On Friday night, after a day of chocolate hearts and shooting arrows and Will You? and Yes! for those around the globe that celebrate Valentine’s Day, The Magician and I joined a gathering of beautiful beings for a trip back to the 80s. There’s only one reason I didn’t recreate my feathered hair for this event. The entire audience gathered at the Mystic Theater to see The English Beat would have been mesmerized by the symmetry of feathered perfection encasing my head, which would have been disrespectful to the band. I may not have fully embraced the color of my hair during that decade, but I owned that hairstyle like Jennifer Aniston owned The Rachel. It feathered from roots to ends and met in the back like two long lost friends.
It was spectacular.
Until I got a perm.
That screwed up my hair mojo for years. My Mom will agree. I doubt she remembers, and I hesitate to even bring it up, but there was a point in the 80s where I sported a permed bob on one side and a close cropped/shaved look on the other. I see it now as revenge for the Dorothy Hamill she talked me into (that’s how I choose to remember it) in 8th grade. That haircut made me look like a lit match, except for the lean physique of a match. Instead, I carried an extra 15 pounds on my 5’ 9” frame. And a wedge on the backside of my red head. Freckles on the front.
Not exactly the stuff boyhood dreams are made of.
While others could look back at pictures and laugh I would throw out pictures of me at my gawkiest.
Those 15 pounds got out of control in college, but I dialed it back upon graduation with many a night swimming in the pool after a suggestion by a friend that I could be a model. I didnt’ swim for hours out of self-love, but because of an external influence and my desire to be accepted. I dropped the weight and landed a contract with Ford Models. But the modeling gig only served to highlighted my insecurities rather than instill in me confidence in my appearance. Instead of thinking, Wow! I’m a model! I thought, They are going to realize I really am not model material. I sobbed my way through my resignation two years later. Never felt comfortable. Couldn’t own it.
Something was amiss. But I was too busy pretending everything was fine to notice that I wasn’t being real. That I was disconnected. That I lived only in my head, dragging my body around begrudgingly.
I continued to work on my body and my resume. My next career was about as fairy tail as you could get – I spent my time meeting with those who were killing it in business. Entrepreneurs, up and comers, award winners, deal makers, inventors. I helped to grow businesses and elevate careers. I made great money, went warp speed on learning about business, and benefited from awards and trips and opportunities to say, I’m a headhunter when dot com was hot com. My clients and candidates thought I was amazing. Inside, unconsciously, I thought, I hope they don’t find out I’m not that amazing.
To the outside world I was at the top of my professional game.
And my body had never been so fit.
But the sensation that I was at the top of my game came from external validation, not from within. Which left me feeling unstable and insecure – as if I was a fraud instead of the real deal. The satisfaction I received from a job well done was like putting on a pretty dress when you feel ugly inside. Instead of elevating your self-esteem it makes you feel unworthy of such a beautiful thing.
No matter how many awards I received or miles I tacked on to my trail runs I always felt like I had to be more, try harder, be funnier, prettier, make others feel more comfortable, in order to be lovable. At the time I had no idea all this was going on inside me. Without the help of any advanced degrees or even a single elective in Psychology I can now see how my lack of self love guided my choices in life. All of them. And so, it comes as no surprise that I married a man who would serve to reinforce just how unlovable I thought I was.
I haven’t written that in such blunt terms before, but that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t love myself. And my Ego had to be right at all times. So if I didn’t love myself then I had to couple up with a man who would prove my Ego right; he would show me with his actions that I was unlovable. Because that’s exactly what I needed him to do.
Sobfest break…wow it’s been so long. I have to move away from the laptop before I fry the keyboard.
It hurts still to say this, but I didn’t love myself. That was the complicating factor, the thing that made it impossible for me to experience pure true love. (PTL – great band name. Someday someone is going to recognize my extraordinary talents as a band name creator. I just know it. Until that time, know that I accept that I rock at generating band names.) If I couldn’t love myself, if I didn’t feel lovable, then how could I expect another to love me?
That would be like launching a product I didn’t believe in and saying, You really shouldn’t feel too confident about buying this. It’s probably not going to work. I wouldn’t waste your money on it, but if you want to I can sell it to you, all the while questioning your judgment. Because clearly you have poor judgment. But this thing is going to sell big.
Like most kids, I had my share of puncture wounds from other children throwing arrows in my direction. D.B. telling me that I’m ugly in front of the entire 10th grade in Social Studies stands out. Not a great day. But a potent one as I reflect back on it now. And then there’s the numerous times when, as a married woman, I was made to feel undesirable. Which was deftly translated by my Ego to mean unlovable. Since the one person who chose to love me (not out of blood relative obligation) was telling me I wasn’t lovable through words and actions – all the while saying, I love you – then I must not really be lovable and I can’t trust those who express their love to me because it’s not true. So I guess I have to try harder at being lovable. Which meant doing things better to create external events that will result in receiving love from others. And then reminding myself not to trust their love.
Cinderella was less than – made to feel inferior by her step mother and step sisters. She felt trapped. She cried. And then came the pretty dress and the fancy night out, all capped off with attention from a Prince, which transformed how she felt about herself. And then love was born.
A pretty girl, a pretty dress and the attention of a man can magically erase feelings of shame!
And that’s why fairy tales need footnotes. And warning labels.
There is nothing in the outside world that is a cure for shame. Comforts abound, yes. But cures, no. Only from within.
