The trance of shame (and the dance we don’t want to dance):

I would like to say that we can liberate ourselves from shame, but as I have learned here, the only way to truly confront shame and not be its master, is to feel it.

When my mother came to visit a few weeks ago, she arrived and we had the now familiar awkward moment of how to greet each other. Yes, I have made it clear to her a few times that touching is not safe for me. She has responded by complying yet apparently not letting in or considering very deeply what it actually means. So on this occasion, I ignored the impulse to embrace and went on with a conversation. As before, her disappointment is noticed by me as a physical response, a momentary collapse in her body but she moves on.

What happened later is what is both disturbing and perhaps a catalyst for further growth. Upon attending a festive gathering celebrating an accomplishment of mine, she wandered around a college campus with me. After entering a building of particularly unusual architecture, she looked around and then took a step off some stairs that sent her face first into slate. She fractured her arm and we spent the next several hours in the hospital.

What comes to mind when I tell this story is a kind of dance that I think she and I have been in since day one for me. It is one of a kind of pursuit, a pursuit of something she thought she could find in me. Something that I don’t think was ever truly there, and yet provided solace and unconscious satisfaction for her. When she fell, I was of course horrified, but it also brought to mind the ancient conflict of her collapsing and my needing to respond. Perhaps some of you know this conflict who have had alcoholic parents.

What followed as we waited in the hospital was a genuine yet painful exchange about our relationship. She characterized herself as “trouble” and acknowledged that she couldn’t make up for all the years she may have failed me. I went closer to her and said yes, but that didn’t mean that healing wasn’t still possible.

Over the next several days, I had to take care of her, as she is over 80 and needed help with things. There is perhaps more to say about this time together, but as I fast forward to taking her back to her home and saying goodbye, the dance re-emerged. I made sure she had proper in-home attention to her various needs, something she resisted and had trouble negotiating. After a diplomatic conversation between the agency, her and myself, she came to the understanding that she needed to take more responsibility for her own care. After the agency staff person left, she turned to me and said, “can I hold your hand”. It was not a highly sincere moment. It was fraught with all the usual tension. But in some ways there was an added tension. Now she senses my strength as a man and my unwillingness to let her go along for a ride in many ways. I gave her may hand. There was less of a deep connection than I expected, but it was an acknowledgment of a distance and perhaps a respect, however awkward, painful, embarrassing and whatever else. It seems to me a necessary distance, as it is an attempt to recognize that we are separate people. I cannot say that I trust this acknowledgment to always be there. It did little to relax a vigilance that only I hold the keys to. But it was a real exchange nonetheless.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, like a hen with her chicks, my mother could entrance me with one tilt of her head. Now that I feel the dance and the trance together, my whole system is both more at peace with the knowledge and yet burdened with the trauma of confusion. It is very difficult to look back and see what I did with this dance around shame for so many years. It brings to mind years of running away from something but acting like I was here all the time.

Would like to hear from anyone who this makes some sense to.

Lose the drama; life is a poem.