When I called my mother from ten hours away during my first semester of college and told her I was pregnant, she let out a sound so guttural, so raw, that I’m pretty sure my father probably thought someone had died. Telling your mother you’re pregnant when you’re supposed to be a kid going off to college, well, that’s shame inducing.
Going home from college pregnant after the first semester at age 18; that’s shame inducing. Going back to the small town, back to the place you wanted to get away from in the first place, back to the methodist-infused judgement, literally growing evidence of your lust in your belly.
Shame shuts down things like lust and sexuality. Shame shuts down most things and makes rule-followers, hustlers, vigilant watchers out of us.
There was an Indigo Girls song, “Fugitive,” that I listened to in my old boxy black Jeep Cherokee on repeat that fall while I was packing up from the college I was ashamed to be leaving, an innovative hippie school in Western North Carolina. The song started with the words “I’m harboring a fugitive, defector of a kind, and she lives in my soul, and drinks of my wine, and I’d give my last breath, just to keep us alive.”
I listened to the song again just now and cried my eyes out. Happens every time I play it.
I carried that little fugitive. Or I was the fugitive, or we were, I’m not sure. I put my head down, let the other adults duke it out, and I grew that girl. I knew she had to be here. I knew this mess was somehow the most sacred thing I’d ever experienced.
I cared for her like the doctors told me to, and I also discovered, somehow following my instincts, Ina May Gaskin and Caroline Myss and Christiane Northrup. On my 18th birthday, I went to a small diner in rural PA with my grandmother, visibly pregnant, and meanwhile Ina May Gaskin was on my nightstand. Actually I didn’t have a nightstand. I had a bookshelf behind the head of a twin sized bed that was put in the basement for me when I came back from college. A bed in the basement was also shame inducing. I’d revisit that in therapy to unpack more than once in the subsequent decades.
But I found god in that bed, with that baby in my belly. Rather, now, I think I found my own Soul and Mary Magdalene and Sophia. I touched the Sacred. I knew my child’s Soul. I felt her so deeply. I knew her personality. There is nothing she has ever done that has surprised me, because I knew her that deeply. But I actually only got to see her grow up in pictures and twice a year visits if I was lucky. She was adopted three days after her birth.
I knew my job was to get her through. I just knew it with the knowing that I now call Soulknowing - when you don’t know how you know other than you know it in your core. She was meant to be here. She chose to come through me. There was only one family I would have chosen out of three states worth of families looking to adop through that agency. I chose them a few months before her birth, so I knew where she would be going. I didn’t know what it would look like. I couldn’t predict. And yet, I knew she would be okay.
When you’re laying there in a solo twin bed at 18 and pregnant, and you find a different kind of God than the god you’d been given, the god that made you go to church and the god that shamed you for being a lustful woman in the first place, you find faith. Or I did anyway. But faith is a different story. It goes hand in hand with this story, but this story is about shame.
I found God (or Sophia or Mary Magdalene or my Soul - whatever She was) and I put all that faith into that divine little baby, and then when I had handed her over, what does a girl filled with so much shame do? She kicks her own ass.
The prescription we’re all given, as women, is to make something of ourselves. I pause here because I don’t think I need to actually even say more about this to women who have read this far in this post. You know the pressures, teenage pregnancy or not. Women know the conflicts. We know the narratives. We know that the path of achievement can derail us from our Soul real damn quick and real deep if we’re not careful. And sadly, we don’t know to be careful. Because the inherent prescription looks and sounds like, “succeed at all costs, the answers are outside of yourself, go prove you are good enough.” And then we lose our Soul, or disconnect from it further, or don’t even know what we’ve lost, we just know it’s something big.
Gaining back one’s Soul is the work of a lifetime. Following one’s Truth is the work of a lifetime.
I’ve been walking back to myself, on a windy road, for nearly twenty years. Thankfully, I didn’t stop looking under the rocks on the path. I also worked like hell to prove myself and prove achievement and prove prove prove prove prove prove prove my worth.
Because nothing strips self love and self worth like shame. And nothing ever fills a hole when shame dug it in the first place. And we don’t ever prove a damn thing if what we really want is to love ourselves and feel worthy just to be alive.
You have to choose yourself. You have to choose your Soul. You have to get it back, and this is an active choice. Others will not understand this choice when you start to choose it. It looks like rule-breaking. The further you go, the more it looks like crazy, in my experience.
This choice will not make sense and will go against the grain and you will be misunderstood and you will have to confront all of the parts of yourself you never wanted to even admit were parts of yourself and you will have to claim claim claim claim claim your own Soul.
I want to say this again. YOU will have to choose you. Mom and Dad and husbands and bosses and friends turned not friends and lovers turned not lovers will never do for you what this active choice to choose yourself will do for you. It is not selfish, to know yourself. It is not unimportant.
It is so important. It is what leads you to be so damn fine with yourself that you have nothing but integrity. And when you make a mistake, finally you learn to recognize the sabotager of shame and you embrace it, you embrace you, you apologize, you get right with yourself, you decide what parts of yourself you’ll judge and what you’ll forgive and fix and you’ll do your best. The fight, the need to prove, the incessant running from shame - these things only lead to more fights, more combativeness between us and life.
I recently had another deep bout with shame. Thankfully, shame came to be a teacher, as emotions and conditions do. I know that many people worry that they will lose themselves to these unpleasant emotions. You will not lose yourself if you continue to choose yourself, and continue to ask for growth.
I sat with shame, this teacher, and I saw how it had always been there, under the surface, whispering in my ear that maybe I wasn’t actually good. Wasn’t actually okay, for all my trying and all my proving.
Shame is not You, You are not shame. You are not the things that society told you were wrong but you did anyway because of your Soulknowing. There is a SoulYou to claim. You are Yours to claim. And the world needs SoulYou, not another rule follower. The world needs you Whole.
I’m going to go ahead and be radical - that’s but one of the things I’ve come to after these first intense weeks of 2019. I’m going to operate through a radical love. I’m going to tell the stories that don’t get told. Talk about sexuality and the gritty work of Soulgaining. I’m going to take leaps and do things that don’t fit the mold.
Thank God. And Sophia. And Mary Magdalene. Thank Soul. I didn’t come here to be or please anyone else. Neither did you. We came to be whole. Get after your own Soul.