This week, my psychiatrist called the pain I am going through “eviscerating.”

I felt relieved when he said that. I felt seen. I felt like it was allowed, my pain, and that he had seen it to be the ugly and brutal presence I am choked with.

My dear friend Wolfie (whom I’ve taken to calling ‘My Dear Friend Wolfie,’ as if it were a title, as if I’ve beknighted her, which, probably, I should have), has been an attentive ally in these last weeks, sending me poems and quotes and wisdom and a few emails in which she’s leaned forward toward me, wagging her finger, saying “No!” to the creeping vines of regret which are curling themselves around my internal organs, creating a dull but persistent nausea.

See her thought-provoking comment, and hear the certainty with which she tells me to reject the shame. “It is a terrible stone you needn’t carry.”

Shame. Am I feeling shame?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I don’t feel ashamed that I am a single mom twice over. But I do feel this:

shame /SHām/ A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Painful: check. Distress: check. Humiliation? Yes. But wait, don’t quarrel with me yet. Distress: Well, clearly. “Caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Check. Wrong? No. Wrong-headed? Yes. Foolish? Yes.

Everything I needed to know about my ex-boyfriend, I knew when he moved in. I knew he was too recently divorced, unclear about his life path, barely supporting himself, a dreamer, not too good at the realities and banalities of life (bills, housecleaning, laundry), not someone compelled toward stability. In fact, he largely ended up living with Zack and me because his lease came up (and had been coming up for months and months) and he hadn’t made other plans. And so I suggested, then he resisted, I rallied, making a good case for all the reasons why it was a good idea, and he said yes. Or, did he acquiesce?

Doesn’t matter. I do believe he was up for the experiment.

But I wasn’t experimenting. I was trying to make BE what I wanted to BE. And he, predictably, wasn’t able to be in that mindset. That wasn’t who he was; that wasn’t where he was.

Moving day was a complete and utter disaster, due to his lack of planning (oh, so much worse than you could even imagine, involving leaving furniture strewn on the streets of two neighborhoods in Brooklyn amid two-foot snowbanks, losing a deposit for a studio for his piano—because the piano wouldn’t fit, which I’d asked him to check… you can hear the hectoring in my voice already, and he’s not even in the apartment yet). I had to keep swallowing my disbelief that day. But I did swallow it. Because I was seeing only what I wanted to see. I was willing myself to un-see what was right in front of me.

That is why I feel shame. Because I knew my mistake, even before it became a mistake. Because I had dozens and dozens of moments in our relationship—before he moved in, after he moved in—where I felt the yawning gap of how we walked through life. I told myself elaborate stories that made it all make sense—I was volatile in personality and stable in circumstance; he was calm in personality and unstable in circumstance. But he was also uncertain, perpetually uncertain, about everything, and always about us, too. He loved us, yes, he did, but he couldn’t commit to a life.

Do you see now why I am ashamed? Why would I put myself—and my son!!—into this circumstance? Because I believe in wishful thinking? Because I believed if Derek came to need me and rely on me he would finally really love me in the way I wanted him to? Folly. (Folly and foolish are neighbors, you see.)

But I told myself it was fine, and fell into the familiar territory of getting by with less than I wanted, less than I needed: less certainty and security, less open affection, less planning and dreaming. (Well, and then, of course, there was the whole book-being-publishing-mom-goes-into-hospital-it’s-cancer-dad-goes-into-hospital-freak-brain-infection-life-as-I-know-it-ends-resign-from-Redbook-start-driving-to-from-Philadelphia-four-five-six-times-a-week thing, which made it hard to see anything straight.)

If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, we might have ended our adventure in three months.

If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, we might have found a way to meet in the middle.

If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, I wouldn’t have had to depend on him so much, I wouldn’t have been so on edge, I wouldn’t have lost my shit over dishes in the sink and socks on the floor, I wouldn’t have cried all night long, saying things that made him afraid of how much “darkness” was inside me.

If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, we would have lived a different story.

