My writing teacher said I was an expert on shame. I was flattered. I hadn’t thought of it that way but since I lived with the shame related to my teen pregnancy for forty years and today it is gone, I must have learned something about it. Through writing Sunlight on My Shadow, I came to understand how shame clouded my vision.
Sure people would have thought poorly of me back in 1967. It was a horrific circumstance, pregnant at the age of 16. In the 60’s this was like committing murder—really a bad thing to do. If they knew my secret, the clergy and my classmates may have looked on with disgust assuming I was a girl of the streets, knowing my soul was blackened with mortal sin. There was also a lot of grief associated with giving up my own baby. That was painful to look at after it had happened. For years, I held the secret tightly. The tighter I held, the more shameful it became because deep inside I knew that in covering up, I was confirming the hate I had for that part of myself that hid under secrecy.
I was talking with my daughter Kiona the other day, because she is visiting from Florida with her family for the holidays. She gave me an analogy for shame that explains it well. She said, “Shame is like an old wound that is covered up by layers of band aids.” You know it is still an open sore, but you are afraid to peel away the cover and let the air get to it. You can’t take a look because it is too painful. So it just sits there festering while the mind tries to pretend it isn’t there but the heart feels it’s presence and this is reflected as shame. I was afraid to talk about my teen pregnancy for fear of what others would think and also because it was a painful time in my life and it rattled my sensitivities when I thought of it. I saw my own shame reflected in the eyes of others as judgment. But it came mostly from me, because when I healed, it no longer mattered what others thought.
It was a slow process putting this hurt and shame in perspective, but through writing Sunlight on My Shadow, I understood that young teenager who messed up. Once I found compassion and love for that teen child I stopped judging myself and then it didn’t really matter what others thought. If they do judge me, I know it comes from a lack of understanding just like mine did and it doesn’t really get under my skin. Reliving my teen trauma through writing has set me free from shame. It really is a most wonderful side-effect of putting the pen to paper and something I never anticipated or could have known until I wrote the final words of Sunlight on My Shadow. What a gift!
In healing this old wound, I began to trust myself again. Instead of telling myself, I shouldn’t be feeling this or that and hating the surge of painful emotions, I can stop a moment and feel deeply in my gut and listen to the spiritual message the emotion is trying to convey. Then poof! — when I listen, the pain just evaporates like steam in dry air. This was a big revelation for me and a positive result of writing my memoir. I hope that others get the same message from my book and come away uplifted and renewed. That would be the real gift.