We were sweat-stained, exhausted, hearts hanging on our sleeves. A thousand of us under one tent. We’d gathered like some wild revival, women coming up over the hills, with sleeping bags and folding chairs slung over our backs to spend the night in a grassy field. The promise was as simple as being together, getting away, looking up. All ages under that tent, all variation. A mile behind us, a parking lot filled with SUVs, minivans, motorcycles. Miles behind that, a thousand homes we left behind, some happy and whole, some shattered and disappearing.
I was standing on a stage and had no idea what was coming out of my mouth — not by that point. It took 35 years to find a voice for this stuff, and once the story was out it felt like honey. I hadn’t expected it to feel like honey.
I was speaking about overcoming shame — a shame that began, as much as I can remember, when I was a child. A shame that thickened and darkened each year as I tried to cover it up, beat it at its own game, self-sabotage the early years of my marriage because I didn’t believe I was worth the kind of love he was willing to give.
You hear people say that bringing something dark into the light will take away its power. I believe it, I do. But what happened that night when a thousand women stood under one tent is that I got up to tell a story, make a confession, because I wanted anyone who was caught in their own shame to believe there is possibility of walking tall. I wanted the unloved to feel loved. I wanted the scared to feel safe. But I never considered the possibility that they would offer me the same thing. I didn’t know a thousand women could look back at you and love you, cheer for your bravery, cry for your hurt. I would do that for others, and shame will tell you that you should always be the one to sacrifice — but I didn’t know they would do that for me. I didn’t know the lingering fears I still held, or how unwilling I was to be the center of attention. I didn’t know that maybe even better than sharing something dark to take away its power would be opening my mouth to receive power. That was the honey part. Because when I walked off the stage I wasn’t frozen in that martyred state of sacrificial-empty. I was full.