Shame is a royally toxic emotion. Much like fear, it thrives in secrecy. It also grows more powerful with each moment you spend allowing it to take up space in your mind. And most of us have never been properly shown how to defeat it. I’ve learned all of this firsthand from growing up in an abusive home and feeling shame on the daily.
Until recently, I’ve kept the most authentic parts of myself hidden from everyone around me. I was conditioned from a very young age to avoid the violent and harsh reactions that came my way if I messed up. I spent years masking my grief with perfectionism, people-pleasing, and an obsessive need to seem like I’m always “fine.” I’ve tirelessly pretended to have it all together as I’ve proved just how expertly I can handle anything that gets thrown my way.
But here’s the truth that’s taken me a long-ass time to finally share. I am far from “fine.” I have been broken down more times than I care to remember. And there are some experiences in life that are just too devastating to easily handle. Which is why finding private support groups on social media has saved my life, especially during a time when our whole world is experiencing the collective trauma of a global pandemic.
You’d think the secrecy of these communities would diminish the healing visibility of feeling your shame out loud. But it’s had the opposite effect on me. On Facebook, I’ve found sacred spaces filled with thousands of women who have also survived lifelong abuse. We show up, we support each other, and we really fucking get it.
Two years ago, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with complex PTSD, depression, and anxiety from ongoing childhood trauma. The moment I discovered just how complicated my journey had become, I felt my foundation shake to its core. Since shame seems to melt away when someone finds the courage to reveal it to others, I started seeing my therapist more than once a week, entered a hospital when the suicidal thoughts became too much to bear, and began taking life-changing antidepressants. While all of these steps certainly helped, the biggest one that led to positive change was finally entrusting my loved ones to hold my secret pain.
As courageous victims and survivors join in solidarity and understanding, I find myself feeling so damn seen and heard by them. Not surprisingly, I also feel less alone and even hopeful in the moments when someone reaches out and I can empathize wholeheartedly with their struggle. The extraordinary women in my groups are a beautiful mix of backgrounds, ethnicities, conditions, sexual identities, and ages. We all may look and present ourselves differently, but we are linked together by our desire to heal. And honestly, this kind of unified inclusiveness is why I need these human beings in my life.
When COVID-19 began to ravage our world, I saw one particular post in one of my groups from someone who had just escaped an abusive home and was living with a chronic disability. Not knowing more than a few details about her, I didn’t hesitate to send over a direct message asking how I could help. We exchanged emails, I donated some money to help her find a place to stay and showered her with words of encouragement. This brave young woman was beyond moved to have received my kindness, and I was all too easily inspired to give it.
This is the great power of experiencing true belonging after years of feeling isolated and afraid. This is vulnerability in all of its gorgeous colors. And this is exactly what our society needs right now.
In my personal experience, I’ve realized that recovering from trauma often requires more than simply joining an online support group. But it sure is an amazing first step and has led a bunch of us to seek counseling, become open to medication, and create hefty boundaries between ourselves and those who have hurt us in our past. I’ve also shared and seen some awesome posts going around recently with folks assuring anyone who may be living in a toxic situation to share it safely with us and receive immediate help. I now look to these groups as the extra cushy safety net I didn’t know I really needed.
While I am currently light-years away from the abuse I experienced as a child, it’s comforting to know that my feelings are valid and my story will always be received with open, loving arms. Every time I go on Facebook, I’m embraced by women who take precious time out of their lives to be there for someone they’ve never met in person. And if I ever find myself doubting my reasons for existing in this world, I’ll have countless shoulders to lean on and help pull me back up. This is more than I ever could have asked for when I started piecing myself back together. This is more than I ever could have expected after feeling broken for far too long. And this is a part of my healing journey I will hold onto for as long as I can.