The Shame Project

If you have been reading this blog, you might have wondered: what’s this all about? Well, hold on to your hats, you’re about to find out.

I started this blog for the following reasons:

1. Since finishing my MFA five years ago I have hardly written a thing.  I’ve been ‘filling the well’ as we writers like to say, which is also a friendly way of saying not writing. Writing a blog has been helping me to find my voice again, to sharpen my teeth. Writers talk about getting out of their own way, which incidentally is probably also good life advice.  To wit, I’ve tried to write this blog with a minimum of editing, while maintaining a modicum of readability. The point isn’t too be perfect, the point is to write. When you’re a child you tell people what u want to be when u grow up, well at 36 I guess I’m pretty well all grown, and if writing makes me a writer then I’m a writer, but I want more from my writing. I published a piece at the end of grad school and someone paid me for it and that felt pretty great. I want to publish more.  I’m not done with you writing. I’m only just getting started.

2. I’m about to launch my private practice as a psychotherapist and I wanted to remind the people I know that I’m a feeling person in the world, not too fucked up to facilitate healing but just fucked up enough to know what I’m talking about.

3. This third point undergirds my work as a writer, psychotherapist, and mental health advocate and it has to do with shame.  We need to talk more about shame.  As a psychotherapist, I often quote Dan Siegel who says ‘name it to tame it’.  In that vein, I’m proposing we ‘name shame to tame shame’.  

Shame is something I see in my therapeutic practice on a daily basis.  There’s the bad thing that hurts and then there is the suffering we layer on top of this bad thing, and shame is a major part of this suffering.  Buddhists call this dynamic the two arrows of suffering.

Shame is a breeding ground for secrecy and secrecy doesn’t allow shame to breath and this lack of air causes more shame. You know what I’m going to say, it’s one of those pesky vicious circles.  So we need more conversations about shame and about the things that shame us.  More specifically, and in the context of mental health, we need more conversations about anxiety, depression, trauma, psychosis, addiction, abuse, self-harm, domestic violence, suicide.  When you look at the #metoo movement, you get a small glimpse of what is possible when people share their stories.  

I know that sometimes sharing isn’t physically and/or emotionally safe, so along with the imperative to talk more about shame and share our stories, it is equally important to respect people’s decisions not to name their shame.  Nobody should be coerced or pressured into sharing.  At the same time, there is always going to be something that feels inherently destabilizing about sharing the thing that the world tells us we should hide.  This is the very definition of shame.  And it is here, on this shaky ground, that I aspire to be bold.  

Personally, I want to share some of the details of my life: about aging, about imperfect relationships, about family, about my own pettiness/smallness, about my struggles with mental health, about never been rich enough, about never feeling good enough. Don’t get me wrong, my writing isn’t entirely, or even mostly, altruistic. I get a lot out of writing–not least of all that dopamine rush when I click the little blue publish button in the top righthand corner.  But this idea of deconstructing shame by building narratives is something that I’m invested in.  Ta da. This is the shame project.