In my last post I wrote “I’d been living with one hell of a lot of shame, shame and self-hatred. Shame and self-hatred mixed with an extremely low self-esteem.” I also said I’d write about it in a future post. Well, there’s no time like the present, so here goes, the story of my shame…
In college I met a man who identified himself as a healer from within a Native American tradition. I’d always had a soft spot in my heart for Native American peoples and by the time I met him, my interest in shamanism had deepened. Then I met him and everything changed.
He was what some would call “charismatic.”
I began to work with him, under his tutelage. And I had some very wonderful times, life changing experiences and experiences (with which I was uncomfortable) that he always said were for “my higher.” I trusted him.
Fast forward some years. I left California and moved to Texas where my wife gave birth to our first child. When the second came around, it was time for me to start graduate school, so we moved back to California. Part of me always wanted to be back with my teacher, my mentor, the man who would help me become the person I was to be. Long story short, I drank a lot which led to the situation that I find myself in now: a separation.
The plan was for me to finish my last year of coursework then move back to Texas where my wife and two kids had moved. So I did, but due to some unforseen circumstances that left me utterly broken, I only lasted a month and who did I, desperate, call?
My teacher. As luck would have it, he was in New Mexico at the time and I hopped onto a Greyhound bus to meet him. I would then spend the next seven months with him on his large out of the way property in northern California.
Sure some people came by from time to time and we went on road trips from time to time as well.
Things happened. Things I didn’t like. Things I didn’t want. But because they were “for my higher” and I placed my complete trust in him, it happened.
I returned to Texas to be close to my children and eventually my wife and I would come back together.
But I never told anyone about my experiences. I wasn’t supposed to, I was told. Why? “Because they wouldn’t understand.”
Okay, fine. I can see that.
And over time my drinking became worse and worse. Part of my graduate school’s education focuses on images as metaphors…thinking imagistically, metaphorically. Someone asked me once: “How can you drink so much?”
“I’m a machine,” I said, with all the pride of a good alcoholic.
Funny I would refer to myself as something inhuman, that runs on automatic. That isn’t alive.
Nonetheless I drank. Drank darn near every day aside from a few measly attempts to get sober. I was a highly functional alcoholic so I didn’t see a problem. Well, I finally did get sober and am strong in my sobriety. That being said, as I alluded to in my last post, I didn’t do the necessary work. I was dry.
I was angry. I hid my shame, my self-hatred, and low self-esteem as best I could. And let’s not forget about the fears.
Hundreds of them.
In middle school I wanted to be an actor, Hollywood style. That didn’t happen, but I became an actor all the same. And, I tried my best to be the director as well. All I ended up doing was producing a lot of pain and suffering.
Then, about two months ago, a friend called me. I introduced this friend of mine to my teacher and he would end up working with him and live with him regularly for a lot longer than I. He called me to tell me he wanted to cut off all ties with our teacher and asked how I felt about that. Having been seven years since I talked to my teacher, I said I was fine with that. My friend and I didn’t talk a whole lot of detail, but I got a sense we understood what happened to one another.
We talked again and went into detail. And what he said happened to him was all too familiar. Way too familiar. Then I learned about a couple others people who experienced much the same.
Programmatic, in fact. There was a system to it.
Sparing all the gory details, here’s how it went:
First, I must begin with the premise, for it is important to know that I, that is all of us, were always wrong and we didn’t understand anything. After all, we weren’t connected to the spirits like him, to the grandfathers like him, to the Great Spirit like him. That’s just how it was and since I placed my complete trust in him, I didn’t trust myself. Why would I if I was always wrong and didn’t understand a god-damn thing? Makes sense doesn’t it? Fucked up sense, but sense nonetheless.
Now things weren’t always bad. No. There were great times. Times to build you up, make you feel good about yourself.
I was an arrogant fuck whose “dark side” was, for all intents and purposes, purely evil. And since I didn’t know what was going on on those “higher levels” only he could help me because he knew. Okay, thanks for the help. I really appreciate it and love you even more for helping me. I am, after all, a piece of shit.
So of course once you begin feeling good about yourself again and you are an arrogant piece of shit, you have to be cut down to size. Obliterated, actually. Over and over again. Lift you up, beat you down.
Up and down, up and down until I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Then he could mold you. Mold you into what he wanted you to be.
You’d fight him. You’d disagree. I speak in the second person here because it was, as I have come to discover, the same with the others.
But fighting and disagreeing, of course, made things that much worse. So finally you’d give up, and say “okay.”
And then you were ripe for the picking.
And that’s when the sexual abuse started.
All, of course, for my higher.
Oh, and by the way, remember, you can’t tell anyone about it.
Okay, okay, I won’t. Thank you for helping me. I love you.
Shirk is the greatest sin in the Islamic tradition. Technically it is the worshiping of anything but God, tantamount to idolatry. In placing my absolute trust and self in my teacher I committed this sin, for I saw him as God.
I would eventually move to Texas and kept my secret hidden. Day by day by day, I dug my grave deeper and with every
shovel-full, my heart sunk deeper and deeper as I piled upon it layer upon layer of shit made of anger, resentment, shame, guilt, self-hatred, and the like. My hard encased in a coprolite coffin on which I stood tall robed in my pride and my arrogance, my selfishness and self-centeredness. And always–that is in front of others–with that smile on my face.
But then my friend called and I began to see the pattern and while on the way to a meeting that night before Thanksgiving, it was as if my entire world, as warped as it had for so long been, straightened out. And something lifted.
Maybe it was the shame, maybe it was the guilt, and the anger, and the hatred.
Sure, I was angry on that ride. Fucking angry. But this anger was not like the anger I detonated upon those I love.
That’s all I really ever wanted. I wanted to love. I did love. But my heart being so far buried, I could never adequately express how I felt. Sure, I could tell my wife I love her and I could tell my children I loved them. But it was the actions that were missing. Sometimes it would shine through, but such moments were like light shining through a tiny hole in a wall. Otherwise, all my actions were filtered through my warped world. So I could not love the way I so desperately wanted to love and in my failings my self-esteem fell further, my self-hatred raged for failing over and over and over again to do what it was I wanted to do–to just show love. And so my shame only increased because I couldn’t do something so simple, so natural.
So yes, I was pissed. Pissed about what had been done to me in the name of love. My marriage and family was going to fall apart. But that anger was channeled and I knew what I would have to do.
I had previously made a long list of my fears. Hundreds of them. When I got to my meeting I re-read the list and in big red pen I wrote: “Am I afraid of these anymore? HELL NO!”
Somewhat ironically, that Thanksgiving was the best Thanksgiving I’ve had in years. I had mentioned a little to my wife about what transpired way back the day she said she wanted to leave and in talking more with my friend and seeing that pattern, the shame is gone.
So too is the self-hatred.
Self-esteem is growing.
Of course now that I am in my little Monk’s Cell the sadness comes in waves and there are new fears.
But there are also moments of hope.
At the same time, though, there are the shoulds…I should have taken care of this sooner, I should not have been afraid, ashamed. And the ifs…If I had taken care of the shoulds, I wouldn’t have caused the damage I have caused and I would be with my family right now.
But I am not and now I write and I cry…
…And Louis Armstrong is reminding me it’s a wonderful world.