How Letting Go of Shame Set Me Free

All of us know it, the feeling of a sinking heart, the blush of the cheeks and the crushing blow of embarrassment. We are so ashamed.

For some of us the tendrils of the debauched emotion of shame can morph into anger or depression, sometimes both.

Shame has been a cloak that I have worn since childhood. Maybe it was the handful of bullies at school. Maybe it was wanting to be the good girl, but never being good enough. Maybe it was all in my mind. Not being able to put a finger on its source used to bother me.

Being a victim of shame became my norm.

In turn, I fed the ugly beast. Nobody is perfect. Everyone stumbles. Some of us stay down.

The lights of luminous fellow beings who are outgoing and outrageous, have always attracted me. Most of the time I pursue that light, only to fail miserably in my own eyes.

People who suffer from an extreme sense of shame are vulnerable to other people’s opinions. They can be led astray, finding themselves in almost otherworldly scenarios.  Speaking from the heart, I have been there and done that too many times to mention.

Shame has left me crippled. Shame has rendered me vulnerable, and depression took over.

Shame that nested inside of me lashed out, wreaking havoc on those I loved the most.

Because of intense shame, I never pursued the perpetrator of the sexual assault, violent as it was. I let shame guide me into the school administration office and quit high school—better that than the alternative.

How could I speak up and speak out with my cloak of shame wrapped tightly around my neck?  Shame held me back time and time again, as I suffered from more acts of sexual violence from men of authority. Never would I tell. Never could I say what happened, not then.

Even during my glorious days of rising supermodel stardom shame coiled itself tightly around my soul.

More scenarios of outrageous sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and abuse followed suit.  My heart was cold and disconnected.

My erratic behavior was lauded as being “wild and crazy,”  which was considered a positive attribute.

I was “outrageous.” How much fun it was for the fashion audience to watch me in action. Even better, to see me go up in flames.

Unfortunately, my behavior did me no favors. Most people are not therapists.  In the fashion industry, few people care about your well-being. As long as you look good and fit the clothing, the show goes on.

Dancing like I did for way too many years to count, one day I found myself sitting at the kitchen table in my apartment in Paris, feeling lower than a snail’s belly.  I was casting about for help on the internet and came across an excellent Ted Talk by Dr. Brene Brown, based on shame. As I listened to her words, I recognized myself. I had given into shame and it controlled me. I had lived my life thus far, refusing to admit that I too felt vulnerable.

Being scared, scarred, abused, taken advantage of and left to fend for myself taught me a lot of things. None of which were beautiful, or healthy.

Living day after day, disconnected and disassociated with my circumstances, was my reality.

That day, in Paris, sitting at the kitchen table, I finally found my ticket to a life worth living.  I had to muster the courage to admit to myself and the ones that I cared about, that most of the time I don’t know what I am doing. I had to confess that I am scared. I had to admit that I have many regrets.

My heart had been shattered more than once. I have known defeat, helplessness, and despair.

I gave myself permission to be vulnerable. I gave myself leave to release my shame.  I gave myself the freedom to accept me.

Nobody is perfect.  Many of us try to achieve a level of perfect human behavior that inadvertently sets us up for failure.

When I look back on the days that were less than stellar, days that I wished my life would just end, days that I was too ashamed to be, It is as if I am looking through the eyes of a different person.  I can now see beyond the cloak of shame.  I now accept with pride that I am a flawed human; I am me.

Finally shame free.


Photo Credit: wplynn via Compfight cc

  1. It astounds me to read those words, “Finally shame free.” I can only imagine how hard you worked to get there. I’m a fortunate woman who has never been sexually or emotionally abused. I’ve suffered my losses, but not because anyone was trying to purposely hurt me. And still, there is a girl within who feels lonely and ashamed that, ten years after the death of her beloved partner, she’s still weeping and longing for him. We’re supposed to get over such things, right? No, of course not. I know better. I work with the bereaved. I know better, but that doesn’t make the feeling of shame go away. Even without the horrors you and so many others experience, woman learn to be ashamed of normal feelings, normal longings, normal appetites, and every imperfection. Thank you for sharing your powerful story and helping me reflect on mine.

