Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing Through Shame: Bravery, Acceptance, and the Memoir


By H. G. Beverly


A life of sharp contrasts can lead to strong stories. Maybe you’ve lived the kind of life or experienced some special circumstances that you’ve always dreamed of sharing in a memoir. Maybe you feel strongly that your story needs to be told so others can learn from it. Maybe you just want to get it out. The question is: can you write about it?

Can you write about it? Let’s start with the “it” that’s most difficult for you to talk about. Usually, it’s a topic that’s all wrapped up in shame. For me, shame covers entire periods of my life. Here’s an example—I’m ashamed that I couldn’t make my ex-husband care. I’m ashamed of some of the degrading things I did to try and make that happen. And I’m ashamed that I’m the only person in my family who is divorced. When I think about those things, a defensive inner dialogue starts up—it fights back.  It reminds me that hey, I’m also proud of the fact that I was all in, that I gave that marriage everything I had.  Then there’s the shame again. Because it just wasn’t enough.

I was married to a sociopath.

Sociopaths can’t care. It’s hard for caring humans to imagine that it can be so black and white, especially when they can seem to care more than anyone when they want to.

But they don’t.

So my life has been full of sharp contrasts. A childhood on a farm with a sheltering, loving family turned into an adulthood on a farm with a sociopath. There’s birth and death. Food from scratch, lilies, horses, meadows, screaming, choking, and emptiness. The contrast of my experiences compel me to write.

Maybe you feel that way, too, about your own experiences. So you sit down to your private journal and spew it out for hours. You sit down at the keyboard, and your fingers fly. You want people to know what happened. You want people to laugh and cry and feel completely swept away. I’m going to circle it back to my central question here and ask again: can you really write about “it”? The part that you’re ashamed of? The raw part that’s embarrassing to you? A memoir that’s most successful is a whole story—it touches on your own human softness, your weaknesses, and your doubt. If a voice inside cuts off your writing every time you get real about yourself, that scolding voice is shame. Maybe you’ve hurt people and should feel ashamed. Maybe you haven’t hurt anyone and are carrying it around unnecessarily. Many people who seem to carry the most shame are the ones who deserve it the least.

It’s ironic. I recommend writing and rewriting to get through it. The more you experience the liberation of telling the truth before you share with the public, the more comfortable you become with yourself.  You’ll be more ready to share when it’s time. But give yourself time—write the story to yourself, for yourself. Write it over and over and over again. If your fingers get stuck and the page stays blank, take some deep breaths and step away from it for a bit. Think it out while on a walk. Try to see yourself through your spiritual eyes instead of your human eyes. Through a forgiving lens of acceptance—a lens that recognizes your soft humanity. When you examine your writing, use that same gentle approach. That’s a challenge! When I look back on my original attempts to write about my failed marriage, it’s easy for me to judge them as whiney and boring and insignificant. When I soften my perspective, I can see that I needed to process every little detail before I could even begin to pick out the parts that would be interesting to others—that would make a story. I’m still a work in progress, certainly, but one thing I know is that the more I write with honesty and acceptance, the better I am. My experiences become more real. My stories become more compelling. Over time, I may just get it right.
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H.G. Beverly is an award-winning writer, therapist, and activist whose work redefines both trauma and perseverance. She published “The Other Side of Charm” in 2014 and is currently working on its sequel. Besides writing, Beverly enjoys everything from painting to farm life to fitness—and she cherishes time with her family. Learn more at hgbeverly.com



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