The Magician and I drove back to west Marin after our trip to the 80s all ska’d out on the night of a full moon. The fog had rolled in thick as honey and softly wet. The air was still. Before taking me home, we stopped at the end of Overlook, getting out to sit on the rock and stare at the fog that obscured the city and the sea, listening to the waves. Our talk turned to love. The Magician spoke of not being able to get at the heart of the idea of self love. Sure, it makes sense that to be content we need to accept ourselves as imperfect beings. Accept our failures and our traits that leave us feeling out of step with the world. Accept that we are works in progress and we don’t have to live up to the standards of another but simply try our best, be good and kind.
Is self-love merely acceptance of the self?
We leaned against each other and stared into the gray mist.
And then he raised the idea of shame. He told me that he was impressed by my willingness to write so openly about my former spouse’s affair and the impact it had on me. So many others, he said, would have had too much shame. He could have said that others would be too shy or too private or too embarrassed, but he used the word shame. More than once. And it went right for my forehead like a misplaced name tag.
Hi. I’m shame.
Since that night on the rock I have pondered shame. I’ve looked for it inside, thought about how to transform it, and even looked up some articles on shame, which is a highly unusual move for me. Too much input from Google spins me in directions others have taken instead of allowing my path to unfold in front of me organically. But, in this case it seemed wise. I was surprised to find how easily shame is created by a too strong reaction to a child’s behavior or someone dumping shame inside another during an encounter in order to relieve themselves of the burden. Or through the oft used phrase, You should be ashamed of yourself.
Gosh. It makes me wince to type that phrase with what I now know.
We should never be ashamed of ourselves. Guilt is productive, for a time. Guilt is associated with making choices that we eventually recognize to be inappropriate. Shame is about ourselves. Not our choices or actions. But our very being.
Shame says, I am not worthy. Of you. Of love. Of opportunity. Of happiness. Of being myself because myself is shameful. I am not worthy of anything.
And shame is one of the best hiders in the business. I had no idea that I harbored shame. So, while The Magician is telling me how wonderful I am for writing openly about something that others would find shameful, I’m looking within and realizing, Holy Humiliation, I was full of shame right up through Year One Post Pocket Call. The shame that comes from never feeling worthy. Those days at Limantour when the tears would blast out of my eyes – I was purging shame. The conversations I had over hours and hours walking side by side with myself were debates about shame. Debates that led to acceptance. Allowing humor to spring forth to lighten things up a bit. Soften me so I could be less harsh on myself. Nature encouraging me to smile at the magic of being alive right here, right now. Encouraging me to embrace my human beauty, to acknowledge that I am (we all are) perfect by design.
The past two years have been largely about turning inward to discover myself again, to fall in love with myself for the first time. That love, that self love, is not just about accepting who I am in the 3D. And it’s not about having a healthy Ego (not possible when the Ego is dying as a result of human evolution). It’s as passionate a love affair as one can experience. Loving oneself is true pure love. A love that lives day after day as if it’s the very first day of falling in love. It’s a love so powerful and so magical because, among many other blessings, it is evidence of living without shame. Loving yourself makes you undeniably lovable because you are already loved. By you. Someone you can trust. (If you don’t trust yourself, call me. This is so, so important. We need to be able to trust ourselves to survive. We don’t need our Ego anymore to survive, but we do need to trust ourselves.)
Loving yourself is both balancing and intoxicating. It’s sexy. And freeing. And beautifully grounding. Loving yourself makes it easier to play, and to make mistakes, and be fearless. It places distance between how you need to live your life and how others expect you to live your life. Loving yourself makes it awfully hard to judge others.
When we chose to love ourselves shame turns to dust. And fear of not being lovable is replaced with unconditional love for all. Which is met with Magic’s open arms, complete with those sexy white gloves. And the next thing you know, love is everywhere. In abundance. As if love was ice cream and someone dropped you into a creamery with a never ending supply of spoons and said, Sample at will. There is no harm.
If we chose to love another before loving ourselves we are left depleted and unloved. Every time we turn around someone will show up to play a role that shines a spotlight on our hearts which are singing in our ears, I wanna to be loved by you, just you, nobody else but you. I wanna to be loved by you, alone, poo poo be do.
As we sat on the rock, spent from a long night of dancing with each other and dancing around this attraction we feel for each other, my eyes spied motion just at the edge of the cliff. The waddle and a quick glimpse of a white stripe left no question as to who was just ten feet in front of us. A skunk.
Today I looked up the totem meaning and found this:
When Skunk crosses our path, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to become more confident in our interactions with others. Skunk spirit sets the perfect paradigm for meeting life challenges with a calm and peaceful stance. Skunk guides us to command respect from others, by first and foremost, respecting ourselves. Skunk Medicine wisdom teaches us to honor our spirituality as we spend time alone in silence. Helping one to build confidence in the self and to develop more strength of will and independence. Skunk Medicine people are not pretentious and feel compelled to be who they are without the need for approval of others to define them. When one learns to assert, without ego, what and who you are, respect follows. Your self-respectful attitude will repel those who are not of like mind, and yet will attract those who choose the same pathway. As the odor of Skunk attracts others of its kind, it repels those who will not respect its space.
So, as we embraced at my door after bidding the skunk good night, The Magician said, I am hesitant to kiss you.
I said, Then hug me.
And I didn’t feel the least bit unlovable.
I may find that I become every great guy’s best girl friend, but there’s no shame in that.
There’s no more shame.