  2. Powerful and healing to others …you are special, strong, forthright and now sharing with the world secrets that many like myself still struggle with.

    lots of love to you
    xoxoxo M

  3. Wow! What a piece of yourself that you put out there. That was an awesome read. It’s part of that “I see you” stuff. I met you and I was wowed – I thought “she is so perfect – she’s thin and tall and shiny and beautiful!”…all the things I want to be. But I see that inside, you are the same as me….and really, aren’t we all? It does help to heal you when you “get it out”. ♥

  4. Shanti-

    I love your comment. It is post worthy! Yes, I still fight the demon of shame. It is nasty, soul-sucking and zaps me of most of my energy. You are correct about isolation; it is the breeding ground for pain.
    Thank you as always for your kind comment and endless support of our love child Feminine Collective.

  5. Oh soul sister of mine, didn’t know you suffered from debilitating shame too. Though it took us decades to come out about it, at least we did. Some go to their grave never being heard, clocked in the blanket of their pain and isolation. With the support of AMAZING forums like the Feminine Collective that you and Marla Carlton so lovingly created with all the risks and challenges of a vulnerable new business, women get to come forward without fear. May women, young and old, realise there is tons of support for their fear, pain, sorrow, shame, and anger and that there truly is LIGHT at the end of this tunnel! UNITED we do STAND, isolated we crumple.

  6. The shame that surrounds abuse keeps the victims in the shadows, too afraid to speak out. Years of suppressing and ‘acting out’ only stifles the pain at a superficial level. Digging deep and getting to the root of that pain is the only way to healing. Only now, after close to 30 years I am able to accept that I was a victim of abuse from my first agent in Paris, who has now died. His name was Claude Haddad. I fear him no more as he is dead. Holding on to this ‘secret’ for so long only ate me up inside. I know there were many others who suffered from his predatorial, manipulative ways and I hope that they too can find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

  7. Chris,

    Thank you for your kind words and this treasure trove of info. “LOVE YOURSELF IN THAT STATE” I never looked at it like that. I am still trying to figure out where my flesh ends and the fire begins.

    Love is always inside of me. Radiating out. Might have to siphon a bit off for myself.


    x J

  8. Great writing. The biggest teaching I ever received in the work I do was when I was levelled with shame and guilt, when there was no love possible, when I was quite unloveable. It came in words I heard very clearly, a specific direction: “LOVE YOURSELF IN THAT STATE.” I’ve taken that teaching forward knowing that it is the path, the action to take on the way to returning to the state of love (self love, peace, forgiveness… all good things).

  9. Alexandria,
    Your story brought me to my knees. I can not even begin to imagine the pain and shame. You are right the looking glass is fogged. It makes me sick when vicitms are blamed. Kudos to you for finally speaking up and out. Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that radio interview. I am sorry that your family chose silence over their relationship with you. Thier loss, clearly.

    Blessings on my head? I love that! May I wish blessings on your head as well.

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment on my story of shame.

    Be well – in all things – you deserve it.

    Best –

  10. It’s a shame that virtually all cultures, at all times, shame the victims of sexual abuse & violence into silence, rather than shaming the perpetrators as the violent criminals and abusers they are.

    Though I always spoke out about what my father, stepfather, and mother (with implements) were doing to me, I didn’t know the right words when I was a little girl. Everyone understood, though no one stopped them or protected me. Instead, they tried to shame me into silence.

    The first time someone asked how I knew so much about rape in my novel, I said it aloud as an adult, on a live radio show. I thought the world might implode. The interviewer looked horrified but recovered quickly. After the show, I mentioned the look on his face. He said no one had ever been so honest before, and that he wanted to find my rapists and hurt them for me, and to protect me.

    The world didn’t implode, though my family did. I cut off contact with anyone who told me to stop speaking the truth, and now find that, after almost 20 years of speaking the truth about my own childhood sexual abuse, incest, and rapes, I no longer feel shame. Now, it’s like saying my eyes are green.

    But shame on those who originally violated us, as well as on those who constantly try to silence us because it makes them uncomfortable.

    Thank you for the post, and blessings on your head, my dear

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