If my parents hadn’t gotten sick and died, this breakup wouldn’t be carrying the full weight of an atomic blast (well beyond just the deaths of my parents) that went off in my life back in 2010, and the aftershocks of which are still ringing.

But the truth is, even when I could see so clearly where we did not fit, I still wanted to believe the tectonic plates of our lives would shift and knit neatly together. He was—is—so many things: gentle, wise, beautiful, masculine, the most well-read person I’d ever met, a dreamer, determined to live life by his own rules. Our souls clicked, in such a quietly, deeply resonant way. But our lives didn’t.

And actually, My Dear Friend Wolfie, now that you’ve prodded me to think it all out—which I’ve done, stream-of-consciousness-style, right here, for your pleasure!—I can see that the truth is that the feeling of how our souls met and were lit up by each other was something I would never have been able not to pursue. Never. Never. Never.

I had to chase that feeling, even if it meant chasing it to its sad and awful end.

Possibility is a promise not fully made, a beautiful maybe.

He was my beautiful maybe.

And when I look at it all that way, I don’t feel ashamed. Wounded, bruised, tentative, unsure. Heartbroken. Truly heartbroken, with tears in my eyes, as I type this on a plane, 10,000 feet above the earth.

I am bloodied. And bowed. (Which actually isn’t a word, but…) Definitely bowed. But I will go ahead and set down that heavy stone called shame. I’ve got plenty of other weight to carry.



About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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24 Responses to Shame

  1. Lindsey says:

    Amen. Put it down. Those “if…then…” thoughts are the root of so much suffering … But so hard to stop. I know. xoxo

  2. I’m nodding. I am. I’ve been there. The “un-seeing.” I get it. That was my marriage. All of it. From aisle to now, more than 20 years later.

    I felt foolish. I still do. But not ashamed.

    You say: He was—is—so many things: gentle, wise, beautiful, masculine, the most well-read person I’d ever met, a dreamer, determined to live life by his own rules. Our souls clicked, in such a quietly, deeply resonant way. But our lives didn’t.

    And of course you had to chase that beautiful maybe!

    How could you not? How can any of us not want those exceptional and intimate connections? How can you not know more, be more, comprehend more as a result?

    I understand better now, by virtue of your definition, why you used the word shame. But a definition can be flat, and our worlds are round. I’m glad you are finding your way to other terminology, to a more resonant place where you’re kinder to yourself however deeply wounded you are.

    You see the potential that was within your grasp and his. None of our dreams or realities are without pieces that will not fit. We may sense some are larger than we would wish and pose very real obstacles. But we’re strong, we’re smart, we’re determined, and we’re convinced we can reduce them, go around them, or expand our hearts and our minds to dwarf them in comparison to who we are becoming as a couple.

    And sometimes we can.

    I believe that we – women – have a tendency to punish ourselves for mistakes in judgment in the most cruel ways, both personally and professionally. We do so rather than recognizing our part of the responsibility and leaving it at that.

    You tried something potentially wonderful. You gave it your all. It didn’t work for the long run.

    Perhaps that’s what I’m finally learning – and only processing as I type these words. With each mistake in judgment (some serious, some less so, and many rooted in my rather odd childhood), I am slightly less punishing to myself in the aftermath. I choose kinder (and more accurate?) words when I admonish myself for my actions or beliefs. I dwell for a shorter time in the darkest corners of the well.

    If my father whom I had only just welcomed into my life had not died in a car accident four months before I met the man I married, I would not have married him.

    If my grandmother whom I adored had not died just two weeks before I met the man I married, I would not have married him.

    If I hadn’t married him, I would not have the sons whose presence in my life brings meaning and grace and humor and balance.

    If I hadn’t made the mistakes in judgment I have, usually to do with love, I would not have learned so many lessons.

    Lighten whatever ballast you can. You were meant to soar – with your words and your heart.

