Personal Revelations: Thoughts on Privacy and Shame, Strength and Vulnerability

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So I guess it’s official now. I’m no longer a “private person.” In my first ever post here, I talked about how I shocked the hell out of myself by wanting to start a blog, having been amazed at the personal stuff other people were willing to share on theirs. I used to think, “Wow, I could never do that.”

I think I’ve learned why “never say never” earned its status as a cliché.

This week, I had an article published in Huffington Post about a very personal topic, my decision to give up alcohol. I thought about speaking up for the better part of a year, hesitating mostly because of the stigma often attached to issues concerning addiction. I sought advice and considered the possible ramifications from every angle. I examined my motives and reasons ad nauseam. I deliberated for so long that by the time it was published, the fear was gone. I was past ready.

The events of the days that followed and the messages I received, both via social media and privately, confirmed that it was the right thing for me to do. All the carefully weighed pros and cons aside, this was the bottom line of why I did it— I felt at both the heart and gut levels that it was my next right thing. In the end, it was that simple, really.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy versus transparency. Bravery versus restraint. Vulnerability that leads to connection and healing, versus emotionally unsafe or premature exposure.

My decision was co-created by my own motivation and inspiration from others. First of all, if you haven’t checked out Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame, now is the time. This 20-minute video, “The Power of Vulnerability,” is one of the most-watched TED Talks ever for good reason. It will be your best use of 20 minutes this week, I promise you.

I saw vulnerability and strength exemplified in the women in my life. One of my oldest and dearest friends wrote openly and bravely about her experience with depression during her pregnancy. This issue is now getting some of the attention it deserves, but nine years ago when her article was published, nobody was talking about it. Another friend wrote openly and bravely about her experience with skyrocketing libido—the opposite “problem” you usually hear about women’s sexuality as they get older. Both of these women shared their stories partly so that others with similar experiences might feel less alone than they had.

In the weeks of waiting, after I submitted my article and before it was published, gifts of confirmation kept coming.

Another friend (who had no knowledge of my plans to speak out), while talking about something in her own life, said, “I learned that the point is, be brave. Do what your heart tells you to do.”

Actress Amy Brenneman wrote about her experience with deciding to end a pregnancy at age 21. Her words on the screen jumped out at me:  “I believe that we connect and learn by the specifics of stories, our own and others,” she wrote. “I am also a believer in taking our private stories public, where the residue of shame — even the shame we were not aware we had — gets evaporated in the light of community and shared experience.” 

So, now that it’s done, here is what I know.

In the beginning, I never would have predicted I would share this in such a public way. I was freaked out by the possibility of people knowing. I skipped social events, and not because I was afraid of being around alcohol. That actually didn’t bother me. I skipped them because of the inevitable, “You’re not having a drink? How come?” And people are curious. They do ask. I didn’t have an answer that felt both safe and true, and I didn’t want to lie. I think my horrified self-consciousness in the beginning was part of the reason I felt some responsibility to be “out” with this once I felt stronger.

Slowly, I came to know that I wanted to move toward being more transparent in my life. I intend to be the exact same person no matter where I am or whom I’m with. I don’t want to harbor secrets that separate me from others. Still, it took a year between the time I knew that’s where I was headed to being ready to act on it.

Where any sensitive issue is concerned, quiet and privacy is the right thing for some, for a period of time or forever. It was the right thing for me, too, until it wasn’t. I would never presume to try and talk anyone into this or any other personal revelation. But for those of us who are willing, who know somewhere inside that we can contribute to shattering taboos and releasing the collective grip of shame? Maybe we ought to do it.

I feel lighter and freer. I feel less separation between me and the rest of the world. I feel that I’ve done my best, and whoever needs my offering will find it.

This all leaves me feeling like I want to go looking for other dark pockets of shame, bring them out into the light, and decimate them. But I’ll go easy and not get carried away. For now.

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016

 

7 thoughts on “Personal Revelations: Thoughts on Privacy and Shame, Strength and Vulnerability

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