Shame is a challenge to talk about. Shame is about Being wrong. Shame makes you feel you shouldn’t
exist. So, how did I talk about it?
For me, it required therapy, group therapy, and, especially, journaling. Extensively. Trying so hard to get to the root of things so that I could tell my therapist. One of those stories is about a time I shoplifted. Funny, it was almost 40 years ago and the shame of it still wants to rip me apart.
I must have been 10. Every day I walked my sister and a little girl from our building to and from school. There was a five and dime on the way home. Most days we stopped there.
I was hungry for something. Not the candy bar. I had the money in my pocket. Not for the trinkets, pencils, and erasers.
The simplest way to see it is that I was stealing attention, maybe even
In my family, as, perhaps, in most, grandparents and other adults would use things (presents) to show they cared.
I had a younger cousin. I loved her. However, I was also frequently jealous of her. She had lots of things. Tons of stuff. In her father’s eyes, she could do no wrong. My father’s brother. I had been his favorite person in the world. Until one day I wasn’t. He dropped me like a burning ember.
So, I felt deprived. I felt anger I dare not express. Most
of all, I felt abandoned. By so many people in so many ways.
So, back to the five and dime. I knew the store, nearly, by heart. I would gaze longingly, at the same silly trinkets. Day after day. Week after week.
I had this big, billowy reversible cape my cousin’s mother had given me. I wore it all the time. It was the perfect way to disguise my movements in the store. A slight of hand that made the cheap piece of silliness mine. I could never use or enjoy the items. I also couldn’t throw them away. So, they sat at the back of my desk. Hidden. So that I could see them and burn with shame all over again.
The day I got caught I knew there was something wrong. I felt more nervous. I kept looking around. My hands were clammy. I wiped them off with my cape. I felt an anxious urgency. I was hot. Yet my insides felt like ice.
After picking up and putting down a dozen different things I settled on a pencil. While I stood in line to pay for it, I snuck a candy bar under the cape.
Still, I knew something was wrong. I felt nervous and scared. Not in control and victorious as I usually felt. No doubt, that is the reason they caught me.
I had just paid for my trinket, with my candy bar safely inside my cape, when a security guard came up to us. He asked me about the candy bar. I immediately handed it over. Tears instantly fell down my face. I told him I could pay for it. But it was too late for that.
He took me to a room above the store floor. For a time, I sat there, alone. My mind screamed danger. I wanted to escape. But this was not inside my mind. No amount of dissociating could make this end.
I had been
carrying my clarinet with me. I had put
it down at my feet. The guard noticed
He chided me, telling me that band kids were good kids. He was disappointed in me.
After anther break, he asked me for my mother’s phone number. That is when I started to cry pitiful, hiccupping sobs.
I told the security guard my sister and the little girl were outside waiting for me.
He sent them home.
I felt sure her mother would never trust me again.
In the meantime, a police officer had arrived. He told me that he was going to give me another chance. I was to go home and tell my mother what I did. Then she could call the station and they would decide what they were going to do.
I quickly walked home. My head was low. I prayed no one would see me. I was sure, if they looked at me, they would know what I had done.
Which only made sense, since I believed there were invisible people watching me all the time. There were no secrets from them. So, of course, I believed I was transparent to others, as well.
I sat on the sofa at home, waiting for mom to get home. When she did, she was surprising calm. She was upset she had to come home from work. She asked me what I had been thinking. Then I told one of the more egregious lies I had ever told.
I told her that I knew my father had shop lifted when he was young. So, I wanted to know what it felt like. I wanted to know if I could do it. Conjuring up my father brought me sympathy. As I figured it would.
I could hardly tell her it had been going on for a while. That jealousy and resentment had led me to a sense of entitlement.
That night I lay in my bed and cried. When I got up in the morning, I was terrified. I couldn’t face school. I couldn’t cope with people knowing I had been so bad. Surprisingly, she let me stay home.
For one day.
It was such a kind thing. So empathetic. If made me feel good, and rotten. Apparently, who I was wouldn’t garner me love and attention. But dragging my father into it earned me a reprieve.
I balled up my cape. My beloved cape that had brought me so much enjoyment. I threw it in the back of the closet and tried never to see it again.
The shame of my discovery cut deep. I didn’t tell the story, except to my husband. In all those years. It never came up in therapy. Until this last time.
Until then, I couldn’t admit it. It illuminated a vicious black side of me I couldn’t bear. I felt flayed open. I honestly believed people would see the evil inside. That all the good I had poured into my persona would be washed away.