Embrace the Suck…Er…Shame (Part)

Have you ever pretended to be someone you aren’t? I don’t mean “fake it until you make it.” I mean acting a part but being an imposter. I recently read about a man who may have murdered a twenty-year-old man, but investigators couldn’t prove it. Instead, they charged the man for every other crime they could pin on him. One of those crimes was impersonating a doctor, performing sex reassignment surgery on an individual, and “inadvertently” killing that same individual.  

I do a lot of “faking it,” and it often makes me feel like an imposter. The difference is, I do it to get more comfortable with the discomfort. I have friends who like to go out to dinner together pretty regularly, and almost every single one of them struggles to make reservations. I don’t particularly like it either, but I usually offer to make the call. Why? Because I get more comfortable doing it every time.

In situations when faking it isn’t possible, I like to use excuses—legitimate excuses though. These aren’t “my dog ate my homework” excuses. They are reasonable excuses that perfectly explain the situation in question. For example, when I tried out for soccer during my freshman year of high school, I felt more comfortable with the idea of not making the team because I had surgery on my ankle one week before tryouts started. I planned my justification (excuse) in advance. “Oh, the reason I didn’t make the team was I couldn’t run, kick the ball very hard or do most of the drills. Maybe next year.” I didn’t think I had a chance of making the team. I loved the game, but I had never stepped foot on a soccer field. Amazingly, and to the dismay of the assistant coach, the head coach saw potential in me and put me on the roster. What the?! I guess I didn’t need an excuse. Nope, instead, I had to work extremely hard to earn my spot on the field rather than on the bench.

Stepping onto the soccer field in a game would not have made me an imposter, but I often felt like one. One miskick or stab at the ball, and I would hang my head. “They are going to realize I don’t belong on the field.” It was often a tag team wrestling match in my mind. I had no one to tag, but Shame and Self-Criticism kept coming at me. Self-Criticism would climb the ropes and take a flying leap at my head in a diving clothesline. Shame would finish me off with a diving elbow drop and then put me in a headlock. Self-criticism and shame kept me from committing to play soccer in college, even after becoming captain and achieving first-team All-American.

The end of that story is that I walked into the pre-season meeting, avoided eye contact with the cross-country coach, and sat down with the soccer team. I was anxious walking into that meeting, so why not embrace the discomfort and do what I really wanted to do. Guess what happened? At the end of the pre-season week, the coach told me that my rank on the team was number 12 (there are 11 on the field at one time). By the first game, I was a starter. I’m not bragging; I am writing about what happens when we step into who we are and what we like.

National Champions (Senior Year, College)

In two weeks, I will once again allow myself to feel like an imposter. No, I am not going to pretend to be a doctor. Far from it. I will be inviting Self-Criticism and Shame to take a seat at the table. I signed up to compete in a powerlifting competition. I am in the 84+ weight class. That means anyone 185lbs or more is competing against me. An intermediate female athlete in my weight class will bench no less than 135lbs, squat 195lbs, and deadlift 225lbs. Okay, that doesn’t seem so bad. Well, except this is a meet in which individuals can qualify for nationals. That means there will be some pretty great lifters looking to go big. So, the very lightest person in my weight class at an advanced level will be lifting (according to strength standards) around 190lbs for their bench, 260lbs for their squat, and 300lbs for their deadlift. Really, I’m close for my weight (except for my bench), but someone 10lbs heavier than me could seriously blow me out of the water. I might look like I COMPLETELY suck. Also, I will be wearing a singlet. Who decided that should be the standard uniform for powerlifting?! The point is all of that is uncomfortable. It feels downright embarrassing. The self-criticizing voice is telling me not to do it. I will look awful in a singlet. I will look weak and embarrass myself. Self-Criticism is protecting me against the part I fear most. Shame.

If I don’t show up on October 29th and put that singlet on, it won’t hurt anyone—anyone but me, that is. I need to do it without excuse or justification. I need to sit with Self-Criticism and say “Yeah, but I am capable of so much more…” I need to sit with Shame and say “There is no reason to hide; watch this…”

The above isn’t a perfect example. I feel like an imposter, but I also recognize I need this “acting as if” for more than just 9 lifts. I need (want) to embrace the parts of me that have kept me safe for a really long time and show them that safety is great, but compassion and courage with safety is better.

In “Challenge by Choice” I talked about climbing a pole, jumping off a ledge knowing I wouldn’t reach the ring I was supposed to jump to, and trusting the person below to catch me. This competition is me climbing the pole, jumping off the ledge, and catching mySELF. The pole at Annie’s House provides me with a metaphor for this powerlifting competition, and this powerlifting competition has provided me with a different sense of compassion, curiosity, courage, clarity, creativity, connection, confidence, and calm.

Just today in my therapy session, I heard, “Shame needs to be able to speak—it needs a voice.” Shame is afraid of being seen. It’s afraid of what will happen if it is. My shame part needs to know it is going to be okay to be seen, and I am going to make it okay to be seen. One jump from a pole at a time. One lift in a singlet at a time. One scattered memory at a time. Embrace the suck, or in this case, the shame.

Your shame part is afraid to be seen too. What it needs is to know that it is okay to be seen. I am the only one who can help my shame part with that. You are the only one who can help your shame part. Though in both cases, there will be people who create the space for that to happen with a much softer landing.

Now pardon me while I get ready for dinner with friends. Someone else made the reservation tonight. Someone else embraced the suck.

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