On the phone with my 89 year old grandmother this week, she said, “Still have your man?” I inhaled to brace myself and said, “No, actually, it’s been a really difficult month. I’ve been exploring what’s really going on by focusing on me and I’ve been working with two different therapists and coaches on growing through this.” Sometimes I wonder why I say these things to her, and she wonders why I call her less often. It’s because rest assured, our conversations will trigger my shame. I think I share honestly with her both to attempt to open these doors and also to see how much shame can still be triggered.
She said, “Ha, I thought you were a coach, now you have to hire a coach too?”
What’s the implicit message? That’s right. You don’t have it all together yet? Are you weak? And, of course, you are weak for being imperfect.
Of course she doesn’t consciously intend to cause harm through judgement, but it happens. This could be a post about my grandmother, but it isn’t. I started out with that story to bring it home that messages of perfection and shame of not having it all together yet are all around us.
And this post is about me, because, if I tell you a story about someone else’s mistakes, I’m not really looking at my own, and I’m avoiding my shame.
Shame is the lowest emotion. When emotional frequencies are measured, it is actually the lowest of all emotions as compared on the megahertz scale. That means it feels the worst.
And what would trigger the worst feelings but the most profound of our crap. Our wounds. Our deepest stuff.
This month, this first month of a brand new year, kicked my ass. It brought up all my stuff, honestly, in a way that showed what I really needed to learn at this time. I’m still learning (and always will be.) This could be a post about how on a soul journey, a soul mate relationship will do that, but it’s not that post either. This is the post from the inward examination of shame. And it’ll be incomplete. And imperfect. And I’m learning more and more to be in full acceptance of that.
I really try to get it right and good. I think we all do, inherently. I really try to be brave and tell stories and help people. I intend to live in my truth and put myself out there in vulnerability and be strong in order to withstand any sort of reaction. I forgot, as I do so that I can remember, apparently, what our friend Brené Brown tells us, that if we live courageously, we will fall. We will fail. And it’s at that point that we get to decide. Whether to blame and point, or whether to integrate our experiences and grow.
I certainly dabble with the blame and point. I have to watch it, be mindful not to act from it. Sorry not sorry if that’s not enlightened enough yet. (Ha. You see what I did there? A joke about hiding shame.)
I’m a natural integrator. Living the soul journey and being willing to “go there” is kinda my gig. I also just sometimes want to avoid getting my ass kicked. Because it hurts. And I want to inherently be good. Be enough. When I see the outward world reflecting to me that I didn’t get it right, I think, well F, then I must still not be good enough and getting it right.
It triggers self worth and it triggers shame.
I think we live in a pretty interesting time where this idea that we can actually come to a point where we don’t feel these things anymore or that we are above feeling them is pretty rampant. I think that in the past year, putting myself out there as a coach after having worked in education, I definitely was worried about getting it right. I didn’t always admit vulnerabilities, even though I am this truth telling person. Even though I started Embodied Breath specifically to look at the “not enough” patterns that we all face, I was still doing it! Of course I was. They are engrained.
The aim is not perfection. The aim is authentic and wholehearted living. The aim is essentially love.
I told my grandmother, after a deep breath, that yes, of course I would be willing to hire my own coach if that’s the same help I hope to provide. My clients need to be willing to hire me when they want to self-examine something, and I don’t pretend to be above that. I told her that it’s okay to need help and that it is not weakness. We’re not culturally used to asking for or needing help, but that sets us up for a lot of high and unmeetable expectations. I told her this on the other side of a significant river of shame I’ve been crossing. Not the full other side, but I’m on the banks again enough to see where I’ve just been.
I don’t know where exactly I went wrong. It’s not entirely my story to tell, and so I won’t tell it here, out of respect for others involved, and because it’s still active. But I behaved in what I believed was honesty and courage, and yet I still messed up, somehow. People are still pissed. My character is apparently in question for some people. In fact, I’m starting to hear about it through a grapevine - stories that are partly untrue and giving negative descriptions of my character being told about me. A friend of mine told me that she heard some gossip and could say; I know this person, and what you are saying is not true. Thank god for friends like that.
I thought that in telling my own story for a living, I would somehow avoid people telling false stories. I thought that in authenticity, I would be protected somehow from criticism. I thought that if I stood up for soul and love, that love would conquer all and that we wouldn’t get hurt. These weren’t conscious thoughts. These were assumptions made while I was doing the good work of hustling forward and showing up best I knew how. And then, I made choices that ended up hurting people. And gained me criticism. And there’s nothing I can say or do or be to change minds. I can’t please my way out of this. And meanwhile my own heart aches, and precious few are asking me about my own heart. (Thank you if you are. Dear me, from my heart, thank you.)
