Friday, June 28, 2013

What I Know About Shame

Shame has been on my mind a lot lately.

(Don't run away. Don't hide. "Shame" is not a dirty word. It's the word that describes what most of us are feeling day-to-day and what virtually no one wants to talk about.)

According to Brene Brown, the twelve shame categories are:
-appearance and body image
-money and work
-mental and physical health
-surviving trauma
-being stereotyped or labeled

These are the areas that make us feel flawed and unworthy. These are the vehicles that carry shame into our stories. The script is "not good enough" and we hear it every day.

As I've been reading and thinking about shame, I couldn't pinpoint one specific area that I personally felt a large amount of shame and I was feeling pretty good about it. That is, until I realized the one area I most often try to ignore: appearance and body image.

Oh, you again. 

I kept brushing it aside as if it didn't apply, but it does. I feel ashamed of my body in one way or another every single day. And according to the research, I am not alone. "The primary shame trigger for women," says Brown, "in terms of its power and universality, is how we look."

I won't get into the ten billion and one ways in which patriarchy, misogyny, media consumption, and a culture of perfection have created a profound sense of insecurity around women and our bodies. But I will say this: It is true shame. It hurts. And I don't know what to do with it.

I haven't felt good in my body for several weeks. My counselor would say wise things, like, "Heather, this makes sense. You've been through some incredible changes in the last month. Give yourself a break. You've packed up your home, left a supportive community, put your stuff in storage, moved to another state, started another job, you don't get a lot of time with Jeremy, AND you spend all day in a swimsuit."

You see, it's rarely just about the swimsuit. Or the cellulite. Or the extra skin. Or the acne. It's about fear of disconnectedness and a feeling of unworthiness, and most often for me, needing to slow down and speak kindly to myself.

I'm tired of feeling unworthy.
I'm tired to picking myself apart.
I'm tired of comparing myself to other women.
I'm tired of assuming my husband is not attracted to me.
I'm tired of this shame.

So, I'm slowing down.
I'm taking deep breaths.
I'm talking to good friends.
I'm writing.
I'm speaking kindly to myself.

Dear Child,

It's been a bumpy few weeks. You've encountered lots of changes. It's okay that this has been hard. It's okay that you feel unsettled. Please don't take this out on your body. Please don't let shame move in. Take care of yourself. Take some time. Listen to Grace. 


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Daring Greatly

Lately, I've been reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. It's jam-packed with goodness that is challenging me every day.

Here's what she has to say about SHAME:

We, as human beings, all want to feel worthy of love and belonging. We are drawn to connect with each other. Shame make us disconnected and desperate for worthiness.

"Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging."

This is true of shame:
1. We all have it. The only people who don't experience shame lack the capacity for empathy. So, you either feel shame or you are a sociopath.

2. We're all afraid to talk about shame.

3. The we less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

"Shame is getting laid off and having to tell my wife.
Shame is hiding the fact that I'm in recovery.
Shame is my husband leaving me for my next door neighbor.
Shame is in infertility.
Shame is Internet Porn.
Shame is my boss calling me an idiot in front of a client."

As far as the brain is concerned, we experience physical pain and shame in the same way. Both hurt badly.

Guilt= I did something bad.
Shame= I am bad.

Shame resistance is not possible. But shame resilience is the only path to healing and wholeheartedness.

Four elements of shame resilience:
1. Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers- Can you physically recognize when you're in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?

2. Practicing critical awareness- Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving shame? Are they realistic? Attainable?

3. Reaching out- Are you owning and sharing your story? We only experience empathy when we connect.

4. Speaking shame- Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Little Sponges

This is my fifth summer at camp. My fifth summer of dealing working with kids. I don’t mind them the older they get, it’s the youngest ones that have always been a struggle. A lot of goofiness. A lot of ridiculous questions. A lot of tears. A lot of high emotions and low logical reasoning.
But last year, I worked at an elementary school (the one place I swore I would never work voluntarily) and those kids grew on me. Especially Trenton and Devon. Those two totally and completely stole my heart and I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting those pieces back any time soon. I miss them. And my experiences learning side-by-side with kindergarteners who literally cry over spilt milk and 4th graders who will blame their math intelligence on paper cuts, has shown me that I can like these kids.
I can like them now because I finally (yes, finally) realized that these kids weren’t being ridiculous just to drive me crazy, they were being ridiculous because all 8 year-olds are ridiculous. It’s part of their development or code of conduct or something: “Be ridiculous.” They can’t help it.
Since I have realized this, kids have become more bearable. Okay, maybe even likeable (but no further, I promise you).  As the 8-10 year-olds bombarded our camp yesterday, I was less fearful and more excited. Less annoyed and more intrigued. Less stand-offish and more equipped. I’m practically a pro now.
I spent this morning at the blob directing campers to life jackets, teaching correct form, and mediating minor squabbles. I felt less equipped in my handling of kiddos when one camper and I had this conversation:
Me: “Here’s your life jacket.”
Him: “I don’t want that one, it’s pink.”
Me: “What’s wrong with pink?”
Him: “That’s a girly color.”
Me: “If pink is only for girls, is blue only for boys?”
Him: “No.”
Me: “Okay, well it’s just another color. You can come blobbing with us with the life jacket or sit on the beach without it. Besides, I know several guys who wear pink.”
Him: “Yeah, guys who marry other guys!”

