Where there are secrets, there is shame. Shame can only exist when things are kept secret. Healing cannot happen in the shadow of shame.
These are not my words but they are so wise they need to be shared. They belong to my friend Michelle, who I will reference again later. These will be the most important statements I have learned in the last eight months and they are the drivers of this website and the touchstone from which I am building myself back up to move into my best self.
I caught some flak for my post yesterday about how addiction has affected our family. It seems that my sharing of OUR story has upset some people. I don’t want to be indignant and argumentative but I will say this. (See yesterday’s post: Shame in Parenting..)
I have lived a life of being ashamed of so many things. My body. My femininity. My choices. My values. My parenting. My relationships. My mistakes. My words. My past. My EXISTENCE. I believe that shame was the root cause of an intense depression that I went through in my 3rd year of university that I never thought I would come out of.
I also take responsibility for some of the mental health challenges that my son Jake faces today. I believe that some of the shame I inherited from the generations that came before me, I passed down to him. I believe that I unintentionally raised him to always worry about what other people thought; being hyper vigilant in anticipation of other people’s reactions; moulded him into being an extreme empath so he could “read the room” and then feel responsible for the feelings of others. I KNOW in my core that I passed this to him.
I will be damned if I let shame dictate my life, or the lives of my boys, ever again.
For the last fifteen years, my family has fit a narrative for others, and for ourselves as well. We are that family with the twins with autism. We are extraordinary in the challenges we have faced and in how we tackle them. We are inspiring because of how we stay positive. We are the barometer for others to compare themselves to – “some people have it worse, think of the challenges Stacey faces” or “I can’t complain about the mundane, because Stacey has it worse”. In our sharing over the years, we have in some ways provided a form of innocent entertainment or voyeurism as people “follow” our story – just as I follow the lives of those on TLC’s reality tv shows. It’s human nature and I understand it.
A generation ago, my family’s story would not have been this publicly welcome. I would have been discouraged to talk about it. I would have been encouraged to keep my kids locked away and out of sight. There are still some who feel this way, in fact (including my next door neighbour). The topic of shame and disability is one that is widely discussed in the disability community and is one that I hope evolves to a place where the word shame no longer exists. There are still many countries that still breed a culture of discrimination against people with disabilities and the tragic mass murder of 19 people in 2016 at a centre for the disabled in Japan, proves that there is much work to be done. Here in Canada, in our own experience in our own communities, our experience has been more positive. It’s not perfect, but I don’t feel that pressure to lock my boys away for other people’s comfort level.
Why is it better for us than it was for families and people with disabilities than it was even a generation ago? Because someone spoke up. Because people shared their stories and experiences. I bet it was the Mamas who were tired of hiding their pride in their children. Who demanded that their children deserved the same rights as other people’s children.
So tell me. Why should I be open about the challenges we face as a family with the twins and autism and disability, but hide the realities of mental illness, of trauma and the addiction that has come from it? Why is it okay to support Owen and Will, myself and their dad, but pretend that Jake’s challenges are something to be hidden away and ashamed of?
The root of Jake’s challenges are based in shame. Why should it be okay for me to add to it by keeping these secrets just to keep others happy?
Our family spent enough time living in complete isolation, in the dark and in the loneliest place we’ve ever been, keeping secrets and lying to people we loved, just to protect Jake. I thought we could handle it on our own and I thought (incorrectly) that as long as we were using professionals, we would get it figured it out. It was to our detriment. My mental health suffered in a way I never thought I could recover from and in turn, it hurt and isolated the twins. Keeping secrets only hurt us.
I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to scream their private business from the rooftops. But please don’t tell me I’m airing “dirty” laundry or embarrassing myself. I have made the decision to share with great consideration and all with the hope it helps others and that it helps Jake.
I am not going to apologize for wanting a world that accepts all of us with all of our warts. It’s real life folks. I could understand it if I have raised my three children from a place of neglect. Or intentional abuse. Or intentional promotion of an unlawful life.
I have been a rule-follower my whole life. Just ask some of the friends who are writing in here with me. It’s laughable how straight and narrow I’ve lived my life, afraid that I would upset someone. I would apologize for other’s rule-breaking, I would take the blame on their behalf just to keep the peace. I have never held a cigarette in my fingers, never touched a drug. I wouldn’t let Jake swear or even say the word “crappy” in my presence. I was ALWAYS afraid of what others would think. Always felt bad. Always felt guilt. I’m not even that parent that said it was okay to let my kid drink alcohol underage, as long as it was under my roof where I could watch it. Even when Jake got his first diagnosis for mental health and I learned he had started smoking weed for “his anxiety” – I fought him every single step of the way. Every single one. Even when his own medical professional support members condoned it and I felt like the enemy, I still fought it. So should I feel ashamed at how things turned out?
If there is any shame to be felt because of the outcome of Jake’s addiction, it rests solely on a really shitty mental health care system for youth and young adults. One that does not work better with the school system, with our ER’s in hospitals, the police force and even the court system. There are some incredible people in all of those fields, some miracle workers who give their heart and soul to their work. But the system is failing our kids and youth. I have so much to say here, but it’s for another post.
But I will not be made to feel badly, guilty, ashamed or embarrassed for what has happened to us.
I am not angry that my sharing has upset people. I understand their reasons for wanting this secret to be kept. In the past, I would have pined over this. I would have cried, I would have deleted the post. I would have done whatever I could to cover it up as if I never wrote it and hope that I fixed the problem.
My friend Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown taught me that
guilt is the taking responsibility for other people’s feelings. In the past, I would have felt that I had to solve all of those problems. But that is a trauma-informed response and it is not my responsibility. In the past, I have had an overwhelming desire to take responsibility for what is not mine. Looking backwards, I learned from others that it was more important to keep the peace and keep things looking ‘nice’. Rocking the boat was dangerous. To keep safe, you must be nice. Ignore what hurts or what makes you uncomfortable. But if I cannot be who I am, I am not safe at all.
But what people think about me and my family, is a reflection of them. Not me. Not us. I just don’t care anymore if I don’t please everyone. I can only take care of me and my dependents, my children. I am living my life now very intentionally and going forward, I am listening to me. From now on, I’m going to be who I am and I’m proud of the woman and mother I am.
I have worked SO hard over the last eight months to come to this place. To heal myself and be better for my children. Healing my shame has been something that I have worked the hardest at and I feel a great sense of pride today at how I am responding to some of the reactions I got yesterday. It means I have forgiven myself, my family and the people who have hurt me in the past. I have more compassion for those who aren’t where I am. I feel that I have a clearer understanding of human nature and other people’s responses to me will not dictate my decisions going forward.
I need to thank so many people for where I am right now, because I didn’t get here on my own. Everyone who contributes to this website has helped me along this journey and someone who I hope you will soon meet when she writes with us, is Michelle from Spirited Healing. Michelle has been coaching and supporting me through this pandemic and so many of these new patterns of thinking have come from what she has taught me. Thank you.
My prayer is that my outlook will overflow to Jake somehow and that he can be free from the burden of shame and external influences so that this cycle can end for him as well.
It is VERY worth noting, that I got some amazing feedback from yesterday’s post as well. I hope that by shedding light in this dark place, it continues to bring some comfort to others going through it as well.
I’ll end with this song, not because it has anything to do with what I’ve said today, but because it’s Bob Seger (and that’s reason enough) and it has the word Shame in it. Enjoy.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.