Shame (Part 1 of what I imagine will be a long-running series)

I’ve just had a glass of bourbon and it’s pretty late, and also I didn’t really bring anything to the table in terms of a coherent plan for what kind of blog post I wanted to write tonight.  I figured that, since I have time to kill an am kind of “on edge” after a particularly intense therapy session, I should just try to write about what’s on my mind and see what happens.

Anyway, as I said, I got back from therapy earlier, after having spent an hour and some change going deep into the feelings of shame that seem to underlie all of my mental health issues.  If I had to sum up the general themes of my OCD obsessions, the big one is that secretly, despite what I tell myself in my more normal daily moments, I actually must be a bad, sinful, person, and the way I’m living my life is wrong.  Also, eventually the “decent” people will realize this about me, and then there will be hell to pay.

The exact nature of my “badness” is tied up with my sexuality in some way, and this manifests itself in my recurring belief that deep down I must actually be a creep and a pervert.  My biggest fear is to have myself “revealed” to be a sex deviant, and for that to result in my being ostracized by society and losing my career and all my friends.  I suspect that all the #MeToo stuff in the news media the last two years has been fodder for my OCD obsessions on this issue too, because #MeToo paints a pretty stark picture of what happens to men who actually are sexual predators once the whole culture turns against them.  (That said, I realize that how much any individual predator might be suffering for their sins varies greatly based on a series of factors that I have no clue about.  Like, why does Kobe Bryant get a pass on everything but as a society we’ve decided we’re completely done with the Prairie Home Companion guy)?  I digress.  I’m just trying to say that having to wear the “sexual abuser” scarlet letter is one of my great fears, and the news lately hasn’t helped with that.

Now, do I actually think I am a sex deviant, or that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me in this area?  No, not in my “wise mind.”  Fundamentally, when I apply my intellect to this question, I wind up suspecting that my sexual self isn’t much different than anyone else’s, and I don’t believe it poses any danger to me or to the world at large.  But it’s one thing to think this and another thing to actually feel it.  (Spoiler alert:  I don’t actually feel it).  I’d like to be okay with my sexual wants and needs, and not feel like they’re some kind of manifestation of some inner, shameful sickness.  I’d like to, but I don’t.  Yet.

So most of this therapy session involved discussing this issue with my therapist, and also brainstorming things I can do that will function as an exposure that will push me to be more accepting of my sexual self, and to lean into my feelings of shame somehow, so that I can rob them of their power.  I’m not sure I’ve come up with any kind of exposure that I really like yet, though.  I’m also not really sure that I’m being specific enough in this blog post to give readers a sense of what, specifically, I’m talking about, and I’m worried people will get the wrong idea about me in general.  I want to be honest with my readers and give them a true sense of who I am, but I’m also super anxious about creeping them out and having them judge me negatively.  Also, I’m terrified that I might secretly be writing all this because I’m an exhibitionist who gets off on putting this stuff out into the world, and, therefore, secretly a creep.  So, I’m putting all those thoughts on the table here as well.

For what it’s worth, I don’t actually think “exhibitionist” and “creep” are synonymous in real life, however, and I have nothing against exhibitionists, and, arguably, nothing much against “creeps,” (depending how severe the creep-itude we’re talking about is).  But the message I’ve internalized about myself appears as a stark, black and white choice between “bad person” and “good person,” and I don’t allow myself the shades of gray I’m willing to tolerate, and appreciate, in others.

I also think a lot of this shame comes from my family environment, and how it affected  the sense of myself that I internalized when I was young.  Very likely this is all coming up now because it’s two days before Thanksgiving and I’m about to spend most of the rest of the week with my family, and this always brings up a potpourri of poorly-understood feelings that I can’t always process right away.

All this to say that tonight was the start of some exploration of my personal feelings of shame, both in therapy and in my daily life, and that, assuming I’m feeling brave enough, I’ll try to explore the feelings and the memories I discover during this exploration process a little bit more in this blog in the days and weeks to come.  Maybe putting my shame on display (albeit in an anonymous forum) will turn out to be a good way of pushing back against it?

Anyway, I hope this all made sense.  If not, I’m happy to blame in on the bourbon.

Good night!



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