The other boys in the cabin laughed. I was shocked. This eight year-old has heard this somewhere. Kids don’t just fabricate this stuff on their own. Somewhere along the line, probably an adult made a joke about gay people or a comment about gender roles. And this little kid was taking notes. As they all are.
To this eight year-old and the entire cabin I said, “Boys and girls are free to wear whatever color they want. Wearing pink does not make a boy any less of a boy. And it is not okay for you to make an unkind joke about people who are different than you.”
I felt the Mama Bear in me beginning to rise and I surely tamed it down when I remembered he was eight. We went blobbing. We got cold and went inside to go swimming.  They left. But this exchange reminded me that as young in years as these kids are, they are human sponges who can’t help but soak up the world around them. I wish I could protect them from stereotypes, sexism, prejudice, and unkindness, but I can’t.

So when these kids are around me, here’s what I hope they soak up:

-Be kind to everyone. Even if you don’t understand them or like them. Be kind anyway.

-Be your balanced best. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone else. If you can’t climb to the top of the blob tower today, that’s okay. If you are scared, that’s okay too. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re safe with me.

-When you want something, say “Please.” When someone does something for you, say “Thank you.” When someone looks sad, ask them, “Are you okay?”  

We are responsible to each other.

We have to act like it.

Even when it’s hard.

Even with kids.

Because they are watching day-by-day. 
Creating our future out of all that they see.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Being Twenty-Five

Today at breakfast, an 18 year-old staff member asked me--sweet as can be--"Do you prefer to be called 'Heather' or 'Mrs. Sterndale'?"

I nearly choked on my tofu. Everyone at the table grinned with hilarity. I was unsure exactly how to answer, so I just said, "Well, I didn't actually change my last name when I got married, so 'Mrs. Sterndale' wouldn't be right anyway. You can just call me Heather."

"Oh, okay," he said, lifted his empty tray and walked to the trash cans.

Whhhhhhhaaaaaaattt?! Am I that old?

At summer camp, the median age stays the same, while my age continues to increase. I'm only 25, but many of the staff are no more than 18. This fact becomes apparent in different ways.

Like when filling out staff forms and writing our birth dates. "Nineteen eighty-seven? Wow. You're an eighties baby. I've never met one."

Or when someone suggests that we sing "He is Exalted" at campfire. He asks who knows it. My hand goes up along with a few others, all of whom have gray hair, and he says, "Yeah, it's an old one."

We're talking about seven years and yet it feels like generations.

Our logic.
Our priorities.
Our jokes.
Our music.
Our cultural references.
Our life stories.

I feel the difference and I'm not even that old. This makes me more aware of what it must feel like to watch an entire media industry cater to only one generation: the one that's currently less than 30. What it must feel like to see music, advertisements, and movies that only tell the stories of young twenty-somethings about to engage in this great adventure. And we don't as often tell stories of forty-somethings or sixty-somethings, parents, divorcees, entrepreneurs, or those who are somewhere in between.

Tonight, I'm reminding myself that 25 is a number too. And it's a damn good one.
Twenty-five means marriage and a degree.
Twenty-five means being strong and keeping up physically.
Twenty-five means being far less concerned with what others think.
Twenty-five means far greater peace than I had at 18, and for that reason alone, I'll take it.

Another Adventure

For the last year or so, I have blogged month-by-month about marriage: what we're learning and how we're growing. It made sense to write every month as another anniversary because it was the first year, but I suppose it might seem like overkill to do so for the rest of our lives. So instead of writing in lieu of any kind of anniversary on the thirteenth of every month, I think it will just write something about marriage. 

Because what I've learned from academia, spirituality, fitness, and nearly every other area of my life is about the same: if I do not actively make it a priority, it will not be a priority. And being that my marriage is 1,000xs more important than my work-out routine, I think a monthly check-in would be good.

Photo by Chris Johnson

For our one-year anniversary, we splurged a teeny bit to celebrate. First of all, we went out to eat at our favorite Indian restaurant The Oven. Then, we drove out to Prairie Creek B&B where we got married a year ago. It was surreal to drive back in that driveway, to see the barn, and to spend time in the place where we exchanged vows 365 days before. 

