I’m going to tell you about something that, until a few years ago, I didn’t even have crystallized as an actual concept. I’ve only discussed it with a few people, most notably my therapist. Are you not in therapy yet? You really should be. It’s the best. It’s like meeting up with a friend to chat, but no one will judge you / accidentally tell your mutual friend / look bored / require you to stop talking at any point to give them a turn. And if your therapist is especially good–which mine is–you end up feeling completed gutted but with a brand new concept or understanding. Why we’re all not just assigned a therapist at birth is beyond me.
I’ve known for years that I have a specific cache of memories that create palpable discomfort. They usually involve me embarrassing myself. The earliest one occurred outside a Walgreens in Janesville. I must have been maybe 6, it was summer. I had just climbed out of the passenger side of the van and mom was busy getting someone out of the car seat, and I was jabbering about how strange the car next to us looked. She frantically attempted to mime “shut up!” to me as I went on and on about what I remember as a rusty sedan that was somehow fuzzy. Only as she came around the hood with one of my infant siblings did I look up and see the driver and his family in the car. With the windows rolled down. Looking at me. I can still feel the rush of heat that immediately enveloped me–even hotter than the hot, humid, sticky day. We walked into the air conditioned drug store and I didn’t ever want to leave. I wanted to be absolutely certain that they’d driven away.
This is but a small sample–an amuse bouche if you will–if the vast array of memories that I have available at a moment’s notice to really solidify and dig into a crappy feeling. Worrying over a disagreement during the day? Why not drift off to sleep with a special memory of similar embarrassment, just to gild the proverbial lily. My therapist pointed out that the unifying link of these memories (and so many of my other issues) is SHAME. A complex concept that I best sum up by remembering the mantra: “Should is a shame word.” Are you worried that something you do or have done will be externally judged by what should or shouldn’t be true? It’s shame.
So, I christened my collection of memories The Shame Shelf. Perhaps you, too, have a Shame Shelf. It is full of precious little baubles that can be periodically lifted down, stroked, polished and admired, conjuring up all sorts of awkwardness. It doesn’t matter how remote the event–the Shame Shelf has an eternal freshness guarantee. It’s practically impossible to remove and or smash up anything from the Shame Shelf. They’re hardy little baubles.
Here’s the most recent incident that sent me back for a perusal of my Shelf.
I practiced some piano accompaniment songs this morning. I’m playing for the middle school choir concert on Wednesday. Whenever I practice accompaniment music I pull off a trophy from the Shame Shelf that still holds some significant toxic memories for me. It has to do with my brief foray as a music student as Lawrence. That short time did more to drive down my confidence than anything I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t know how unprepared I really was, but I did know that I could accompany. It’s what I still enjoy best.
Freshman year, a fellow student who played cello asked me to accompany her for a master class performance. As near as I can remember, we rehearsed together a couple of times, and I think I played for her at a cello lesson. Then we performed at the master class, and I remember that the visiting professor who was there to give cello instruction actually gave me some constructive criticism on my playing. This was mortifying, as accompaniment always keeps me nicely in the background. What’d I do that warranted attention? On a stage full of people?!?! You mean I wasn’t perfect? Ugh. Then I went to a piano lesson the following week and learned that I’m not allowed to just go wandering about playing in public that I should (see that word there?) to inform and prepare with my studio teacher. Now, my logical brain says that this made absolute sense. However. The thing I was good at became a source of shame. Pretty ridiculous, huh? Even more ridiculous, I spent the last 3 1/3 years of my college career slinking around attempting to avoid eye contact with the woman who was my studio teacher for those first two semesters before I basically stopped playing for 3 years.
I started playing for choir and soloists a few years ago, and turns out I’m OK for the local scene, so it all worked out. And yet…the embroidered sampler of that memory is apparently still there, collecting dust on the Shelf.
So, now you know. I have a Shame Shelf. It’s kind of funny to talk about. I’m sure everyone has some stories that continue to cause discomfort. But I wonder, has anyone else invested in a complete Shame Shelf????