, for many years I felt my smile was really awkward too and never liked to look at it. The grin would be too big and intense and look more like a menacing array of teeth that intended nothing but nefarious schemes! We certainly mirror how we feel, at every single moment, and reflect it to the world. I am better with my smile better, as I changed how I look at it, and I changed my sponsoring thought about giving smiles, and that grin. 😀
What a topic! Shame should have hit me much earlier in my childhood, but never did until high school. (That is another story for another time.) It was during my junior or senior year (the time before second year of college are extremely fuzzy) that I felt that shame for the first time. I met this young lady classmate who I resonated with quite a bit. My friends at the time started to give me strange looks, and would scrutinize the gifts Lisa would give me, and laugh, much to my confusion. Later on they would clue me in, and tell me Lisa rides the short bus to school – which meant she was in the special education program, and they would all laugh at my choice of friend. I felt much fear at that point, because I was suddenly not fitting in again. So for a week, near the end of the school year, I would avoid contact with Lisa. Lisa would escalate her attempts to get in contact with me, and I would escalate my avoidance tactics. She started to actually chase me around the campus – I would be running as if a group of sharks were after me in the bloody water; and Lisa would be chasing me with equal ferocity. After a few days of this, Lisa figured out what was going on, and started to cry. A few of the other female classmates who knew me would take notice and console Lisa, knowing how we both felt.
Yup, there it was, larger than life, not contained by my corporeal 5 foot 8 198 lb body – shame. Its big lumbering and intimidating presence dwarfed me, and dominated all my waking and sleeping moments; like a specter haunting you with ethereal vengeance. I should have not been a coward and reject Lisa; I could have been better and gave all those friends the middle finger; why did I not beat those friends into a bloody pulp like I would have usually done if I was offended? Why did utter fear of not fitting come and completely possess me like that?
No matter the thoughts, the questions, the internal rebukes – that shame was still there, shadowing my very being, more persistent than was seemingly possible. I buried that thing under magma, thousands of feet of rock, thousands of more feet of soil, tons of grass, and piles of daisies and went off to my new life in college – 130ish miles away, next to a beach, into untold numbers of parties and drinking glasses, and computers, and bouncing grades; and did not think about it until I read your entry.
That shame looks to be much more mild than I thought. A footnote to wonder about, a footnote to address in some manner. It has been 17 years, old, friend…
Thanks for posting, as always (becoming a tradition), Susan!
I was a little, no actually a lot surprised to read your story. It made me realize how very differently others see us than we see ourselves. I first met you around 2nd or 3rd grade so we pretty much knew each other our whole lives(at least the parts we are able to remember) I have to be honest, I do not remember the girl in that story at all. I remember you being extremely pretty and that smile of yours would light up an entire room. I loved your smile. I remember being jealous if how toned your arms and legs always were from gymnastics. There were many times we would be in your yard during the summer and I so wanted to pull my shirt down over my knees to cover up my legs because I was embarressed of them. I never could get my shirt to stretch out that much. And forget putting a bathing suit on to swim in your pool. It was terrifying at times. I stayed wrapped in my towel as much as I could because I just didnt want people to see how I could never measure up to how good you always looked. Then came time to let go of the towel and jump in the water. I tried to pretend that noone could see through the water and in that brief wonderful moment that I wasnt drowning in my self conscientiousness, the swimming races commenced. You could swim your butt off! Noone could beat you in a swim race. It didnt seem to help me feel any better reminding myself that you had a pool in your backyard where you could practice everyday if you wanted to and I didnt have that advantage. I still felt like that 7 year old girl, in her red Snoopy dress, and shiney red shoes, hiding under the desk, sobbing and wishing I was invisible. To me, you were always amazing!
I’m sorry I never responded to this comment. Thank you for sharing your feelings, thoughts around your own shame. Yes, indeed, it is amazing how we see things so differently through our own lens. Here’s what I thought…you with your thin, lean legs, blond hair…BEAUTIFUL! But what I remember most is how much I loved you and your sister. Thank you for making my childhood so enjoyable. They are memories that I will cherish always.
All my love!
Oh Sweety, no apology necessary! I am in awe that you are already back to your blog so soon after Rocky’s passing.
I am typing the words but I am still struggling to comprehend them. Rocky passed? Passed what? Passed a football? Passed the 4th grade? Passed his drivers test? My brain may not have caught on yet, by heart has definitely figured it out? I still cant seem to read or think about him without a face full of tears and an aching heart. I can’t even imagine what you are going through! I, do hope, with the passing of time, that his memory will bring you nothing but joy.
Thank you for your kind words?
All my love to you
Denise, my friend, my head has not caught up to my heart yet either. Each morning I awaken and continue to ask myself all over again, is he really gone from this physical plane? The other day I was at my mom’s, she looked at Rocky’s picture…then she looked at me and said, “He’s not dead.” She said this four times and I looked at her and said, “No. He’s not.” And I meant it, understanding his energy, spirit live on. I get these quick snapshots of his face, something he said, can hear his laughter…I want to reach out into the air and grab the moments, tuck them away in my pocket. I know these memories will make me smile one day rather than breakdown and beg for mercy. I know it’s all about time…and now I’m giving myself permission to be in the space I’m in…to cry when I want and scream if that urge overtakes me. This is life. We are all living it the best way we know how. But even in the midst of the heartache, I know, too, that each morning we wake up and string together tiny moments and within those moments live both joy and heartache and its all ok. Thank you for your thoughts, comments, and love. Sending love back your way.