I started us a simple little scrapbook in which--if nothing else--I hope to chronicle what we're learning from year to year in our marriage. We decided to answer these four questions each year:
1. What did we expect of this year?
2. What did we experience?
3. What did we learn?
4. What do we hope for in the coming year?

Answering these questions reminded us of all we've been through and also what we hope for. The latest hope we've been dreaming of is to go to South Korea for a year to teach English. We've been pursuing this goal earnestly since December. We've applied, we've gathered paperwork, we've gotten notaries and criminal background checks, we've had two interviews, and we've been accepted. We still have a few hoops to jump through on the paperwork side, but those things pending, we're hoping to be there come fall.

Photo by Rich Young

Much of this process has been a combination of two things:
1. "Yay, what an adventure! This is exciting!"
2. "Oh my freaking gosh, maybe this is a horrible idea."

These two conflicting emotions have pulled at our hearts the last few months. We'll lay in bed and predict all the cool things we'll get to do and see in Korea. Then, we'll talk about how this is a stupid idea. Crazy. Why did we think this was a good idea? Maybe we should back out. And throughout, on any given day, one of us will say to the other, "Feeling this way is probably normal. This is supposed to be scary and unpredictable. But we can do this." And the thing is, when I look across my pillow and see his face, I believe it. 

Photo by Chris Johnson
If anything, that's a surprising beautiful thing about marriage that I wouldn't have expected on the other side; that I would feel invincible, taken care of, supported in big, hairy circumstances. That there's something absolutely wonderful in knowing you don't have to go it alone. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Despite many an incorrect definition of the word "introvert," I will offer you mine:
An introvert is someone who gains energy from being alone and from thinking.
An extrovert is someone who gains energy from being with people and from socializing.

So being an introvert doesn't mean that I am shy, quiet, or incapable of being with large groups of people. Any more than being an extrovert means you always want to be around people. We just gain energy in different places.

Summer camp is a hard place for introverts. 

I know. So begins my 5th summer and I've learned--through much experimenting--that this kid-friendly, high-energy environment caters well to people who love people and doesn't cater well to people who love space

I got into this gig when my boyfriend (and now husband) invited me to come to camp with him. "It's so fun," he said. "You'll have such a good time," he said. And frankly, he was right on all accounts. I'm grateful for the experiences I've had at camp. Camp has taught me a lot about myself and people and kids and religion and God. 

And now gearing up for another summer, it takes quite a bit of mental preparation to convince myself that this is indeed where I need to be. Again. But I know it's exactly where I need to be because it's hard, not in spite of it. 

Camp stretches me to be more sociable than I might prefer.
Camp exposes me to people who sometimes believe very differently than I do.
Camp challenges me to operate on less sleep, less quality time, and more stimuli.
Camp takes the emphasis away from myself and onto others.
And camp helps me seek balance even in some unbalanced scenarios.

There is still a place for me here.
There are surely other introverts here.
I can still have meaningful relationships.
I can take time away.
I can write.
I can pray. 
I can be. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Oh, Alice

"Look closely at the present you are constructing it should look like the future you are dreaming." 
-Alice Walker

If my present is building my future. I have some work to do. Some tearing-down. Some re-thinking. Some re-framing of my foundation.

Because my present looks like:
-over-scheduling, over-planning, over-regimented
-easily overwhelmed, prone to anxiety
-harsh critic to myself

And I want my future to be:
-open and flexible
-calm and easy-going
-accepting and kind to myself

I am reminded of these future goals when:
-I read anything by Brene Brown
-I talk to good friends
-I take a yoga class
-I am outdoors
-I make writing a daily priority

These are my new summer goals.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Get in that Car

Sometimes, when I'm feeling anxious about the future
unsure of what comes next

I tell myself this:

"Dear Child,

Do you remember your first day of kindergarten? The fear? The what-if-they-don't-like-me? And then five minutes later, you made a friend, and all was well?

Do you remember going to high school? The big time? The supposed "best time of your life"? Feeling insecure and back to the bottom of the totem pole? And then you made it and had a pretty good time in the process?

Do you remember moving to Nebraska to go to college? "Nebraska?" they said. "Yes," you said. And you cried as your parents left you there at that dreaded dormitory and drove away? And then, you stayed for six years, met the man of your dreams, married him, graduated from college, and now you don't want to leave?

Change is always hard. We will always have fears about what we don't yet understand. But if history teaches us anything, it is this: what is hard at first, usually turns into something really beautiful.

Six years ago, you didn't know the people you now call friends. Some only came into your life a year or two ago. Time changes us. Experience changes us. Someday, you will likely look back on these years with nostalgia and contentment because there was still so much good to come.

You'll look back and think, "Wow, I was only 25 years-old when I felt that way. I had no idea all of these beautiful things in store."

So girl, even though it's hard, get in that car. Drive across the country. Start another adventure. Another chapter. You don't know a lot about what's on the other side, but I promise you, it will be worth it.