    • stacy says:

      I aspire to this >>>> “With each mistake in judgment (some serious, some less so, and many rooted in my rather odd childhood), I am slightly less punishing to myself in the aftermath.” And I do believe I will get there. The “darkness” my ex-boyfriend (I don’t even want to use his name anymore, because he so doesn’t belong to me) referred to me was in the sneaking certainty that all I’d tried to escape as a child in my parents’ demeanors was coming for me anyway. I wanted to escape their fates, and so I did. But there’s a little girl in me who still isn’t sure she made it out. It used to be — how many successes and wins will I have and still not be sure I made it? Now it’s — how many losses can I suffer and still not be sure I made it? It’s poetic, actually, to see that the universe threw me a bunch of one thing, and since that didn’t make me feel any more real, then I got a boatload of the other. I aspire to a life in balance: some success, some pain, and me in the middle, certain that I will be just fine. Hear me, universe? I’m ready!!

    • teamgloria says:

      I always forget that you two know each other – it’s so beautiful the way we all help each other – sometimes when we never actually meet in RL (or rarely).


      beautiful. grace, in fact.

  3. Al B says:

    I have thought for some time that life itself is like a diamond with many different facets. The true beauty comes when we can see them all and the number of marriages and divorces comes from not doing that or because we take the beauty for granted and expect one or perhaps two facets to be enough. A marriage based upon attractiveness or sexual compatibility, for example, is not enough if there is not the other things such as spending time together doing things mutually enjoyed, being considerate of the other person, and a million other little things which can eventually turn positive emotions into negative ones and turn our emotional “diamonds” back into coal.
    Life is in many ways an illusion, as Richard Bach pointed out in his book, “Illusions” and those illusions can often be how we see another person or how we see ourselves as well. We sometimes lie to others for good reasons and reasons not so good, but when we start to lie to ourselves, as so many of us do, we only create problems which do not go away, as in the case of an abused wife who makes excuses for her abuser.
    We need to use the three C’s of philosophy in many areas of our life, whether to judge the truth in a television commercial, the statement of a politician, or in considering our own truths. Is it Complete? Is it Coherent and does it make sense, and is it Correct?
    We can lie to ourselves about anything and believe anything we want but as the saying goes, The truth will set you free, but too often it is not the truth we are looking for but the “Happy ever after” and so we ignore the things that disturb that vision we see for ourselves.

    • stacy says:

      All very true, Al. Which is why I do the kind of writing I do, to help myself, and also, hopefully others, be able to see ourselves clearly, so that we may draw ourselves toward lives that will bring out the person we were meant to be. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see you here. : )

  4. Alexandra says:

    With all of this, I am so sorry.

    But your writing here: I have so little to say that can do justice to your writing here.

    Stacy: really, I thought Falling Apart in One Piece was a couldn’t put down till I finished it read:BUT THIS.

    I don’t know how to tell you, but a collection of something like this: how cathartic for so many of us, still carrying shame for stepping into something we were hell bent on making work. Because we saw the promise, the possibility, the could be–and would not see the truth. We have hope. It’s that hope that can blind us.

    This was breathtaking, though I am so sad it was born of your circumstance.

    It is breathtaking.

    • stacy says:

      Alexandra, thank you. It is comfort to know there is beauty in pain, that these open plaints aren’t just ugliness strewn across the sidewalk for all to see. xxx

  5. Marietta says:

    I just want to say thank you!!! thank you so much for writing from your soul…thank you because after reading your posts i don’t feel alone… you put my thoughts in a row.. thank you for sharing… thank you for filling the blanks…

    • stacy says:

      And to you, I say, thank you for being here. These words only have meaning if they are witnessed, and if someone reads them and finds them true. I am lucky that you found me. : )

  6. Maureen Flatley says:

    So sad and sorry you’re going through so much pain. Each post makes me want to reach out a give you a gigantic hug. All I can tell you is that time passes and perspective ensues. For myself, after making a similar mistake – apocalyptic misjudgment involving a man – I lived through it and some of the most amazing things happened in my life. My bad call led to important self reflection that helped me make major productive and positive course corrections in my life. Hang on.

  7. Rita says:

    Good for you, Stacy. Huge step forward.

