Addicted to Shame — A Love Story
I rub the sides of my backpack. It is filled with the bare necessities to keep me sustained. The wind from the east kisses my chapped face. My hair dances along my ears. The clouds are daunting as I track down the slender dusty path in front of me.
The narrative takes precedence and moves toward center stage. The road ahead was daunting and the weather was volatile.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
Like a razor blade to the inside of a thigh. Like the hands that grasp the sides of a toilet purging a late night binge. Like a drug addict who furiously looks for a vein that is healthy enough to put a needle into. Like the sweat that forms on the back of an alcoholics’ neck after days of attempting to be sober. Like the charm of the proud who use syrupy words to get their ruthless way.
Me. Addicted to shame. There with headphones full of deafening music and my heart beating fiercely inside of me. I began to sprint down the path.
Deep one night I had read about a woman — Lhkpa Sherpa. The article caught my attention. Actually, the tagline caught my attention.
Lhakpa Sherpa has climbed Everest more than any other woman — and now she’s on the mountain trying for her seventh summit . So why doesn’t anyone know her name?
Lhkpa Sherpa. A woman unknown. Her lifelong task moves her to her core. Her persistence an epic adventure.
Who is this woman?
It was a myriad of years and many seasons earlier. I woke up on cold wooden stairs in a building I didn’t recognize. My eyelids stuck to my wet cheeks as I attempted to sit up. I was still inebriated from the night before and my head pounded to the beat of a Chinese war song. The lower half of my body was sore. I put my hand to my face. I fell back onto the stairs. The essence of my womanhood was violated.
If you can’t remember the details of your life, does it count?
I opened the creaky door to the outside. The fall sun hit my face demanding to be known. My body hurt in all the places it shouldn’t.
What do you do when you didn’t say yes but you don’t remember saying no?
I began to walk into what felt like a harsh and confusing world.
Was it just a few shots? How did I get here? What did people see? What will people know about me know?
Enter shame. Stage left. It whispered proudly as it stroked the back of my hair…
Quiet Mackenzie. Just stay quiet.
I entered my house. I threw my clothes in the trash. I ran myself a scalding hot bath.
Just stay quiet Mackenzie.
Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
My eyes danced over the words describing this woman. Unknown. Trying for another ascent at Everest. Two children. An ex-husband.
“Ex-husband,” she caught herself, saying it twice, trying out the prefix for the first time. She had just finalized her divorce, after 12 years of marriage, from a Romanian-American named George Dijmarescu, 55, a nine-time Everest summiter and home-renovation contractor.
On the witness stand at their divorce hearing, Lhakpa said through an interpreter that Dijmarescu had told her the same thing on multiple occasions — that if she took his girls away, “First I will kill you, and then the girls, and then myself.”
Another ascent at Everest.
Throwing my clothes away and bath meditations became normalized after I had left that building on that cool fall morning.
I would numb myself to point of nonexistence. Numbing and offering myself like a limp rag doll to escape any feeling whatsoever. I found myself craving the mornings of sobbing and the heavy burden of shame. I had become two women, the one who was adored and capable and the one who was addicted to shame. I couldn’t bury this woman. I hated this woman.
What do you do when the narrative you create is one of shame?
When you look at court records, medical records, and news reports, there is little question that Lhakpa Sherpa has had a rough go of things. But to view her solely as a victim would be to underestimate her.
“A queen among the Sherpa people” is how Oregon climber Dave Watson describes her.
My backpack pounded on my back as I ascented toward the top of the trail. I was sweating profusely. The clouds were an elixir of rain and thunderstorms. I couldn’t stop running. My breath was labored. Body numb. The trees and bushes around me stood alert, championing me to the top.
Can I outrun myself? Could I outrun my addiction to shame? Could I outrun the pain? Could I outrun the pain done against me? Could I outrun my victimhood? Could I run until I believed in myself again? Could I run until I became the woman who I knew myself to be?
Where is Mackenzie?
I missed her.
She has summited Everest six times, more than any other woman in the world.
Lhakpa didn’t train for Everest. She was born and raised above 13,000 feet and believes her strong will and genetics will get her to the top of the mountain, just as they have in the past. She has summited in fierce winds, in whiteouts, and eight months after the birth of her first daughter. She went back up Everest when she was two months pregnant with her second child, a fact the younger daughter holds firmly over her big sister’s head. “I walk every day,” Lhakpa said, describing what passes for her conditioning strategy. “I go to my work walking, pick up my children walking.”
Strong will. Yes. This.
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
Like years earlier when my body hit the wooden steps, my body collapsed on a boulder in front of me. I was reminded of C.S. Lewis.
“I felt ashamed.”
“But of what? Psyche, they hadn’t stripped you naked or anything?”
“No, no, Maia. Ashamed of looking like a mortal — of being a mortal.”
“But how could you help that?”
“Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are things they can’t help?”
I screamed. I lamented. I purged. I was in the middle of nowhere on a trail abandoned by everyone.
It hurts! I hate all of them! They take and take and take! I hate all of them! How else am I suppose to make sense of my life? I hate shame! I hate fear! I hate that I’m here! I hate this. God, I hate this.
I was spitting and my nose was dripping. I was shaking. I didn’t trust my emotions. I just knew my aloneness was craving my addiction to shame. It was manifesting. It wanted it to stroke my hair again. But then…
I stopped screaming… I looked up.
The rain fell from the sky like manna from heaven. I closed my eyes and opened my mouth as the drops fell into my mouth like a tsunami of grace. I was a parched woman aching for sanctification. All went quiet. Like the rain was silencing my fears with its nourishment. I let myself be baptized. Drenched. Immersed in the quiet whispers of love and acceptance by the one of crafted the beauty that was my womanhood.
Me. All of me. Mackenzie. All of me.
To be shame-bound means that whenever you feel any feeling, need or drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, needs and drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core.
Could I accept grace in my anger? Could I allow myself to be fed and loved and adored just where I was?
All of me. Mackenzie.
The wind from the east whispered in my ear…
Grace upon grace upon grace.
Grace upon grace upon grace.
I whispered it to myself…
Grace upon grace upon grace. You will be lead in peace and go out with joy.
I had seen much. I had endured more. Was I this unknown woman on her seventh track to Everest? I thought of her story as I stood up.
I was drenched. I picked up my backpack stared strait ahead, stretched my legs and kept running. I believed in the miracle.
We are to give thanks, allow ourselves to break and then accept the miracle.
Atimía — Shame. Eucharistos — Thankfulness.
A queen among her people. She could do hard things. Eucharistos.
I could do hard things.
Un-winged and naked, sorrow surrenders its’ crown to a throne called grace.