Many years ago, while in grade eight, I briefly dated a redhead named Lynn. She dumped me after a three weeks, telling me that God told her to break up with me. Even God doesn’t want you to date me. That was many years ago and to this day we remain great friends.
Lynn loves to travel. She and her husband Phil have been all over the world, but they love Israel the most. Don’t ask me why; I prefer the Caribbean anytime but that’s her deal, so mazel tov. Once when they were in the holy land someone offered her husband ten camels for her. I don’t know a great deal about camels but even I understand that this must be a hefty price. If you talk to Lynn she will, from time to time, remind you that she is a ‘ten-camel woman’. And why not, she has proof.
Most of us are not ten-camel people. We watch television and see beautiful people running down beaches and kissing under the moonlight, and down deep we are convinved that we don’t measure up. We are ugly people. We are the losers. We don’t have big boats or businesses, we don’t look good in a Speedo, we aren’t great singers or dancers or poets. We are only regular people with too much cellulite and not enough collagen.
Royal Soucy was a neighbour of mine. He was like a tree trunk with teeth. Royal was a professional body builder who had won several prestigious competitions including “Mr. Saskatchewan” a few times. I would tease Royal that with a name like “Royal Soucy” he had to be tough. But I would not tease him too much. I was afraid he would eat me if I made him too mad. Royal was a cop. Royal was French. There are legends around Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan about the policeman who would break up bar brawls single-handedly. The day I moved in to the neighbourhood we were unloading and I saw our neighbor on his roof shingling. Let me describe this for you; he looked like a Muscle Magazine cover. He was massive. Huge. Totally cut and only wearing shorts, sweating like some Greek god roofing his villa. Then my wife said, “I have a great idea. Why don’t you go help that guy with his roof. You could take off your shirt and get a good tan and get to know him.” So naive… Samson and Captain Chicken Wings, doing the roof together.
Growing up I was never a person who was quick to take his shirt off. Some people are blessed with pectoral genetics, I never was. Now that I’m in my forties it’s a little easier being the slim guy in the midst of a group of men struggling with weight, but growing up I was embarrassed.
I don’t like losing my hair. It’s a stupid vanity thing, but I can’t seem to get over it. It’s a constant reminder that I don’t look like I’d like to, that at this point I probably won’t be a model. Yes, I tell myself, that’s the only reason I’m not a model.
We used to have a rat named Mr. Bigglesworth. People thought he was disgusting. We loved him. Rats are smarter than most animals and we could let him out and he would pretend to pounce me, sleep on my chest, play a rat version of catch. On the downside, he had no bowel control so that whole running around thing rarely ended well. People would comment how he was almost cute, except for his long ugly tail. I would remind them that this wasn’t Mr. B’s fault, we all have parts we are not proud of.
It is one thing to squint in the mirror. It’s another thing altogether when that shame reaches deeper into our hearts. Ruined self-esteem, poor self-image, feelings of worthlessness. Shame is a huge thing. The more I look into it the more I am coming to realize that it can be one of the most destructive issues in our lives. Most of us carry around a backpack of failures, mistakes, and missed opportunities. We wear labels that we cannot seem to shake – fat, divorced, whore, loser, stupid, bald, old, pathetic, poor, alone, ugly, fag…
Shame is the experience of feeling defective at the core of your being. We feel guilty about our mistakes. Shame is the experience of feeling that you as a person ARE A MISTAKE.
With shame there is no way of making amends or correcting the wrong. Because the wrong is you. I have been insecure about myself most of my life but like many of you I am tired of feeling inadequate. I’m done apologizing for being an extrovert, or ADHD, or opinionated. I no longer am willing to try to fit in at the expense of my self-esteem. I tell clients that the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem, it’s self acceptance. Accepting ourselves with all our warts and wrinkles and issues. Learning to love ourselves in spite of the things about ourselves we don’t like, not because of the things we do.
That’s a hell of a goal, isn’t it?