Survivorship In Life: Dealing With The Tears And Fears – “Sharing My Shame Story”

woman_with_fingers_over_mouth_shameAfter my last post, I received a lot of phone calls and emails from family, friends and readers.  There was a familiar tone to the conversations—“we never knew” and “you never said anything”.

So, I thought I would share more of this story to help you better understand and go deeper into what can happen when treatment for cancer finishes and you truly become a “survivor”.

I am sharing it for the first time. Because this is a true account of what I went through after treatment—under the cover of secrecy—I wanted to let you know that if you experience this too, you’re not alone.

I can remember that time vividly, even though it was many years ago now.  I didn’t say anything to anyone, because I thought it was just me.  I thought that I was the only one who felt worse when treatment finished than when I was diagnosed.  I can remember the sweet wash of shame, guilt, grief, fear and anger all wrapped up together in a neat little package with a little bow holding it all in place.  I felt like I was being pounded from all sides with no possibility of defense.

The Sweet Wash Of Shame

Shame is linked to neurosis, as Freud described it.  Shame can show up in personalities where people are shy, withdrawn and introverted.  Shame can cause people to lean towards perfectionism and rigidity in an effort to control their environment.  Shame can also lead people to be totally driven and intolerant of others, their mistakes, and in some cases, their efforts.  Guess what?  We all have a little shame!

This rang some alarm bells for me! I was shy, now withdrawn, introverted and a control freak.  I felt that I had lost control over my own life and it was freaking me out.  I was feeling vulnerable and scared and I didn’t like it.

In this context of shame, I thought there was someone wrong with me.  Not that I had done something wrong, but rather that “I was wrong”.

I felt shame, as I should have been happy, but I wasn’t.  I should have been happy because I survived when so many others didn’t.  I should have been happy to be alive, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was lost, alone and scared.

You seldom share your shame stories, as you want and need to be connected to others.  Your shame keeps you from sharing, as it’s that little voice telling you that you’re not enough, pretty enough, healthy enough or wealthy enough.

It sounds like this: “What would people think of you if they knew?”, “Maybe you will lose your friends”, “Maybe people will see it on your forehead and stare at you in the streets”.

Numbing The Shame………Doesn’t Work So Well!

So instead of dealing with it, I numbed it, ignored it and hoped it would go away.  I choose to put a brave face on to the world, throw myself into my work and cried whenever I was alone.  By the way, I wouldn’t advise this as a coping mechanism, as it left me sad, lonely and depressed.

Shame is actually the closest emotion to death and I was feeling dead inside.  At one point, I spent the weekend curled up in bed having a “doona day” and decided that the world might be better off without me.

So I decided that if the cancer returned, next time I wouldn’t fight, I would just let it take its course.  That feeling didn’t last long at all—only a few minutes. It was rock bottom and I couldn’t go any lower.

I have never felt depressed before or since, so it wasn’t a regular event for me and I really didn’t know what to do.  I had put so many chemicals into my body over the past 10 months, that I didn’t want to take more tablets or pills.  Besides, that wasn’t the way I dealt with things.

I knew that I needed to sort my way out of it and fast. How could I resolve it and stay silent? I couldn’t. It meant that I had to muster up the courage to talk to someone about it.  It really did take every ounce of energy I had, but I did it and was surprised by the reaction.

Sharing My Shame Story……….Was It Worth It?

I choose to share my “shame story” with a friend.  Her reaction was, “you just need to get over it”.  I couldn’t believe it, I shared my story and it backfired.  I know she thought she was doing the right thing for me, but the reaction was really the last thing I expected and sent me spiraling downwards.

What could I do now?  For me, the salvation came in a book.  The book was “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.  I was working as a corporate executive at the time and viewed myself, before diagnosis, as effective and wanted to reclaim that feeling.  As I laid in bed that weekend and read it cover to cover, it was like a veil had been lifted from over my eyes.

Finding The Solution

It finally dawned on me as I read it that there was nothing wrong with me.

I was clinging to a life that no longer existed. Cancer was an unwelcome bedfellow and it was time to kick him out.

I couldn’t go back to who I was; that woman no longer existed.  I needed a new plan, focus and clarity for what I wanted in my life—in essence I needed be more mindful about my life now.  So, I decided to take action and my world changed.

It was like I had been given the opportunity to start over and I was determined not to waste it.  It wasn’t always easy, but I had to do it and in the process, I won my life back, better than it had been before.

Interested?!, Read more about mindfulness and how it changed my life and can change yours…..

Have you shared your story with someone? Share a comment about how it worked out for you.



P.S.: By the way, I now believe that being vulnerable and telling your shame story takes true courage and is strength not weakness.

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