How writing our most shameful moments can free us.
Why do I write about my most shameful experiences?
If nobody noticed I had a booze problem, why am I online going on about it?
1. Because Sarah Hepola, Kristi Coulter and Annie Grace saved me by telling their unglamorous tales of booze town. Trying to get a handle on my drinking, Blackout, in particular, was a lifesaver. Struggling with being sober, Nothing Good Can Come From This and This Naked Mind inspired me to keep going. I want to do the same for the women that come after me.
2. If I am gonna live in this insanity bin without a numbing agent, my life needs to feel like it has meaning. At least a little bit. When I write this stuff and people read it, especially when they get in touch, I feel, for a moment, like I have a purpose.
3. Going through the 12 steps is a process of letting go of your old tragic story, and beginning something new. Publishing here helps me create a new, better story, and it keeps me accountable too. (Imagine the shame of relapsing after starting a blog called Beautiful Hangover.)
4. If I can help others then all of that boring, repetitive, low self-esteemy shite might have been worth it. At least not worthless.
5. Publishing my version of events helps me stay on my own side in the face of a long history of gaslighting a go-go.
6. As an introvert, this is my preferred mode of communication.
7. Writing confessionals makes me happy.
8. It teaches me to write better.
9. It pays a little.Medium is seriously addictive, and I’m collecting ‘positive addictions’. (New favourite oxymoron?)
So should you write about your most shameful experiences?
And if you do, what will people think of you? Honestly, I don’t think it matters. The important thing is what you think of yourself.
Do you admire people who write, with empathy, about controversial subjects? Is that the kind of thing that could give a life meaning? Then go for it, my little rainbow salad.
“Don’t seek approval from others. Approve of yourself.” — my teabag, earlier
It’s OK to keep your deepest truths secret. It’s your choice how you live. The Internet is noisy enough. But if you aspire to share your deepest stuff, then find an appropriate space and go for it. Do it anonymously, if you need to.
What people think of you is none of your business. Let yourself (and the occasional teabag) be your guide.
Will it affect your career?
Honestly, I don’t know. I was lucky to have gotten far enough with writing and teaching to have some flexibility around this. But I still struggle to share this stuff on social media, outside Medium.
The stigma, or prejudice, as it’s also known, is real. Do I get offered less work because of these stories? Flip knows.
Often I recoil in horror when I remember what I’ve published here. It goes against all my training. Keep those skeletons in that closet. But shame thrives on secrets, and I’ve been silent long enough. The urge to put your best foot forward or at least keep your head down in 2019 is strong.
But the urge to express myself honestly is stronger. By about 0.2%. Cue significant discomfort. And welcome to being a writer.
This is the era of image crushing. Pull an ugly face and join the revolution!
Will it hurt people from your past?
This is the question that gives me the most grief (apart from all those other questions).
Like everyone ever, I have been hurt by people and sometimes anger makes me want to avenge them. I try not to write from this place because it’s ugly and disempowering. Also, how can I claim ultimate moral superiority, when baby Jesus asks, if I stoop to revenge?
I wasn’t at my best when I was deep in heavy drinking denial, and neither were some of the people closest to me at that time. Years spent blaming others for my unglamorous circumstances and erratic behaviour only entrenched me more deeply in the wine cycle. When you own your part in your story, you can begin to change it.
Because the truth is, I’m not powerless.
I choose my friends. I choose my boyfriends. I choose the behaviour I will and won’t accept. I choose the way I respond to whatever life offers me.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand this, and if, to celebrate my newfound freedom, I want to stay home and write about the bleakest times of my life, then you can’t stop me.
The thought of certain people reading my thoughts on this subject curtails my freedom of expression. But this is as it should be. Because I’m not (quite) a sociopath [yet]. I tread carefully, but I tread.
Will your parents be disappointed/ashamed/wounded?
Probably, but they’ll get over it. That’s what parents do.
Some famous person said you should write as if your parents are dead. Philip Roth, claims Google. But before you burn all those ancient blood bridges, ask yourself this: does this advice whiff of the psychopathy the white man is world-famous for?
My parents are unconventional, rebellious, hilarious, fascinating people, making their way on this inexplicable space biscuit as best as they can. I don’t want to add to their heartache if I can help it.
My mum reads my writing and tells me she is proud of me. And though she’s not a Medium member so it doesn’t translate to cash (no pressure, Mum!) she nearly always claps 50 times, as requested (Thanks, Mum!)
What does it feel like for her? Discovering this unknown side to her approval-addicted daughter?
When I told my dad I had started internet-posting about quitting booze, he said he probably wouldn’t read it. Fair enough. He was walking to the pub as we had the conversation. Drinking most days, I don’t think I would have fancied this sort of thing much either.
It’s a delicate balance, to bring light to your truth without casting shade over others’. But ‘progress not perfection’, as they say at the Sober Dweeb Factory. I tread carefully, but I tread.
Is it worth the risk?
Most of the time, I feel at least slightly embarrassed about the stories I’ve posted at Beautiful Hangover.
Partly because they weren’t commissioned by Granta. Partly because they take less than a week to write. Mostly because I suffer from pathological embarrassment. Also known as shame.
“the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” — Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher’s definition of shame
I push through the ‘intensely painful feeling’ in order to stop hiding from myself. To crush perfectionism. To remember what my drinking was really like. To keep moving towards something different. To strengthen my own voice and my ability to speak for myself.
It didn’t happen straight away. It took two and a half years of professional therapy and intensive peer support to feel capable of starting my blog. Even now, it’s sometimes hard to keep going.
But just when I feel certain that I’m shouting my worst times into a void for no good reason, someone emails or Instagrams, and I remember why I’m bothering.
I loved your post. You described how I’ve been feeling. I just did a long period sober and want to try again. Thank you for sharing.
Try a new approach.
So get yer skeletons out the closet and dress them up nice because it’s time to dance at the sexy shame disco.
Move on from being sad about the mistakes you’ve made, and commit to making them mean something. Stop hiding the bad stuff. Learn the lessons the mistakes were trying to teach you. Discover how they improved you. Share your learning with others. Make it count.
“Shame cannot survive being spoken,” Dr. Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher, says. “It cannot survive empathy.”
AA, Smart Recovery, Soberistas, Hip Sobriety, This Naked Mind and Recovery Elevator are full of people transforming their shame into something valuable by telling their stories. If you want to, you can join them. I did.