si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: May, 2012

Shame

This is without a doubt the scariest post I’ve ever written.

I’ve tried to make this blog as useful as possible. With the exception of the odd frivolous entry, I’ve tried to give practical advice, stuff I’ve found helpful. What’s helped me that might help you. This means talking about things only after I’ve figured them out, after I’ve learned how to best get through them.

This is not one of those entries.

I’ve been reading I thought it was just me by Brene Brown, which is about shame.

After a decade of studying it, she defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed & therefore unworthy of acceptance & belonging.

The key bits here:

  1. It’s painful
  2. It’s a perceived external judgement (ie, about how we think other people view us)
  3. It’s isolating – makes us feel we’re alone
  4. It’s about something we feel we are (as opposed to something we’ve done)
  5. It’s about wanting acceptance

There are many other emotions that swirl around this, but what differentiates shame is that it’s about external judgement, combined with being about us (not our actions).

  • We feel guilt about things we do, but shame about who we are.
  • We feel embarrassment about events that are temporary, fleeting and eventually even funny.
  • Humiliation we don’t believe we deserve (eg it’s unfair), but shame we believe we do.

Other people can cause shame in us (criticizing who we are or what we’ve done – only if we interpret that as a personal flaw), but as always, we are our own worst enemy. Most shame is self-inflicted.

This is where the isolation comes in. Nobody likes to talk about shame. Nobody likes to admit it and that silence is, I suspect, the worst part of the problem.

Notice how people will only talk about rags-to-riches stories when they’re successful again (and thus distanced from it)? That nobody talks about riches-to-rags stories, unless they’re talking about someone else? That’s shame.

See the gradual realisation that Facebook is depressing us? (“Everyone else’s life is better than mine”) That’s shame.

We only want other people to see the best parts of our lives, and it’s a lie.

  • Every family is screwed up (in some way or other).
  • Everybody struggles – with addiction, depression, trauma, physical ailments, parenthood, self-comparison, work-life-balance, at least once in their life if not constantly.
  • Nobody is perfect – and by that I don’t mean “hair is sexily ruffled at 3am” I mean “is fucked in the head about something or other”

Because nobody talks about it, we think we’re alone, which only makes it worse.

So here’s where I’m at. Here’s my life, right now.

To give some perspective, I need to scroll back a few years. A while back, maybe half a decade ago I owned several properties (let’s just say, more than three). I flitted around the world whenever the whim took me. Stayed in $1200/night hotels. Didn’t think much of making $100k decisions based on a two minute phonecall (batting average on those? About 50%). I’ve dropped 50k in half an hour, and slept soundly that night. Made as much on a single deal with zero effort and thought “that’s nice.” Financially, at least, life was pretty sweet.

On a side note, I was pretty unhappy with who I was as a person (in a few ways), which is what lead to the spiritual journey I’ve been on since then – which this blog (mostly) chronicles.

About the time I started on this journey, my finances started taking a serious downswing. So, over the last few years, I’ve gone from the above situation to about a hundred grand in debt, with zero assets (nothing of any resaleable value).

I’ve been evicted twice in the space of two years. I’ve been taken to court. Threatened with debtors prison. Been forced to sell everything I owned to pay debts (& given the rest away because I couldn’t afford a moving truck). I owe significant money to a large number of people (friends & family alike).

I’ve had two girlfriends dump me because of it. I’ve watched my friends get tired of asking “are you making any money yet?” and slowly drift away. Several of them no longer talk to me (or reply with the barest of politenesses). This isn’t a criticism of them, they’ve been beyond patient – I can barely explain the situation to myself, I don’t expect them to understand.

I’m now 41 and living at home with my parents – the only place left that I could go. I’ve been here for a year (give or take), and (externally at least) still nothing has changed.

So where’s the happily-ever-after? There isn’t one – at least, not yet. And that’s exactly the point.

I’d been hoping I would eventually pop out the other end of things, so I could write a “Here’s what I’ve learned… now my life is all wonderful & shiny again” post. It hasn’t happened.

I haven’t written about this because it’s so shameful (and embarrassing, and humiliating).

If there’s something appealing about a 41 year old guy who is so incapable of looking after himself that he’s forced to bludge off his parents, I haven’t found it yet.

Is there any of the above I’d recommend? Well, getting rid of all your stuff; it’s challenging but ultimately freeing. Other than that, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Stressful doesn’t begin to describe it.

Is it an awful situation? Yeah, kinda. Have the last few years been awful? Yeah, pretty much.

Oddly (or perhaps not), I’m the happiest, most peaceful and most loving I’ve ever been in my life. I can thank all the healing (as I’ve been describing here) for that. That part of the journey I wouldn’t give back for anything.

So what have I been doing all this time?

Well, a ton of healing (as you know), which has been super helpful. Without that, I probably would be dead. No, correction, I definitely would be dead.

