Beating Up “The Shame That Binds Us”

Thanks for being patient – I took off a few days then spent the next thinking about the best way to present this post. No pretty graphics this time, just some hard truths.

First Off:

Blame it on BP, anxiety, being easily overwhelmed, whatever, the fact is that there have been many, many times in my life that rather than face a problem or challenging situation, I BAILED.

I asked someone else to address a problem or speak for me, cancelled appointments, left an activity, or simply bailed out at the last minute. This left an embarrassed honey, irritiated doctors/professionals, pissed off and disappointed friends, and me sitting on a lot of shame.

This bailing habit started early with faking sick to get out of going to a school where I was one of the “unpopular kids” and treated as such. However, at the same time, I was taking care of my mom and still doing classwork, working, and being fairly responsible. So it was a weird “selective bailing” way of life where I handled things most of the time.

Things got much worse after my illness finally kicked in. I couldn’t handle excess stress, too many people, and pretty much life in general. Sadly, I can’t count the number of times I bailed out on friends, left functions early, and didn’t follow through. In the very back of my mind, hidden but felt, there was a bucket of shame and self-disappointment that was overflowing.

Beating Up that “Shame That Binds Us”:

The good news is that since I have been on disability and the huge stressor of a difficult job has been removed and as I’ve worked on my daily habits, facing my fears, and learning how to better manage my life in general, the incidents of bailing have gone WAY down. I’m much more inclined to try new things like the exercise meetup, the 30 day yoga challenge, and the April “Fit Club” group challenge, as well as revisit activities I have previously bailed on like volunteering, parties, and group functions. You might have seen the post about going to La’s friend’s 50th Birthday Party. Previously a prime “bail activity”, I faced and dealt with a loud party filled with people I didn’t know, and was able to go, stay, and even meet new people successfully.

Well, right on the heels of that success came a major challenge that pulled the shame bucket right front and center. A few years ago I found out that I would need some major, long term, and very expensive dental work. It would include surgery, restoration, many appointments/procedures, and cost about $15,000. I was working at the time and could have addressed it then but what, I got scared and bailed. Then when I went for an annual cleaning to a new dentist about a month ago she hit me with the same bad news plus a lot more. I had a major panic attack in the chair, started crying, but was able to get through the appointment, get all 3 additional dental referrals, and drive home. I even made the first, most important appointment, which was scheduled for this Wednesday.

After 2 days of freaking out before the appointment, I woke up that morning in a fetal position, barely got out of bed, picked up the phone AND BAILED. Making up a “medical emergency”, I cancelled the appointment. BUT I did reschedule it for a month out. It was only when I called La and heard the disappointment in her voice and concern about how the new date would impact her upcoming surgery, that I realized the true disappointment I felt in myself. What made it worse was everything she had done to be able to attend the appointment with me.

Yes the procedures will be scary, painful, and take over a year and half to get through. Yes it will be incredibly expensive, we’re in debt, my income is crap, and I have no idea where the money is coming from. Yes, I’m ashamed that I’m on disability because it means much less money available, that my disability has put us in even more debt, and that I didn’t get this all done when I was working. But this is the first time I felt not only the shame but the disappointment in myself for acting cowardly and avoiding rather than facing something important. And more importantly, recognized and felt the shame for disappointing someone else.

Steps Taken:

After a few hours, a little bit of xanax, and a lot of thought, I finally faced up to the fact that I needed to address this and better sooner than later. La will need me to support her and we have other commitments coming up in the next few weeks, too. I called and rescheduled the appointment for next monday instead of next month. I’m still afraid of what the dentist will say, my stomach is still in knots, and I don’t want to go. But I will go and will find a way to deal with the results of the appointment no matter how upsetting they may be. This time I won’t take the easy way out and I’ll scoop out and throw away some of the shame in that bucket.

Lesson Still Being Learned:

As human beings we’re programmed for “flight or fight” and while that may be obvious in the case of a school yard bully, a tough upcoming presentation at work, or a person with a knife pointed at you, it’s the smaller challenges that can blindside us. Logically some necessary dental work, even with a big price tag, sounds like it would be a no-brainer. You go, have it done, figure out how to pay for it, and get on with life. Unfortunately it’s not so simple when you figure in all the emotional baggage that jumps out to attach itself. What do we do then? There are a couple of coping skills that helped me this time and may help you with challenges you run into.

