digital dart board

The Shame Agreement

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I have shame.
I have shame that abides.
I have shame that abides and demands.
I have shame that abides and demands and destroys.
I have shame. As do you. As does most of humanity.

I wasn’t born with shame.
I was born with a tender vulnerability that deserved nurture and grace.
I was born with a knowing in my heart that I was worthy of love.
I was born with the audacious spirit to experience need and develop a loving reliance for those who met my need.
As were you.
As was and is often humanity.

Yet I have this shame and it seems to think I put out a classified ad in which it responded and somehow became my silent partner in the affairs of my life. It keeps pointing to some agreement it’s made with me.

We choose an interesting set of words when we wish shame for others: “Shame on you!” Shame ON you. The burden, the weight, the overwhelming nature of shame cloaking us and seeping in. Once it is on us, it is in us. Shame is a rather manipulative behavior modification tool that is often abusive as it causes lasting harm to the mind and spirit of the person being cloaked with it. Shame does the dirty work for some pretty hard feeling states like loathing, self-hatred, and hatred of others. It prepares the heart in such a manner that these other parts get to storm right in, no guard on duty, everything valuable open and exposed. And we are robbed of our precious life yet again.

We really oughta move.

I watched a documentary about September 11th not too long ago. A man was telling his story about surviving the attack. He painted a vivid picture of emerging from death all around and described being covered in dust, his mind dazed, his face a blank slate as he went deeper and deeper within to stand the death outside of himself. He said an officer approached him and said something to the effect of “It’s okay. What you are experiencing is PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” He did not respond out loud, but internally he remembered thinking, “How can it be ‘post’ when it is still happening?”

Besides this exchange being an object lesson into why lay folks shouldn’t attempt to diagnose mental health and feeling states, it is a powerful image that I would like for us to hold for a bit here as we maneuver through. The survivor of 9/11 was cloaked in thick dust and dazed. He did not choose to be cloaked in dust. He did not invite being cloaked in dust, but cloaked in dust is what he was living in, sitting in, wiping off. The dust found any porous part of the body to invade. And invade it did. He had this dust in his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears for a long time to come.

The survivor’s thick cloak of disaster seemed to have been mixed with a hue of shame. “Why did I survive? Why did they die? I had to deserve this in some way. What did I do that made this happen?”

Ever since I started thinking about this essay the song “Fame” has been running through my head, replaced with “Shame”, of course. “Shame! I’m gonna live forever!” Well, that’s the opposite of remotely true in any way, shape or form. My experience with shame is it stifles and burdens, it creeps and takes over. Shame is lonely, deadly, and common.

Shame is devious and tricky. Shame has loads of costumes that keep us from noticing it. Its favorite thing to get dressed up as is morality, while contrition is a close second. It wears these long enough to get in the door and then like a Scooby Doo bad guy, the mask gets removed and low and behold, it’s that shame again! And it would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for your meddling, discerning spirit.

Let’s walk a bit more with the survivor of 9/11 covered in the second skin of dust. You get one side; I’ll get the other. He shouldn’t be alone right now. We can play a game of “What If” as we walk with him away from the rubble and the madness.

What if shame has absolutely nothing to do with God?
What if shame is unnecessary and a futile exercise that doesn’t mean a darn thing about our love for and belief in God?
What if shame was not a requirement of a spirit-filled life and is actually a lousy substitute for things like conviction and morality?
What if the cloaking of shame divides us from each other and takes over with diligence and fear, essentially snuffing out the love and life that is our birthright?

We’ll go ahead and leave the survivor we have been walking with as he is getting passed onto the people who can help him. Spoiler alert: He is going to be well again.

You and me, though, let’s keep walking. Let’s keep talking.

The rubble I find myself sifting through nowadays came from the sexual assault that happened to me not that long ago. It’s heavy to sift through this, especially when each rock I pick up has a phrase written on it: “This was your fault. Shame on you!” Toss that aside. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Toss that aside and yet the rubble seems endless. Shame works against the sifting of the rubble and paves the way for a lot of hopelessness to bound through into my brokenness.

What caused your rubble?

The rubble happens. The cloaking of shame happens. Most of the time, this happens to us and we do not bring it on ourselves, it happens as a part of being a global citizen on this planet. It is largely unfair and it is deeply grievous to have anyone go through the destruction of self that happens with shame at the helm. We don’t get a choice initially. It just is and we can’t deal with it when it is still happening because we are putting everything we have into surviving. We need some distance and stability from what caused the shame so we can truly start the work of healing.

And this is where it can get better for us.

When I feel shame and accept it inside as valid, I am saying yes to the harm within or outside of me that uses the tool of shame to break me in some way. I am creating a Shame Agreement with Harm. It’s as good as sitting at a table with Harm across from me, handing me a contract that says, “You are nothing. You are broken. You are alone. You are worthless. Now if you agree to these conditions, please sign here, here, and here. Initial here.” Once that is done I can hold my breath and survey this own private hell I just became co-owner in. What a horrible investment I made. I need some solid heart space management. Where’s the Suze Orman of the heart when I need her?

If we can opt in, we can also opt out. And my life right now is about that very thing. I want out of this Shame Agreement. It’s a fraud.

I wasn’t born with shame.
I was born with a tender vulnerability that deserved nurture and grace.
I was born with a knowing in my heart that I was worthy of love.
I was born with the audacious spirit to experience need and develop a loving reliance for those who met my need.
As were you.
As was and is often humanity.

I have a helpful (to me) image about creating space for shame in my life. I hope you can take and use it if you need to. Since I was young, I knew how to play darts. I spent a lot of time in bars due to family members working in them so I got a little seasoned at darts. I remember the day the dartboard at the Cow Pony was replaced by one of those digital dart boards with plastic darts that you have to throw hard enough to stick in the tiny holes riddled all over the board. You have that image in your mind? Great. I picture that dart board as my heart space, my feeling state, my tender soul. If shame is the dart and it is thrown at me, it will only stick if there is something for it to penetrate. If I prepare my heart space in such a way that the intrusion of shame doesn’t have space to land, it simply bounces off.

Our cloak of shame can be washed off. Our shame agreement can be voided. Our shame filled heart space can be made whole. As in all things, I turn to love.

I have love.
I have love that abides.
I have love that abides and invites.
I have love that abides and invites and heals.
I have love. As do you. As does most of humanity.

And there just isn’t any shame in that.

One thought on “The Shame Agreement”

  1. Wow…awesome…… are able to write about what’s in your heart and soul.
    What a wonderful gift you were given by the dear Lord.
    Love you

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