I started a company, in late 2009. That was doing ok until early 2010 when two things happened. One, Twitter had loving-but-stern words with me about the way I was doing things (which involved a complete code rewrite) and two, Paypal shut down my account – temporarily – due to one of their apparently-common “security reviews”. Short version: something I did (or didn’t do) flagged some obscure setting in their software. I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, it was just a temporary hiccup on their end.

Still, something about the confluence of these setbacks really kicked me… somewhere, and I still haven’t managed to even start charging people for the service again, let alone be able to pay bills or start making decent money again.

The bigger story is this: I’m an entrepreneur. My first job was when I started a company at 14, selling technical drawing paper to my schoolmates. I’ve always, always had side businesses on the go, no matter what I’ve been doing elsewhere.

However, there’s been a strong underlying pattern. I write amazing code, or build amazing things, but I rarely if ever make money.

When I invest (property, stocks, whatever), I generally make out like a bandit, but businesses I’ve started (and there’s been a lot), no.

This is a pattern I want to break.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life starting businesses, working hard, and getting nowhere. That’s stupid. It’s neither loving nor helpful to myself.

Of course, whatever is going on is just something emotional. I’ve created it, and I very definitely have the tools to break it.

I just haven’t been able to do so yet.

If I don’t, eg if I follow most of my friends’ well-meaning but misguided advice to “go get a job”, well, this issue will just continue to re-manifest for the rest of my life. I’ll keep recreating it in new and exciting ways. This is exactly what I’ve already seen happen several times, so it’s time for it to stop.

Making the time to sort this issue, even if it means abject poverty for a couple of years, is worth it for the pay-off over the next hundred.

Logically, there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be rolling in cash. I’m male, white, well educated, have a broad experience in a bunch of high value fields, hard working, skilled, motivated. All these things work in my favour. I fully realise how blessed I’ve been to be born into the situation I was. Whatever’s going on here has nothing to do with the obvious.

The thing is – I can tell myself all this. How counter-intuitive it is, how unlikely, and how necessary to sort it out.

It doesn’t make the situation any less shameful.

It’s not an accident I’ve been single for almost three years. How do you ask a girl out on a date if buying a coffee is something that will most likely take a month to budget for? What about a second date, wait another month? Awkward.

Plus, of course, shame is always accompanied by powerful feelings of “Not good enough.”

Statistically, most people work for others (as employees), whereas I’ve had a very non-standard career. This makes it difficult for most people I know to relate, let alone understand (isolating).

In Silicon Valley maybe, running a startup would be understood. Even there though, when a startup gets funding (from a VC, typically), that’s considered “success.” Until that point (or an IPO) they’re not generally considered successful. Even bootstrapped (ie, no external funding) startups are considered a bit weird, interesting, but not-as-successful.

Where my parents live is over an hour by bus from the nearest city. There are wild chickens that live closer to it than I do. It’s where I grew up and while it has its charms, this is the most provincial I’ve lived since I left home, 24 years ago. This is no accident. I thrive on the bustle of cities, and even telling people where I’m currently living is mildly embarrassing.

All these things – they’re all my perception of how other people will view me.

None of these things I’ve wanted to talk about with anyone (except my family, whom I love dearly). Even writing this is scaring the shit out of me.

To be clear. I’m not posting this because I’m looking for sympathy. Or solutions. Or even empathy (although generally that is the ideal response to someone talking about something shameful). I’m posting it because we all have things we feel shame about, and not talking is worse than the discomfort of admitting them.

Yes, I am aware that once this is on the internet, it will exist forever, and be indelibly connected to my name.

Again, shame. And again, this is exactly why this should be posted.

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    The Long Dark Listlessness of The Soul

    One of the hardest things for me to let go of has been… well… I don’t know.

    A feeling of dread? Ennui? Listlessness? Dissatisfaction? Lack of contentment? A dark heavy cloud hiding at the edge of my awareness?

    I really don’t know.

    And that, in a nutshell, is exactly the problem.

    How do you let go of something that’s a combination of dozens of little factors, most of which are well below the level of consciousness? Something that has become so much a part of ourselves that we can no longer see it?

    I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. If I were, there’d be far fewer middle aged guys with sports cars. Far fewer teenagers hurting themselves.

    So here’s what I’ve learned.

    There’s two parts to what’s going on in our noggin.

    The stuff we can see (or hear) – those hyper-critical inner voices – and the stuff we can’t. No no, that’s not the bit I’ve learned. That’s just the intro. Stick with me here.

    The stuff we can see

    This is (relatively) easy to dump.

    To clear this, you can simply ask yourself questions and go with whatever pops up. Just love it & let it go. Super simple.

    So, any emotion or feeling you can think of that’s non-loving, go with that. Whatever feels right. Whatever resonates. Whatever seems to get results.

