Seeds of Shame
Hello and welcome to Episode 9 of This Little Light Of Mine. My name is James Powell and I’m glad that you’re able to join me for today’s episode, Seeds of Shame.
If you’ve been following me on IG or FB @MyLightShinesBright you will already know that I’m sharing some pretty deep and important inner child work that has been a gamechanger for my recovery journey.
Over the past couple of weeks it has been great to connect with so many of you from all around the world. Poulami from Lit.Wings in India, Mark aka NotDefining in the UK, Sway from ‘Polite But Savage’ podcast coming out of Dubai, Harvey from New Zealand, Michael from New York and so many others who are blowing me away with their sharing, encouragement and insights as we discover, heal and grow forward in love together.
I also want to give another BIG shout out to Cathy Webber from Episode 8 “The Gift of Pain”. I received so much positive feedback about her authenticity, clarity and passion for healing forward in recovery. If you haven’t had a chance to hear Cathy’s story I encourage you to subscribe to TLLOM so that you can download Episode 8 and be the first to get our new episodes as they release every two weeks.
I also want to encourage you to listen all the way to the end of today’s episode for an exciting new contest to WIN a free copy of one of my new favorite books.
Meet Little Jimmy
In today’s episode I’m taking you WAY back to some of my earliest memories from a pre-school Jimmy (yup… I was Jimmy back then). As I do my own inner child work and travel back to ages 3/4/5/6 I can clearly see the imprint of early trauma and can almost pinpoint where toxic shame entered my life as a young boy.
What I’ve learned in recovery is that trauma comes from the inhibition of emotion AND the earlier in life that you start to block or supress your emotions the deeper the damage can be.
Locking in Shame
As you’ll hear in today’s episode, when it came to learning about shame, my visceral brain was so quick to learn and remember. In an instant I locked in shame and created an imprint that dominated my future.
Once this type of shame-based imprint has been set, ongoing painful experiences that reinforce the original imprint, continue to lay down new pathways in your brain and you become more and more sensitive to painful stimuli as you progress through life… as I look back at my life experience I can see how true this is.
Inner Child Work
In the most basic terms, here’s what I’m talking about; once shame sets in it grows and grows until you GO BACK and address things from where they began…. This is the premise of inner child work. This is also why, when it comes to trauma, it is important that we take the time to go back to the source of pain and to lovingly ask powerful questions like “what happened to me?” and you process your trauma.
We need to stop running from our trauma, we need to stop having our experiences silenced and we need to stop numbing our painful feelings.
We need to process our trauma, feel our feelings and move through them.
And now, today’s episode ‘Seeds of Shame”.
From as far back as I can remember I have always felt ‘different’. As a pre-schooler I was always the outsider looking in and trying to figure out what was wrong with me and why I didn’t fit in with the other kids. I was afraid of everything. Everything was dangerous, bad and out to get me. Maybe these are feelings that everyone feels but I always felt like I was alone, looking over my shoulder and waiting something to jump out and attack me.
All by myself
My mom will tell the story that I was different from my brother and sister. As a toddler whenever I would bump my head or fall over, instead of running into the loving arms of my parents, I would bolt in the opposite direction and attempt to sooth myself. Even at an extremely young age there was something coded into my being that told me ‘you need to look out for yourself’ and ‘don’t let anyone see your pain’.
I grew up as the oldest of three children in an extremely religious and loving family. My brother and sister got along and seemed to develop a relationship with each other, but I was always separate, angry and seemed to exist inside my own little world of one. It felt like I was always getting in trouble for something at home and the words ‘wait until your father gets home’ were not used lightly (nor was the belt or the wooden spoon) when it came to me.
I learned very early on that my voice or opinion carried no weight within our family. My father was the head of the household, he made the final decision and that was that.
Swallowing my voice
One of my first attempts to use my voice was when I was around five. My Dad loves playing hockey and has played throughout most of his life… at 70 he still plays regularly. But instead of at an arena, his weekly match ups are with my youngest nieces and nephews in the basement rec room at my parent’s house.
