A Letter to Shame
09 Nov 2017 | Andy Bradley
I hope that there is something in my following letter to shame
that speaks to you or that you find helpful in some direct or
My intention in writing the letter is to say something open and
real about my personal lived experience of making peace and
reconciling myself to the on-going presence of shame in my
Getting to this point in my healing following my crisis has been
complex and at times a very bumpy road. People who love me, my
meditation practice ('Quiet Mind, Open Heart'), Cognitive Analytic
Therapy (CAT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing
(EMDR) have all been essential to my feeling that I can love my
life again and jump back into the flow of this mystical and magical
My experience of being human is that it's messy and difficult -
I sincerely hope that you are finding a path through that feels
right for you. I hope to encourage you, the reader, who may be
consciously or unconsciously inhibited by shame to approach your
precious self with greater compassion.
This is a kind of shift from our fight flight response, which is
reptilian and can be self-attacking, to an
attend and befriend disposition, which is mammalian and
more self-understanding. Compassion gives us the
courage and space to turn towards difficulty and to recognise that
guilt and shame are natural responses to some of our most primitive
feelings - in the space compassion can open we realise we are not
alone. Just like you, I feel shame. Just like you, I hope to be
happy and healthy.
May you be happy, may you be safe and protected from all harm,
may you be healthy in body and mind, may you live with ease and
well-being and may you be free,
Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to speak with
You nearly got me there, back in December - was that you on the
train platform? Had you found your way out of the basement, come up
the stairs and through the crack at the bottom of the door. Into
Was that you, those tears streaming down my face, telling me to
jump. Urging me, almost pleading with me.
Telling me that people I love would be better off without
Telling me that my race was run, my time was up?
Was that you?
I am sorry that I took so long to meet you and that you had to
resort to such behaviour for me to feel your presence, to
acknowledge you, see you and hear you.
Is it you that still sometimes makes me feel unable to live
inside my skin - makes me desperate for a way out of now, out of
the fundamental difficulty that I still sometimes feel in being
Something has begun to shift in me since that moment on the
platform when I came so close to doing what you were asking me to
do - to killing you and all of the other aspects of myself in the
I want you to know that you are becoming dear to me.
I know that it is early days for us and that for most of my life
I have disowned you - shoved you down in the basement and ignored
you when you banged on the ceiling, first quietly and then with
anything you could lay your hands on to turn up the volume.
I am giving myself time and space to heal and I am working on
integrating you so that you can remain out in the sunlight of my
awareness and be included along with all of the other little I's
that make up big me. A friend of mine who was with me an hour after
I nearly jumped in front of the train told me that he felt I needed
a Lacuna - an unfilled space. I am writing to
you from my lacuna - where I give myself the gift of gentle holding
and uncertainty - where I can bathe in a different kind of knowing.
A knowing that celebrates my hereness and my
aliveness - a space that says that whatever comes up is perfect and
that I am enough. I think that this lacuna is giving you the space
you need too.
Some other aspects of me are helping me to get to know you and
to understand your needs, and maybe even your purpose, your reason
for being, what gives you your mojo.
Here I am, I am alive.
I won't always be.
Shame - you are an integral part of me but you do not own
I want to introduce you more formally to some of the aspects of
me that have helped me to be with you, with less judgement and more
I want to tell you something about the qualities of tolerance,
forgiveness, patience and love and how they are helping me to begin
to soften around you, to give you space to be who you are and say
what you need.
Being depressed and suicidal was a clear expression of what felt
like a radical and complete intolerance of myself. I felt that what
I had done, the harm that I had caused. The deep way in which I was
feeling so alone as a result of your presence was driving me to
Beginning a new relationship with you began with me just sitting
with the pain and learning to tolerate it. Or just knowing that it
was pain and that I was suffering with it and at times not
tolerating it - but knowing that tolerance was offering me some
kind of compass for my feelings - the lack of it or the presence of
it - its reduction in given moments or its expansion. Being in
touch with some felt sense of tolerance was the first step for me
in being able to stay with you - with 'my shame'.
So, here I am writing to you, telling you about the quality of
curiosity around tolerance that I think was a first step in my
healing - in our healing.
Learning to be more tolerant gave space for the second integral
quality in making peace with you - forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by
which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude
regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as
vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well
It feels to me that you don't really want me to do this - that
your role as shame is to make me feel that what I have done is
unforgivable - you perform this function well because, even as I
write this, I can feel you interrupting the full flow of my
forgiveness for myself. However, I continue to choose the path of
forgiveness, not to exclude you shame, but because I have a life to
live, people to care for, a purpose to serve and my wish for myself
is that I have the energy and lightness of spirit which enables me
to be here, present to whatever is unfolding, in the flow of
Here I am, tolerating you and forgiving myself - this is not an
easy inner shift. Patience is required and its presence is wise and
healing. I have realised within my lacuna that to hurry is to miss
some of the patterns that you have laid down. Here I am, being
patient, allowing myself time.
Tolerance, forgiveness and patience are helping me to be with
you - my shame - to include you in my awareness, to approach you
gently and even on occasions to smile as I realise that you are
part of me, but that you are just one of the many little I's that
make up my big I!
As my letter to you draws to a close shame, I want to thank you
from the bottom of my heart and to tell you that you are loved. The
whole of me loves the whole of you - I think you know that you are
not easy to love but you have taught me so much! As a result of you
coming up from the basement, I feel I have learned so much about
myself and our human family. I feel humbled, closer to being of
service - aware that this life is such a precious gift.
Here I am - mind quiet, heart open - here we are.
Shame, tolerance, forgiveness, patience and love.
All held by compassion.
About the author: Andy Bradley is
Founding Director of Frameworks 4 Change, whose mission is to create
and sustain consistently compassionate caring environments for
older people (including those with dementia), people with mental
health issues and people with learning disabilities. Andy was named
by NESTA as one of Britain's 50 new radicals.
This article was originally published on Kindred Spirit and is republished here with