Another friend called me to say he was there for me no matter what. He said, “Sarah, maybe it’s just time for you to tell your own story. It’s what you do.”
That same day, I pulled the Truth Be Told card from my oracle deck and thought, Oh crap. I sat with this, wondering what it meant. And then I was preparing to sit in a circle of women. Women who had paid me to be my clients in a… get this… Personal Truth group. And I got the loud, incessant cue from above to tell the whole story. All of it. Even the parts that people could judge. And I wanted to run. And I sat sweating up until the moment I told it. But I told it. I asked only for it to be heard. That there was a truth in me that needed to be spoken and not kept silent. I said I would accept judgement. I would accept the consequences of reactions. Whatever they are. I braced myself for more shame or for people to even quit working with me. And when I told it, I heard, “Thank you for modeling what truth telling looks like. Thank you for living what you say you live.” I heard, “I would not imagine walking away from you or this right now.”
A few days later, I was collaborating with a male colleague and he knows the whole story. I also worked with him and his wife with some couples coaching. I again braced myself for rejection and more shame, and he said, “I don’t judge you.”
On this man’s computer I noticed a taped piece of paper that read “In the Arena!” Brené Brown and all of her shame research and all of the books with all my notes in the margins were in my hands this month. What did I forget? How did I get here? What is this terrible feeling I’m feeling? Where do we go from here with shame? Brené tells story from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” that my friend’s personal reminder was referencing - be in the arena. It is more important to be in the arena of life, engaging with it heart and soul, than to be avoidant on the periphery. And when you are in the arena, you will mess up. You will fall. You will fail.
I had the distinct opportunity, consciously, at least a hundred times since I started Embodied Breath to either walk forward into this arena or walk back out again. Walking forward, engaging with life, following my Soul, and to do it with as much integrity as possible, is the only option. I was recently reminded that sometimes I will fail. And thankfully, this has also lead to renewed realizations that there is relief in my imperfection.
There is a kind of resilient fighting that comes from determination to prove perfection and avoid shame. I know that fighter. She’s in me, and you all have heard her tell stories if you’ve been watching for any time at all. There is a more genuine form of authenticity that comes from your heart being cracked open, having to choose whether or not to keep loving yourself and other people in spite of imperfections, and humbly standing up to say that I’m sorry I hurt someone, and I’m sorry I abandoned aspects of myself. Standing in front of my mirror and my creations and humbly offering personal forgiveness inward has been profound. After all this hard work of getting to this point, leaving a career I’d achieved a lot in, creating Embodied Breath, what, I thought I wouldn’t stumble?
If we stay in that frequency of the emotional state of shame and it survives, it will take us down. Guaranteed. We will not walk back into the arena of life for as long as we let it rule us. We can work hard and get promotions and seemingly be successful from this place, but we will not be living authentically. Wholeheartedly. I am not here to school you from a pedestal. That’s kinda the whole point. I’m here to remind us all. I’m here to walk with you. Haha, it’s more like I’m pulling at your shirt hem from my knees right now than having any pretence of pedestal.
Brené Brown found in her research that in order for shame to survive, it needs secrecy, silence, and judgement. In my walk this month, especially this week, I discovered these antidotes. I broke my silence, my secrecy, and my own personal self judgement and the judgement of others. Friends and helpers were gracious enough to help me break it. And the shame feels much less intense.
The absolute antidote to shame is empathy. It’s what we need to be kind enough to extend to one another, even when we’re hurting. When I’m hurting and accepted my colleague Gina’s offer when she said, “Spirit is telling me to offer you this coaching,” it was amazing. Gina is helping me to hold space for all parts of myself. It is some of the most powerful personal work I’ve ever done. I can hold myself empathetically in this space and it resonates outward.
When we are willing to look at all of ourselves, we grow the most. Not that it’s some race or something, but it also feels the best. Self-forgiveness and self-love feel good. Relaxing the pressure on myself allows me to be a better space holder for others, more loving toward all, more empathetic. I am a better mother, a clearer coach, and better steward of Embodied Breath as a result of having gotten in that arena of life, gotten my ass kicked (again), and learning to be vulnerable and present with myself and others in still-closer ways. I am more authentic than ever. I am more myself than ever.
If I have behaved in a way that perpetuated a notion of perfectionism in the coaching industry, I am sorry. I do the work that I do because I want you to have a space to own your whole truth, your vulnerability, to feel your shame if you need to, to move through whatever arises, and to see yourself as beautiful and whole. My work is an arena itself! It is what I am inviting.
If I have hurt you, I am sorry.
I pray that we may all stay in the arena with ourselves and with one another, so that we may experience the wholehearted, connected, ever-conscious possibilities on the other side. I will go through, with you. Beside you.