molly uppena story sharing

Courageous Story Sharing: The Confessions of a Shame-Filled Conscience

Let’s do some deep-digging into the darkest recesses of your memory:  your middle school years (cue foreboding music and shrieks of terror). Do you remember when your middle-school self called your crush for the first time …on the landline phone, no less?! You sweated, wheezing nervously, praying to any deity known to humankind that nobody would actually answer, thus saving you from utter mortification (because you know you had a group of friends giggling in the background) and, especially, that his or her PARENTS wouldn’t answer because the thought of your slobbery, brace-filled mouth uttering “Is Billy home?” to an ADULT was enough stress to make you pack your hand-me-down suitcase and start hitchhiking west in search of a small hole to crawl in and live the rest of your life whimpering in pain and embarrassment.

Do you remember a time like this? I had forgotten about such cringe-worthy memories until a few weeks ago when I was asked to share my ‘Courageous Story’ in a newsletter created by courageous women. I started sweating, wheezing, packing my suitcase, and searching Google Maps for a good whimperin’ hole.

You see, my problem was not about writing. I was grateful for the opportunity. My problem, I realized, was my shame. I didn’t want to open up my heart and share about anything real, and when I did consider sharing those stories that I keep packed away in my heart, they did not resurface alone. They were escorted by Shame. And this smooth-talking, well-dressed emotion convinced me that I had nothing courageous to share. Our conversation went something like this:

My Heart:  “Maybe I should share about my miscarriage.”

Shame:  “Why would they want to hear about that? So many others have miscarried. Many carried their child longer than you did. And what about those who’ve lost a child?!”

My Heart:  “You’re right. I am not courageous.”

My Heart:  “Maybe I should discuss my post-partum depression.”

Shame:  “Why would they want to hear about that? So many others have experienced far worse than you and without the help of your amazing support system.”

My Heart:  “You’re right. I am not courageous.”

My Heart:  “Maybe I should describe my move to a new place where I experienced loneliness and the hard transition into adulthood.”

Shame:  “Why would they want to hear about that? So many others have gone farther, stayed longer, and felt lonelier than you did.”

My Heart:  “You’re right. I am not courageous.”

You’re noticing a pattern here, right? And the more I opened my heart, the more Shame wedged his way through until he came out of my mouth saying “Who do you think you are?! You are NOT courageous! 

And wouldn’t you know, the louder he spoke, the more shame I felt for not being courageous. This wasn’t a case of compounding courage; it was a case of swelling shame. Shame for feeling sad when I have no reason to. Shame for wanting more when my cup already flows so abundantly. Shame for all that I am, and shame for all that I am not. 

And then, like Billy’s parent answering the ringing phone, my shame spiral was interrupted by a voice, an inner advocate:  Maybe discussing my shame is my courageous story. Maybe my middle-school self needs to speak up and not just breathe heavily on the other end of the line. Maybe she needs to say:

Shame, just like pain and joy and stress and hurt, is not exclusively my emotion. It is not just reserved for one person. Someone needs to speak up and tell you that it’s okay to feel your feelings. It’s okay if they change from day to day or hour to hour. It’s okay if they don’t make sense to anyone else. We all have these emotions to varying degrees, and one person’s courageous story does not negate mine. 

It was my courage that endured in that hospital room after my miscarriage. 

It was my courage that dug myself out of suffocatingly dark days so I could start enjoying the miracle of my sweet baby.

It was my courage that kept me persevering through some of the most confusing, loneliest days.

No qualifiers, no mitigations, no negations:  my courageous story is built upon small, courageous moments that compound in my heart and fill it so full that there is simply no more room for shame.

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Julie Stephenson

Julie is one of the founders of Compounding Courage, a company that provides personal growth and leadership development programs. CLICK HERE to learn more.