Gratitude · The Shame Project

Thirty Days of Gratitude – #13 – Progress

There are times in life when we start out on a particular journey and we have no idea if we will actually get to the destination we envision in our minds. Sometimes these journeys begin without a destination set; rather, we embark on the journey because we need to get away from where we are, even it it means we don’t really know where we will end up. Almost always, however, it’s hard to ever know if you get anywhere on the journey – if you make any progress towards reaching the destination set out for.

Recently I have embarked on an important and, what I hope will be, a life-changing introspective journey into the world of shame.  As I learn more about shame and how it affects my life, I realize that shame is probably one of the biggest and most debilitating mental construct that affects how I live my life.  

Cranky Giraffe – April 2013

Just over six years ago, I set out on a journey of my very own, and I started it right here on this blog. It was a journey into the world of shame and personal healing, which I set out to document in writing. The background on the events and discoveries that culminated in the development of this journey were initially explored and characterized when I began a relationship with a psychiatrist who worked for the physician wellness program affiliated with my medical school. Meeting with her resulted in, paradoxically, the most painful (shame inducing) yet life altering discussions that I had ever had with a therapist up until that point in my life.

I know I had been meeting with this therapist for a while before the one, most pivotal meeting took place. I will never forget anything about that particular meeting: the room I was in, the chair where I sat, the small rock filled vase on the table, and the eclectic necklace adorned on the therapists neck (because I couldn’t bring myself to look into her eyes that day). I left that appointment feeling like the floor of my life had been shattered to pieces and I had nothing to support me and nowhere to go. In that appointment, she called me out on my own shame. That appointment took place six weeks before I decided to delve deeper into the areas of my life and my personality that caused me such grief and struggle until that point. In those six weeks I implemented one major piece of advice from the appointment: She told me to read some of the books written by Brené Brown. So, I expeditiously went to the bookstore and bought the only book they carried – I thought it was just me. And, so began the transformative journey.

In the past six years I have valiantly tried to live as closely as possible to the messages of Brené Brown’s books. In all of her books, she emphasizes authenticity, vulnerability, and wholehearted living; I wanted my life to be centred around all of these things. I envisioned that one day I would be able to say that my whole heart is in every action in which I partake. I never actually thought it would be possible, especially because the concept of wholehearted living, and embracing vulnerability and authenticity were (and to a large extent still are) very foreign concepts in our society. In six years I have read every book published by Brené Brown – and this was before she became “Oprah Famous” – I watched every TED talk, listened to every podcast (and one particular one multiple times), and I have gone back to these many times.

I have definitely had many moments where I wanted to give up on this journey, but just for a little while. There have been countless incidents and encounters in relationships, at work, with my patients, with students, and in all other aspects of my life that have challenged me beyond my comfort level in this arena. I have fallen, been bruised and bleeding, and then gotten back up to resume the journey more times than I have ever done in the 30 years that came before. These past 6 years have been some of the most difficult. But, suffice it to say, they have resulted in some of the most memorable and rewarding moments, as well as the closest and most meaningful friendships and relationships I’ve ever had in my life.

However, as with all challenging journeys down paths that have not been forged, you can never, ever appreciate the forest for the trees. And, that difficulty only makes the journey seem that much more impossible to complete. I have been, for a while now, lost among the trees on this journey and in rereading and revisiting the totems of Brené Brown’s message, I do manage to pick myself up, search the forest, and continue in a direction that feels right. I’ve never really known, though, if I’m making any progress, if I’m travelling in the right directions, or if I’m just doing circles around the same insolvable issue over and over again. I’ve never really know the progress of my journey until this past week.

If you’ve been following my blog since I restarted it a few months ago, you know that I’ve been struggling with yet another one of these “pick yourself up and move forward” moments of my life. It’s so hard to really characterize the situation without discussing exactly what happened and what it means. I can say with confidence that this issues stems from the fact that I have a reputation for being a resident who stands up for “the right thing” in a medical culture that shuns such behaviour. The incident and its details, however, is just not something I can (or should) talk about on my blog at this moment in time. It will come one day, I promise. Anyhow, after a quick and not nearly full recovery from this incident, I decided to do something that most (if any) people in my situation would never do: I discussed the situation and my concerns with the Dean of Professionalism in the Faculty of Medicine. I had met her once before and I trusted that she would be a person who could give me a true and accurate perspective on the situation, as well as advice on what to do.

I met with the Dean last week and after explaining the situation and all its intricacies, she asked me what I wanted to do about it all. I simply looked at her and said, “You know, I’m not even sure if anything I do will matter. I really don’t know.”
She looked at me with empathy but her look quickly changed to something more like a combination of gratefulness and encouragement. A smile spread across her face and she replied:
“Have you ever heard of Brené Brown? She write about courage, and vulnerability, and authenticity – about fighting the difficult battle and ignoring the critics who would never have the courage to fight it themselves.”
I smiled wearily at her and I chuckled; how and why is this topic coming up at this time and in this moment?

I told her about my longstanding relationship with Brené Brown’s message, and her smile grew. “So then, you are familiar with her “man in the arena” quotation that served as the basis for her book on courage?” She continued to ask me.
I nodded and she went on: “You, G, are the man in that arena and you are fighting a fight that no one in medicine ever wants to fight. What you do is not easy, and it certainly doesn’t make you popular. But, what you are doing is right, and courageous, and it’s what needs to be done. Don’t let those critics on the outside of the arena let you think any differently. We need more people like you.”
(You will notice that I wrote this post about this exact quotation over a month ago)

The Dean continued by telling me that she was happy I came to her with my concerns and we made a plan to move forward on the issue. This development in itself made me happy and grateful to have someone listen and agree with me. The most amazing part of that meeting, however, was the realization that I have made some significant and meaningful progress on my journey into the world of authenticity. For six years I have been working tirelessly on self improvement and embracing a way of life that I felt to be superior. And for six years, I’ve only ever had myself as a gauge for the progress I have made. But finally, I realize that it is showing through: My efforts and my journey have not been in vain.

I had confidence in myself and was internally convinced that I was moving forward on this journey. Then, in the most unexpected of places and circumstances, I am reassured that, yes – this is the right path and other people see it as well. For this evidence of progress, I am truly grateful.

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