    And I want you to know how much I appreciate you writing this. I still struggle with feelings of shame for making the choices I did in choosing (and staying with) my ex-husband. I stayed with him far, far longer than I should have, trying to avoid shame. If the marriage succeeded, those choices wouldn’t have been wrong, and I wouldn’t have had to feel shame. In hindsight, the mistakes are so abundantly (and painfully) clear. They can easily overshadow the beautiful maybe. And the wounded younger self who was just trying to build a safe shelter. Thank you for helping me see both things this morning.

    • stacy says:

      And Rita, thank you, too, for your steadfast, steadying presence and all the words you’ve shared. I am so lucky you stumbled upon me, to witness me as I stumble. xxx

  8. Rita Arens says:

    The writing here took my breath away when I read it on my phone. I’m uncharacteristically wordless. The concept of feeling shame for loving has never occurred to me. That’s not a thing. That can’t be a thing.

    • stacy says:

      Ah, but see, Rita? The thing that I love about me — that I find good in everything, every circumstance, every person — I do not quite extend to myself. I was raised with too strong of a sense of creating my destiny, and so, therefore, if my destiny hurts it must be my fault. I will get there. I will set myself free of that. I know I will. My whole life has been pointed toward it, in fact. xxx

  9. teamgloria says:

    oh, honey, what to say?

    i cannot identify – as you know – this is not my story – although god knows i have witnessed it pretty close up over the years and i can hear your pain.


    here’s what i always forget: “this too shall pass”.

    it really will.

    and just think what you’re going to do with these feelings/history/pain.

    to quote Nora Ephron’s mom.

    “One day…… will write about this.”

    and you will.

    because that’s what we do.

    sending a vast virtual hug and a huge pot of english breakfast tea.

    teamgloria xxxxx

  10. I spent my 20s beating myself up for past mistakes. For failing to see how desperate I was to believe in something that was not really there in the first place. For failing to have the confidence to walk away or to demand more because dammit, I DESERVED more. And then I also put down that useless rock of Shame (GREAT metaphor. Truly.) Only then I was able to move more freely and open myself up to healthier relationships.

    I think you are too hard on yourself. Your parents’ passing was SO shocking at the time (Hell, *I* was shocked and we do not even know each other that well) So, I am not giving advice, but I do think you need to be kinder to yourself.

    Thank you for sharing this. You have a way of sharing your experiences that allows others to think and ponder their own experiences, which allows all of us to grow a little as well.

    • stacy says:

      Cagey! So lovely to see you here, and thank you for visiting. I am trying to be kinder to myself, but I would say I am not succeeding. That’s why I come here to write, so I can be forced to witness my habitual scolding, and perhaps be drawn away from it by seeing what it looks like. But I also come here because writing and being witnessed gives me comfort. Community is everything to me right now, so I’m glad my words are worth the visit. xo

  11. Pingback: Proud of Myself | Filling In The Blanks

  12. summer says:

    This is inspirational. An instagram link led me here today and I’ve been breadcrumbing through your posts. Isn’t it interesting how many strong women are carrying secret shame around with us everywhere we go?

    • stacy says:

      Oh! Thank you for this!! I’m sorry it was hidden away in my admin status for too long. And yes, shame: We all carry it. We make it up all on our own, or because of some wrong someone visited upon us, or because today just feels less than perfect and so that must be our fault. We do our best as humans, but the vulnerability and the doubt — they are baked in! Thanks for being here.

  13. Ashley says:

    Oh, honey. Yes. I saw it in my first marriage when the wedding photos came back five weeks after The Big Day. The startled look on his face as we walked back up the aisle. Me beaming, trying to be happy enough for both of us. I’m so glad I got to read this today. It is good to know you. Thank you for “beautiful maybe.”

  14. Adrienne says:

    Thank you, Stacy. I keep laying down all that shame, and then I pick it back up again, like I’m punishing myself, like I somehow deserve it. And I just keep laying it down, and one of these days, I’ll be able to walk away from it. I’m lots of things, and one of those things is persistent.

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