    Some examples:

    I love that part of me that:

    • regrets…
    • has disappointment myself by..
    • feels let down by…
    • is never good enough…
    • is never good enough for… (mum, dad, partner, boss)
    • will never be good enough for…
    • wants…
    • wants control of…
    • wants safety from…
    • wants approval from…
    • resents…
    • hates…
    • still hates…
    • hates myself…
    • is unhappy that…
    • will never be happy until…
    • wants to change…
    • doesn’t want to change…
    • is still sad about…
    • is still upset about…
    • feels let down by…
    • is nervous about…
    • worries about..
    • always worries…
    • doesn’t believe I can…
    • is hesitant about…
    • won’t let me be happy…
    • is afraid of…
    • is bored of…
    • is ashamed of…
    • is embarrased by…

    You can see – all we’re doing here is going for any non-loving emotion that we think might be even slightly related to the darkness. If something resonates, great! We can let it go. If it doesn’t, no problem, just move on to the next.

    I went through maybe another 40 or 50 phrases – just anything that popped in my head. You get the idea, you don’t need to be spoon-fed.

    How To Release It

    Simply get quiet, say the phrase (for example) “I love the part of me that will never be good enough for…” and let your mind fill in the gap. Let go of any tension that arises – just love it & let it go. Keep saying it (in your mind or out loud, doesn’t matter) until you feel calm & peaceful about the phrase.

    This is also one of the reasons that writing morning pages works so well. Morning pages (or stream-of-consciousness writing) simply entails sitting down somewhere relatively quiet, and writing down everything that pops in your head. It gets all those voices out in front of you, out into the light of day.

    As a bonus, it’s also great practice writing.

    Often just acknowledging that these thoughts exist is enough to see through them to the truth and effortlessly let them go.

    THE STUFF WE CAN’T SEE

    No big surprise, this stuff is a little trickier to release.

    So how do you get rid of something you can’t see?

    Well, here’s the trick. Much like with dreams our subconscious is communicating with us.

    Working logically though it:

    1. If whatever-it-is isn’t affecting our lives, then it’s not a problem.
    2. If it is affecting our lives, then even if we don’t know why or what it’s about, we can describe that effect.
    3. Since our subconscious is the one hiding the root cause from us, we can let it do the work, let it connect backwards from our description of the effect to the root itself.

    If we want to heal dreams, we work on them as if they’re reality. Why? Because it’s the clearest way to communicate back with our subconscious – in exactly the language it’s using to communicate with us.

    So, do exactly the same thing here.

    Be as explicit and specific as you can, but don’t worry for a second about anything below what you can see.

    If you get a deep cloying feeling every Monday morning, then go with that. Same as above, just say “I love having a deep cloying feeling every Monday morning.” Repeat this, letting go of all emotional, mental, physical tension that arises, until you feel at peace.

    If you don’t get any resonance (despite having the feeling), try amping the language up a bit. “I completely love..” “I deeply love..” “I love everything about…” etc. Just go with your gut.

    The more you listen to your intuition, the more you’ll realise it has all the answers you’ll ever need.

    Don’t worry if your description might sound ridiculous to anyone else. You’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you.

    If the thought of spending time with your inlaws makes you feel purple and violent, then “I love feeling purple and violent when I see my inlaws” is perfect. Once you feel peaceful saying that, of course, you can step it up even further “I love spending time with my inlaws.” Ha ha. Good luck. You’ll be awesome. It’ll be gone in minutes (or faster).

    Obviously this will bring up a lot of tension, but that’s exactly the point. All those feelings are coming up to leave. They’re just feelings, nothing more. There’s no need to react to them or be afraid of them. Just send them love, welcome them up and let them go.

    So, just keep paying attention, describing whatever you’re feeling as accurately as you can and then releasing it.

    Nothing wrong with a little mindfulness.

    Don’t be surprised if you get radically different descriptions every time you come back to it. Typically (and particularly with the stuff that our subconscious is hiding from us) larger or more immediate issues will mask smaller or older ones.

    That’s ok. You’re an onion. Peel away a layer and what’s below it? Yep. Just another layer. It beats being a potato (just kidding Mr Potato Head).

    The sign that you’re making progress is when stuff that used to bother you doesn’t in the slightest any more. You couldn’t care less about it, or it just seems funny now.

    If your visual description of what you’re feeling no longer resonates for you, that’s because it’s gone. If the descriptions are changing, that’s because you’re working down through the layers.

    It is, as they say, all good.

    I know if I look back at my life, I’ve had a definite dark layer to my existence, bubbling along beneath everything else.

    Historically I’ve masked or escaped from it – with alcohol, caffeine, sex or bursts of flat-out enthusiasm. I can look back now and see that it’s cost me relationships, “You’re down and nothing I do gets through to you.”

    That’s kinda crap.

    Over the last month or so, I’ve worked my way through all of the above; First the visible then the hidden stuff below that, and I can feel with absolute certainty that something has left my life.

    Something big, something dark. Somethings (plural).

    Life just seems.. lighter somehow. Easier. Less overwhelming. Less threatening. Less difficult. More fun.

    What’s gone? Well… I really don’t know.

    And that, in a nutshell, is exactly the point.

    I don’t need to know. I never needed to, and really, who cares? It’s gone and I feel great.

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