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Personal Essay | Six Points of Shame

By Jerusha Gray

I’ve been sitting here staring at a blank screen for over an hour. I am futilely attempting to write a list of truths about myself that are positive. I audit each idea as it bubbles up in my brain. Will writing this one make me sound stuck up? Will writing that one give the wrong impression? Is this something that is too small or silly to list? Will this entire exercise make me sound like an impostor asshole who is stuck on herself? I have to analyze each piece of minutia to absolute crispy doneness before it tentatively makes the list. I filled up the list, got overwhelmed and promptly tossed it into the nearest trash can. I can do better. I decided that was only a practice run. If I am not careful, I will ride my Type A personality into the sunset and still not have the list.

Twenty minutes later, I am still here, staring at the screen. I could rattle off a list of parts of me over which I’ve struggled with shame throughout the years. It doesn’t take much thought. They are — in no particular order — my loud voice, my broken smile, my almost insatiable desire to answer every question even if I am not the person to whom the question was asked, my height (I am 6 feet tall), my weight, and the mere fact that I take up space in a room.

This list took me 24 seconds to write. I timed it. It took me just 24 seconds because I checked the grammar twice. I am currently second-guessing my grammatical choices. My brain needs to knock this off. It’s out of control.

Why are the painful things about me so easy to list, while the valuable parts — the loveable parts — are so difficult to write down?

I have a couple of theories.

1. I’ve spent a great deal more time thinking about the parts of me that I find painful or shameful. I have not spent nearly enough time thinking about the parts of me that give me joy.

2. I’ve internalized feedback from my peers and societal influences that have given false legitimacy to these things. I struggle with my boldness. My culture often reinforces that being bold and loud as a woman is undesirable. I further internalize that this is a negative trait. The shame continues to solidify and root itself in me.

3. I don’t ask for feedback on positive things from the people that I know and trust to tell me the truth. Asking for positive feedback makes me vulnerable. Vulnerability makes me want to puke in my shoes.

Looking at the list of the driving forces of my shame written down instead of swirling in my head is a powerful thing. All of these things are external and physical. I haven’t listed my character. I haven’t listed my interests or dreams. This list doesn’t say anything about the person that I am or will be. It is only the outside bits that don’t meet some kind of unreasonable expectation.

If my kid came to me with this list about himself, I would throw it out and kiss his face. I would hold him until I could cover him with my love by osmosis. I would believe the good things for him until he had the strength to carry them for himself.

I have to do that for myself, too.

I am worthy of the love that others show to me.
I am mindful of others and make efforts to make sure that everyone is included.
Being an engaged listener and friend is important to me.
I am really great at encouraging others.
My thoughts and dreams bring value to the conversation.
My smile comes from joy welled up in my spirit and isn’t defined by its brokenness.
I love people a lot. I love people even when they make it difficult to love them.

I can’t honestly tell you that I feel all of these things, yet.

I feel like an impostor even writing them. The words are like marbles and coins that slip through my fingers. I will carry them in my pockets, in my journals, and in the ink on my arms until I can believe them as truth.

My voice is important.
I am enough.
Keep going.

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Jerusha Gray

Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores.

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