It’s a curious thing to know the power of being present, while being pulled magnetically to the fascination of what is, at its core, a worshipful curiosity about the past. This tension is what makes me the photographer I am. Sometimes looking back is celebratory, other times grief-stricken but nostalgia can be a middle-sitting spot of honoring what once was. Life and living are not about building a shrine around the past. But remembering how things were is a way of seeing the now. The way a loved one looked at us or touched us is as much about what is gone, as it is about what is right here in this holy now.
I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead, and while I’ve been a long-time devotee of her shame research and how it can be a powerful antidote to perfectionism, I needed a refresher on what shame means and looks like. Brown identified a key factor of shame as exceptionalism and isolation resulting from a feeling of “I’m bad” as opposed to “I did something bad” and then not wanting anyone to know that we feel that shame. We, feeling as if we are inherently bad, want to reserve the tar-like ick of it for ourselves. “Aren’t I bad enough?!”
Listening last night, I resolved to try sharing and identifying my shame this week to both myself and the people closest to me; to be curious instead of afraid, to feel part of a human experience instead of unworthy of it. Sharing is a sacred antidote. Bit by bit becoming more self-aware of how shame still tangles itself around me, I trust that I can become more empathetic to myself and others. That’s the goal which each time I attempt, I’m rewarded.
Today, ironically, I went on a little shame tour. After tackling lots of important tasks, I started wondering about my online presence. I should have stopped there. Something else Brené said, citing research, was this,
“Unwanted identity is one of the primary elicitors of shame"
I googled my name and found all kinds of old-Ashley, and past Ashley Thalman Photography content (I think it’s important to distinguish the fact that we are NOT our brands). A huge majority of the images my name pulled were old, like 2006 old. Looking back did not bring feeling of proud progression- not at all.
Photos with actions that have worn out, photos of my old home, evidence of a woman trying too hard, remnants of blind perfectionism and obsessive cleaning. There it was, my old life. With my hair painted red, making image that had too room up top that I took while going for “modern”. My past is out there, pimpled with tightly clumped groups on temple steps and wordy words that I still can’t shake for clarity. Ugh. Proof of everything I didn’t know back then yes, but so much proof of how messy and unworthy I still am. That is shame.
I went deeper and deeper into the old images. If I had been alert and intentional, I would have literally heard PROCEED TO THE ROUTE from Brene or or Matthew or Errin or my tarot reader Zina or the voice of the intentional me. Instead my eyes painted rolling patterns on my scull and I clicked and clicked and clicked looking at images of that old me. It was getting old. But just one more click…
And then the photos of my toddler kids surfaced and I felt like something had me at the throat.
Like every new parent, I was unprepared for motherhood. Everyone is underprepared. And even though I try to grow by knowing what I know, and forgive myself of the rest, I forget. And in this morning moment, scrolling and clicking, my shame came for me.
The shame of not being enough, of not being prepared, of not being smart and patient. The shame of making perceivably irreparable mistakes in motherhood and life that got on everyone I loved. The biggest ache that the then-Ashley bore, was never fully allowing herself joy because she was so afraid of joy vanishing. She kept it at bay with doing. Doing, organizing, hiking, counting calories, staying up too late. Avoidance.
And yes, that gone-girl had wildly happy and contented moments too. But I couldn’t see that this morning. I couldn’t see beyond what I wasn’t to what I brilliantly was.
So today, with shame at my throat, photos from an old Flickr gallery in my eyes, and a to-do list that is begging for my attentions, I followed Brené’s fresh words and I admitted my shame to my people. I wrote Errin and Mathew both telling them where I sat. I shared my regret and sorrow and harsh critiques of myself. Matthew reminded me about forgiveness and not making myself wrong and Errin gracefully called bullshit and told me to knock this crap off. Errin and I raised our newborns together and she sees the forest for the trees when I don’t.
So I dusted myself off and I refused to let my old shame habit devour me alone like it did back then. I’m still shocked that it comes, and sometimes I feel like WHY DID I DO ALL THIS WORK ONLY FOR THIS TO COME BACK? But this ride, with its insane diversions, reminds me that when I forget, rediscovery is an awaiting gift. Deepening cycles, circles, and seasons are the realities of growth. There is no arrival, life is not linear, I’m not going anywhere.
After speaking the pain and being heard, after sobbing and a load of laundry, I looked at the photos again. I looked for evidence of the real me, looking for the private raw beauty of my life as a mother, as a human, as a wife, as a friend, and as a hard-working learner, she’s there. It’s all there.