Shame: Illuminating the Invisible Assassin

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Unless someone tells you what it is you never feel it. 

It lingers in the background of your life, wearing down your resilience and leaves you unknowingly begging for mercy. 

Instead of acknowledging it, we numb our senses and bury its burden. It accumulates and compounds with each moment.

It shapes who we are each day. It envelops us in a weighted blanket that pulsates on our temples, blackens our thoughts, and makes us lethargic. It is with us upon awaking and when laying our heads to sleep all the same. Our identity becomes synonymous with it.

It thrived in this vulnerable host. I was forced to shoulder its relentless burden.

How could I resolve it if I didn’t know what afflicted me?

Hindsight proves that I knew all along. I did feel itI just didn’t know what it was that I felt. It was inescapable. The feeling preoccupied my mind and body, and haunted my dreams. 

Shame—the invisible assassin. A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. The sound of my stutter-filled speech triggered it. And the belief that I needed to fix my stutter made the shame grow in strength under the veiled threat that if I didn’t, I’d stutter for the rest of my life. Every ounce of shame spawned from this inability to talk normal

There may be a twinge of edginess in my words because of the need to tap into the shame that I’ve mostly put to bed, though I know where it rests. I hadn’t physically felt its presence since it returned to my life last week, the onset of which I wrote about in Stuttering Edge.

Even so, it has been hard to describe given its absence. It’s a dullness and lethargy that slows my days and depresses my zest for life. I hate that I even have to acknowledge it for how it still impacts me. I am supposed to have transcended it to live up to my hard-earned resilience that those expect from me. Yet, I must illuminate its presence.

This is when it is important to circle back to the unresolved hidden shame. The way I once persevered through every obstacle caused by stuttering cultivated an unbreakable mindset that only kept me trapped in a cycle of shame. I didn’t allow myself to feel shame then but now I feel it with an exuberance that forces me to confront it in slow motion and fully experience the emotions. This level of self-awareness is both incredible and burdensome to bear. 

The humiliation, distress, and guilt. Standing face to face and moving through it all, knowing well that they slowly reverberate out of my consciousness and into obscurity again. No numbing, rather fully embracing the full spectrum of emotions that comes with feeling shame for what it is, a reminder that we—yes, we—have a choice in what becomes of it

The root of shame is to cover. Thus, in our uncovering we find this choice—what will we do to remain uncovered?

Awareness was my first step. Living through moments of stuttering and paying attention to its inner life helped me become more self-aware. Repetition was key, and easier to do than I knew because of all the opportunities that I had during my days to openly stutter and feel what happened. 

However, writing about what I felt and the emotions that onset after these moments was how I learned to use self-awareness as a catalyst for healing. Handwriting or typing out the moment to moment experiences made me more present and able to minimize, instead of numb, the burden that shame inflicts. 

It took several years to realize the act of intentionally reflecting on my individual moments of stuttering could reinforce such a tangible level of self-awareness. But, it was how I brought shame out of the shadows and into the light where I could do something about it. 

The problem with shame in stuttering is that it is only one part of the lived experience that we who stutter have to resolve. With greater self-awareness, I began to feel the holistic impact of openly stuttering. 

Resolution has become my second step. Resolving shame, along with the other side effects of stuttering such as fear, exhaustion, and trauma, was probably more important than increasing my stuttering efficiency. For me, quieting this inner life of stuttering has allowed me to put shame in its proper place with the others. This is where I am now—in the early stages of learning how to recover from each moment of stuttering to not only confront the next but to stutter and feel okay.

By illuminating shame as one of the key parts of the experience of stuttering that debilitates, I can gradually work to minimize its impact on my overall quality of life. I can feel shame and still show up for the next chance to stutter, that is a powerful position from which to counter its life impeding penance.  

It is wishful thinking to believe that I could get to a place where openly stuttering does not create shame. I am not unbreakable. I left shame run its course, break me if it that’s what it requires, yet come back stronger at the broken places, as Ernest Hemmingway beautifully prescribed in A Farewell to Arms.  

Perhaps a better way of thinking about shame is through the feeling of a word that epitomizes its experience, euphoriaEuphoria means the power of enduring easily. Much like openly stuttering, it is possible to not only endure shame more easily but to feel and know what to do with it. This is the third step, being able to shed its weight instead of letting the haze of shame cloud my experience of life.

By embracing shame, feeling it out, and familiarizing myself to its debilitating nature, its impact becomes fleeting and I live to stutter more easily another day. 

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