Growing up, my Dad would share memories about how he would have to take his massive hockey bag full of equipment on the bus and head off to hockey practices and games all by himself. His mom had to stay home with his new born baby brother and his Dad had to work… My dad recalls wanting nothing more than to have his Dad to be there proudly cheering him on from the stands.
I HATE Hockey
My Dad wanted to provide me the love, time and experience that he never received from his father. Like many Canadian boys (and yes, back in the early 80’s it was just boys) he enrolled me in an ice hockey league, bought me brand new skates, all the equipment and got up every Saturday morning so that he could come and watch me play. My dad gave me everything he wanted from his dad while growing up. The trouble with this loving scenario was that I HATED EVERY MINUTE OF IT!
I was the kid at the opposite end of the rink from the puck, spinning around in circles, while searching the stands for my parents. When I finally spotted them I would attempt to skate over (and I use the term skate very lightly) while sobbing about how my head hurt from the helmet and how cold my feet were. I was miserable. And as I stood there crying I could sense that I was an embarrassment and disappointment to my Dad. Inside I knew that he wanted me to be like the other kids.
On the way home I would beg my Dad to never have to go back but week after week the same scenario would play out with the same result. I’d eventually start to get punished for continuing to cry.
Starving children in China
Another regular fight we would have at a young age was over the ‘finish all the food on your plate’ rule. For some odd reason I have always had an aversion to the texture of potato in my mouth (still do to this day). Night after night I would have to sit at the table for hours, then be moved to sit at a TV tray in the laundry room and when I still would not eat my potatoes I would get hit and sent to bed.
These are two small examples among many where I would attempt to reason with my parents. I would try to use my voice but there wasn’t any room for reason in our home. I learned that using my voice was met with anger, resistance and discipline. Children were to obey their parents… no questions asked. Year after year of not being heard I learned to swallow my voice and eventually stopped voicing my needs… I swallowed my voice because.. what was the point.. and, I was afraid. I was afraid of getting hit and I was afraid of the explosive anger.
Looking back at pictures of myself at this young age I can also recall a deeper pain. I yearned to be the kid that my parents wanted me to be. I wanted to fit in, to connect and to feel like I belonged but I didn’t.
I felt like an outsider while at home with my family AND I felt like an outsider when I left the home. I wasn’t like any of the other boys at school or at church. I never had any interest in sports, rough housing, trading baseball cards, video games or skateboarding.
I didn’t know what it was at the time, I just knew that I was an ‘other’… I didn’t fit in. My deep loneliness, feelings of separation and unconscious emotional neglect started pre-Kindergarten.
I remember vivid daydreaming fantasies that I would have at this young age. I would go inside and pretend that my real parents were a King & Queen from a far-off land. I would pretend that they had sent me away so that I would learn to grow up with normal parents so that I wouldn’t be spoiled but that one-day soon they would be showing up to welcome me back to my real life… some other life where I really did belong…. I wonder how many other queer children have these ‘sun will come out’ Annie fantasies?
But there was something in my real world that made me feel like I DID belong. Playing games like doctor or truth or dare with other kids my age made me feel like I was connecting with them. From an extremely young age it was these sexualized moments of play where I would finally have some sense that maybe I just might belong… sort of.
I still have no memory or knowledge of how a kid at age 4+ knows how to play these games but I’ve always been that way.
Seeds of Shame
One night when my father was travelling for work and my mom was giving me my bath before bed she started to talk to me about one of the games that I was playing with the other neighbourhood kids. She didn’t get angry, but she made it clear that these were not games that I was ever to play.
That’s all it took for me. As a boy around 4 or 5 I knew that some part of me was shameful and wrong and that I had to do everything in my power not to EVER let anyone see that part of me ever again.
Peeing my pants
A year or so later when I was in Grade One and I desperately needed to pee. I put up my hand to ask if I could be excused to go to the washroom and was told by the teacher “you don’t really need to go, put your hand down”. I put my arm down and raged with anger that eventually turned to embarrassment as I felt my bladder release a pool of warm urine that drenched my track pants and made a puddle on the floor under my desk.