  • Write It Down: Write down the situation, different ways you can handle it, help and resources you may need to do so, and any pros/cons, and most importantly, what will happen if you don’t face and deal with it. Then put it down for a day if you can. When you pick it back up and read over it, you may find things to add and realize it is something you can deal with.
  • Get a Second Opinion: Either using your written notes or not, talk over the situation with a trusted partner or friend to get an objective perspective. Not only will you feel better, there’s a good chance they’ll have additional ideas and suggestions on how to handle it. It will also ease the anxiety.
  • Practice Radical Acceptance: This is the most basic but the most difficult of all. It is just what it says: eliminating all the self talk and any emotional connections, say to yourself that you accept the need to meet this challenge. That doesn’t mean you have to like it, want to do it, and that it might not be scary, even terrifying. It is simply accepting the reality of the situation. Talk about liberating! Once you let all the attachment fall away, it frees you up to do what needs to be done.
  • Act: Once you’ve done all the preliminary stuff and figured out your game plan, act on that first step. Whether it’s making that important phone call, talking to that person, or going online to do research funding or other necessary factors, DO IT. I’m sure you’re well aware of the relief after doing that first step. Everything after that becomes easier and less stressful because you proved to yourself you could start the process.
  • Acknowledge Your Victory: Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, especially since all of us have trouble facing challenges, too! Whether they are small or large, it’s scary and it takes fortitude to face and oversome them.
  • Celebrate Your Success: This is especially important if you have practiced avoidance in the past. Whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, whatever the outcome, take time out to celebrate the fact that you had the courage to try. 99% of success is just showing up – and you did – so do something special for yourself and take that credit!

Monday is D-Day for me and I will do a follow-up post to let you know how things turn out. Meanwhile, tomorrow is our NAMIWalk 2012, for our local National Alliance of Mental Illness. I’m the team captain for the “Bring Change 2 Mind” Team (Glenn Close’s organization) and we are proud to have 10 walkers this year (from only 2 the last walk) and have raised almost $1,000 (versus $200 last time). We have plans to really step it up next year but are very proud to have done this well. Yet another challenge faced and conquered!!

Please feel free to share ways you have coped with difficult challenges in your life as well as challenges met and conquered. Great way to celebrate your success!


After re-reading this post, wanted to add two items.

  1. YOU ARE NOT ALONE – all of us feel shame and struggle with vulnerability and facing our fears. With failure and self-judgement. Having the courage to share those feelings makes us more rather than less.
  2. ACTION ITEM – Brene Brown is a researcher on shame and vulnerability and gave two amazing TED talks on the subjects. Please take a little time to check out her page (below) and watch the two videos featured on the right hand side. They are powerful, inspiring, and give much better answers than what you’ve read here.

Brene Brown’s TED Talks on Vulnerabiltity and Shame


9 thoughts on “Beating Up “The Shame That Binds Us”

  1. This really resonated with me. I too have been a bailer (although I never knew what to call it) for various reasons, often the depression kicking in, but I want to learn to be more present.

    You are a superhero. I read a couple of your posts and can’t wait to read more. I hope a year from now I am having as great a success as you are! Thanks for the encouraging words and for following me!

    • You are such a sweetheart! But I am definitely a fallible, fall down, then get up human being. It’s the getting up that seems to make the difference. And you definitely sound like that kind of person so I look forward to reading your posts as well!!

      • fallible and prone to falling down is what makes us human…I agree that getting up is what makes the difference!

  2. Oh sweetie…we’ve all done stuff like that. Takes a lot of courage to reflect and think upon the situation and put it into perspective. I’ve had my own freak out sessions in the dental chair, not from the possible pain but the act of being somewhat held down with my mouth open, nuff said. It may take a several attempts but YES, radical acceptance and being gentle with yourself….I’ll keep you in my thoughts on Monday and a few Ativan wouldn’t hurt!!!

    • Thank you so much – and yes, will be doing the xanax route but same thing, different name. Truly appreciate the support and understanding. It helps so much to know one is not alone!

  3. Oh boy, do I ever know what you are going through…..I am a fellow bailer myself. growing up with an eye deformity that was evident as soon as you looked at me caused me to bail on social functions, job interviews and nearly everything else. I am now free of all of that due to some very good cosmetic surgeons about a year ago. reading your post brought back all of those old feelings of low self esteem and disappointment in myself. You CAN overcome and you WILL overcome! take it one step at a time and you will look back when its all done and say ” That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. ” I’m cheering for ya!

    • Thanks Sherry for sharing your challenge and for your support! Also your courage! And you’re right, I’m sure I’ll look back in a few years and wonder what all the fuss was about. Hugs!!

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