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How I Let Go of Shame and Started Living My Dreams
by Jared Williams
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July 11, 2019

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How I Let Go of Shame and Started Living My Dreams

BlackLove.com contributor Jared Williams reflects on how shame affected his spiritual health and living his best life, and why he’s letting it go.

Jared Williams

Have you ever noticed that when anybody who has worked with Beyoncé speaks, everybody listens? Such was the case when I sat down to hear from Marco Borges, a celebrity nutritionist and exercise physiologist at the 2019 Essence Festival Wellness House. Naturally, we were tuned in and ready for whatever he had to say. What I thought might be a few quick food demonstrations actually turned out to be a conversation about wellness and the critical part that food plays in it. Amongst the gems of wisdom Marco threw out, one stuck with me in particular – “Your physical health is your mental health, and your mental health is your physical health.”

This resonated so much with what I’d experienced in maintaining my mental and physical health through my fitness journey, but there was another layer to this. Like a triangle whose sides prop up one another, both your physical and mental health lead to your spiritual health.

RELATED: What Working Out Did for My Self-Esteem That I Didn’t Expect

See, we’re pretty good at listening to our physical health because the symptoms are just clearer most times. A rash, a bump, a cough, blood — these are all signs that something needs to be dealt with. We’re getting better at listening to our mental health, but those symptoms are kind of hard to spot unless you’re really paying attention to yourself. Rapid breathing or a rapid heartbeat might suggest anxiety, or overwhelming feelings of sadness and fatigue might signal depression. But, the way Marco connected physical health to mental health told me that I still have work to do on understanding how I listen to the area where these two converge — my spiritual health.

RELATED: Black Women Need Therapy, Too

The next day, I found myself talking to a friend who felt like she just wasn’t in the right place. Being away from home and friends left her feeling isolated, and struggling to express her creativity made her feel trapped. See, she’d always been the singer in college. At talent shows, a baseball game, at random Black events on campus, there was a chance you’d see her putting her vocals on full display. This is why I found it so strange, years later, that she was continuing to struggle with putting herself out there, but I’d also been here before. It was a place where you want to display some creative gift, like dancing or singing, but you can’t quite get the nerve to do it. I recognized the same challenge I had when I started writing, which was how I knew that what we were talking about was a symptom of something chipping away at her spiritual health. Her gift had always been singing for as far back as she could remember. From the first time she sang in her church back home, to the first time she floored us on campus, this was a part of who she was. It seemed like the further she got from that gift, the further she got from herself.

It seemed like the further she got from that gift, the further she got from herself.

Courtesy of Pexels.com

“I just don’t know,” she said sounding equally frustrated and defeated. “Even when I go to do something simple, like post a video or share a song, I just get too scared to do it,” she said. “Well, why is that? What are you afraid of,” I asked in the leading way that I ask most questions. The line went silent as she thought about her response, and then she drew a breath. Rejection.”

I understood. And knew how crippling that could be.

Writing has been an outlet for me. There’s something I just appreciate about weaving words together in a way that connects people or even helps them say, “I never thought of it that way.” That’s who I am, and based on the way that my grandmother had raised me to nurture my creativity, it’s who I’d always been. But, around the time that I started writing, I had the same fears. I wanted to write about my life in a way that was authentic. I didn’t want to dance around facts or write in “what ifs”. I wanted someone to see themselves in my story. I wanted my writing to show someone navigating something I’d been through and how I overcame. And while no one has the right to your story, I wanted to share my own struggles and my humanity with a world that rewards facades.

My friend was standing where I was before I decided to share my first blog – standing outside of a Brene-Brown-esque arena, terrified of what kind of fight was behind the doors, petrified by what the critics would have to say. And in front of those doors, so large that you can only imagine all of the awful things behind them, she was waiting to be fully armored to proceed. Waiting to be flawless and impenetrable and safe before she put her hands on the doors and pushed them open. It was a similar version of what I’d done.

Before sharing my writing and laying out the challenges that I was grappling with as a Queer Black man in the Deep South, I stood outside of my own arena and imagined my own awful terrible things. What would people say who’ve known me for years? What would people say who felt I’d wronged them? What would people say to whom I’d denied who I was before I was ready to be who I am? In that moment of what my friend’s mom calls Analysis Paralysis, I ripped the bandaid and flung the doors open.

My fear was shame.

Courtesy of nappy.co

My fear was shame. The idea that if people knew what I was struggling with, if they truly knew me, then my deepest fears about my truth would come alive, and I’d be alone. No friends, no family, no love.

It was the same shame I’d allowed to stop me from continuing ballet in college. The same shame that forced me to ignore any need for romantic connection and lean fully into blind ambition and “my career”. This was the intersection. While shame was picking away at my spiritual health, the closeting and blind ambition that it caused were holding me in depression. While it was holding me in depression, it meant I was fatigued, and I often times struggled to pull myself out of the house and be productive.

RELATED: Why You Don’t Have to Choose Between Love and Success

While there were a number of ways for me to work through that shame, I’m kind of a “go big or go home” kind of person. So, I wrote out my truth in that first article, and I posted it. The internet didn’t implode. Nothing caught on fire. I was still breathing. I’d found the courage to share my authentic truth and immediately felt a sigh of relief. I’d done it. I’d actually said the things that I never thought I’d be able to say out loud — let alone share to the internet — and, that was my win. Then, instead of rejection or ridicule, supportive friends and family around me actually celebrated me. We talked through things. We had an open dialogue about how issues affected me and other people. My authenticity actually opened doors, and at the same time was healing so many parts of my spirit.

My authenticity actually opened doors, and at the same time was healing so many parts of my spirit.

This was a new kind of self love. A radical kind of self love. It wasn’t derived from external affirmation, but it was a self love that came from a belief in myself. A belief that my words were good enough to write, and my story was good enough to tell — contrary to the narratives I told myself. This was a rebellious act against my own internalized beliefs that redefined what was possible in my life. It wasn’t oversharing, and it wasn’t for anyone else’s approval. For the first time in my life, I was looking at myself in black type and able to love every word, every sentiment, every piece of who I was with a sense of pride I’d never had before. My authenticity brought me closer to me and, coincidentally, to a part of my spiritual purpose.

What my friend and I were talking through wasn’t about a fear of rejection from other people, it was about self-awareness, it was about self-esteem, it was about self love. We were talking about how the very idea of bearing your authenticity, following the thing that your heart calls you to, brings up every negative narrative you have about yourself. About whether you’re good enough or not. Whether you’re worthy of love or not. It replays the mistakes you’ve made and the chances you’ve passed up. It’s the part of yourself that is built to keep you safe and comfortable in a cocoon where you don’t go further than the boundaries of your control. It’s doing its job, so you need to do yours.

Learn about yourself, and by that I mean become more aware. What makes you anxious? What makes you sad? How have you overcome those feelings in the past? Take the knowledge you’ve built about yourself and plan your escape from that safe zone. Plan how you’re going to live authentically into all of who you are. Plan how you’re going to help your mind redefine safety and success. And don’t go it alone. Make a plan with your therapist. Make a plan with some supportive friends and family. Do what you need to do to get to the life you envisioned for yourself. Because, at the end of it all, a healthy mind and a healthy body are a healthy spirit.

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