The Wisdom of Our Experiences

parenting-manifesto-lightIt was good to get my rant at the Universe out of my system. The day after I wrote it, O and I met with the sports medicine doc who confirmed a torn ACL. The sobbing began the moment we got into the car. What about our trip, prom, the rest of her life?! I commiserated, but could say little that I hadn’t already said.

On Thursdays this spring I’ve again been teaching Brené Brown’s “Shame Resiliency” Connections curriculum to a group of people at the Recovery Café. These are people who have lived extraordinary lives, lives often marred by abuse, tragedy, addiction. Lives that have set them apart from their families, friends, communities. Lives that have led to destructive behaviours as a way of coping with pain and shame.

I left O in a puddle on the kitchen floor to go and teach this class. I didn’t want to leave her, scared of the negative spiral she had descended into. But I went.

Brené teaches us that shame is rooted in a fear of disconnection from those around us. A disconnection from society, family, community. Shame feeds upon this fear and breeds new shame. As the video of Brené explaining shame using her clear, concise, personal explanations played, I watched the class as tiny lights went on around me. Thoughts and feelings triggered, new ways of dealing with the daily onslaught of shame revealed and embraced.

After the class, one of my students came up to me and said, “This class is changing my life.” There are no words for the feeling you get when you hear something like that.

This is the third time I’ve taught this class and I feel so lucky. Lucky to be having this effect on other people’s lives, but also lucky that I too get to take the class again, re-learn how to cope with the shame that we all drag around with us like a giant bowling ball chained to our ankles. No one is immune.

In class, we are exposed, our vulnerabilities each laid out on the table, raw and wiggly. Each tiny insecurity – body image, parenting hang-up, past regret, notions of who, what and how we should be is drawn out. I am of course, not immune to this self-examination.

I wish that I could teach this course to everyone. Kids, teenagers, grieving people, the guy next door. Well, actually I do teach it, to some degree. I encourage people to tell their stories. Be vulnerable. That it’s in being vulnerable that you are able to release shame and turn it into empathy, the antidote to shame. You give the people you tell your story to permission to tell their story and the ripple effect takes over. With empathy comes connection, as we realize that we are not alone in our shame.

I was re-invigorated with Brené’s words, determined to go home and use those words to help O out of her malaise. As I was walking to the car I got a text from her:

“I’m not gonna to be sad because I’m a strong person.”

Perhaps through the power of osmosis some wisdom is being passed on to my children, whether by me, or some other force doesn’t matter. When I asked what changed her mind, she replied:

“The fact that I can’t stay sad and that I can’t change it either, so I just have to deal with it.”

Oh, the wisdom of our experiences. Take that, Universe!



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  1. Salty April 12, 2013 at 2:50 am

    Good on ya O! That’s awesome! Honey Badger O don’t let no torn knee stop her!

    1. Abigail - Site Author April 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Aww… Honey Badger.

  2. Nancy Schatz Alton April 12, 2013 at 11:48 am

    It was lovely to meet you the other night; it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to meet a writer that I admire. I love this post. Your class sounds great, but it is the daughter part that gets me. My own 11-year-old constantly amazes me with her wisdom. Sometimes I hope it is something I told her trickling down, but most likely she is just teaching me. Hope the surgery goes well!

    1. Abigail - Site Author April 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      I was great to meet you too. I hope you didn’t leave nerve wracked! Crazy. Yes, these kids of ours are constantly amazing. Love that.
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Toni April 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Good for her! What a great post!

  4. Jennie H April 24, 2013 at 10:33 am

    The universe does sometimes deal out some terrible blows. But you are surely letting everything feed into a force for the good, with the class that you’re teaching. It’s hard for kids to do the same, but I think all we can do is provide the groundwork so they can get to that point later. Sounds like it was not too much later in your daughter’s case 🙂

    1. Abigail April 25, 2013 at 11:12 am

      Yeah, hopefully that groundwork is paying off. At times it feels like I’m pushing her off a cliff and hoping she will fly. Scary!

  5. w April 24, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    One foot of the other, slowly, then faster, each day, though the knees may hurt. Good for O to start her recovery before the surgery!

    1. w April 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Sorry – “one foot in front of the other…”

    2. Abigail April 25, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Yes, one foot in front of the other, but with a tiny limp. Oh well, good to still be walking!

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