Desperate not to get in trouble I searched my surroundings, found some scrap construction paper and tried to sop up my mess. I guess I wasn’t as discreet as I hoped because over my shoulder I heard “you dirty little boy what have you done?”. What could I say? I wasn’t allowed argue with my elders. I was humiliated and was sent to the office.
How does she know I’m a girl?
I arrived at the office and was welcomed with some compassion by the school secretary. She told me to wait while she went to get me some dry clothes that I could wear home. She came back with some track pants and a pair of girls underwear and explained that I could wear them home but that they had to be washed and brought back tomorrow. She handed them to me and told me to go to the bathroom to get changed.
I can still feel the state of panic that I had that day. How did she know my secret? How did she know that I was different? Why did she give me the girls underwear? How am I going to explain this to my mom? Everyone is going to laugh at me. Everyone is going to know that I don’t belong. Everyone is going to know that part of me is a girl. Everyone is going to know that I really am bad.
At six I was terrified that the school secretary had consciously given me a pair of girls underwear because she had somehow known about the strange feelings of being different I was having. I was also convinced that my mom would discover my secret and that I would be punished severely for being someone who wasn’t normal and who had to wear girls underwear.
I slowly dragged my feet home for lunch that day and was further mortified to realize that my cousins were also joining us for lunch that day. I took my mother aside and told her what had happened. She helped me get changed again and then put everything in the laundry. But then something weird happened. We never spoke of that situation again. But I lived in ongoing fear of that conversation coming back to the surface for weeks.
Over these early years I was able to find a few trusted boy friends who were like me. We played the same kind of discovery games together and in those rare moments I felt like I was seen… I felt normal… I felt good… even though I knew that I was really really bad.
What about you?
What’s going through your head after listening to today’s episode? When you go back and think about your childhood do you share any similar memories?
Was there a time where you remember noticing that you felt different than the others?
Was that uniqueness or difference that you noticed celebrated, encouraged and loved or are some of those memories of being different filled with shame, self-doubt or fear?
Inner child discovery
If you’re willing, I’d encourage you to spend some time with those memories. Maybe find a blank piece of paper, a journal or even the notes section in your phone and start to jot down some of the memories and feelings that come up.
In my personal experience I found that I used to RUN as far away as I could from this type of exercise BUT I’m now learning that it is this type of work that paves the way towards understanding myself, loving myself and doing some healing reparenting work that I need.
Connect + Ask for help
I’d also like to encourage you to find someone that you trust; a close friend, family member, therapist or coach and start to slowly open up about some of these thoughts, feelings and experience.
I believe that we grow stronger and heal through the sharing of our personal stories. It is so important for each of us to build our own support team. Never be shy to ask for help… and remember that help can be provided from the most unsuspecting places. It’s not YOUR job to figure out WHO will help or WHAT that help will be. BUT it is your job to advocate for yourself and to ask for that help.
Be your own advocate
One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is “I learned a long time ago that the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me”.
Are you advocating for yourself? Are you on your own side at home, with your friends & family, what about at work?
What I’ve learned in the last year is that when I asked for help it was (and continues to be) provided from all over the place, including places I that never even occurred to me.
And what I’m learning right now is that as I get stronger and start advocating for myself from a place of love that I’m actually able to help others on their healing journey. That feels really good.
Thank you so much for joining us today and I look forward to connecting with you in two-weeks’ time where I will be speaking with Matthias Roberts host of Queerology which was named one of the top 12 LGBTQ Podcasts by Oprah’s magazine O.
Matthias is also a psychologist and author and he will be sharing some of his personal experiences with shame AND insights from his new book ‘Beyond Shame – Creating a healthy sex life on your own terms’.
I’m really excited to share Matthias work and I want to give away a free copy of his book ‘Beyond Shame’ to a listener of This Little Light Of Mine. For your chance to win all you need to do is subscribe, rate and leave a review of This Little Light Of Mine on Apple Podcasts. Next episode I will choose one of the reviews and send you your very own copy of Beyond Shame – Creating a healthy sex life on your own terms.
Thank you again for being with us today and before I go I want to remind you.
Your story is important. You were designed with a powerful voice. We need to hear what you have to say. You matter, you are needed, you are wanted, and you are loved.