How To Battle Your Shameful Behavior While Drinking in a Dive Bar
It’s hard for me to write this because I’m still pretty embarrassed and ashamed of “the incident.”I cruised up to Pop’s, my favorite dive bar, flushed with the glow of a good first date and the warm buzz of a few Dolores Park drunk beers. In short I was awesomeness, and the universe and me were good buddy’s. As I was locking up I saw my favorite bartender Alex* and his wife Lexie leaving. I was like “Nooooo!! How can you leave? Don’t you want to do shots with me and the universe?”
They came back and we exchanged hugs and goofy grins. Love is infinite! Body shots off the Earth’s beautiful hips! High 5’s from all our drunken ancestors.
And then I said it.
The worst thing you can possibly say to a woman. The stupidest, most insensitive thing that I always swore I would never say and that I couldn’t believe other people were stupid enough to say. My mouth, the one I use to kiss my mother and eat organic vegetables said:
“Oh my God! You’re knocked up! Congratulations!”
Her face dropped like a stone. I heard him suck in air and make a strange gurgling noise. Oh fuck. She was not pregnant.
I apologized one million and a half times. I tried to get her to come in and let me buy her a drink, but she said that had caused the problem in the first place. Ugh, that made me feel worse. I had actively enforced the western beauty standards that oppress us all. I had body shamed a lovely person. I had hetro-normafied a happily child free couple. In short…I sucked. My immediate solution was to drink way too many beers and pretend it didn’t happen. Unfortunately that was only a temporary fix.
I woke up still feeling crappy about myself. My lizard brain solution was to stop going to my favorite bar, because I couldn’t face Alex and/or Lexie. I withdrew and let that dark feeling make me feel like a bad person, instead of a good person who had done a bad thing. I let shame move into my house, paint the walls black and trash the place.
The research of shame expert Brene Brown shows that when we feel shame we don’t only feel badly about what we’ve done, we feel badly about who we are. Shame bleeds into our identities to undermine the positives and make us feel like no matter how hard we try we’re never going to get it right. And feeling badly about who you are leads to terrible things like addiction, depression, social isolation, the inability to put on pants and leave the house, and other forms of withdrawal from the world. Shame separates us from others and darkens the path back to human connection.
In this instance shame made me feel like a callous and mean-spirited person who couldn’t be trusted around nice people or puppies. It kept me from going to my favorite bar because I couldn’t imagine that they would ever forgive me and there was nothing I could do about it. Suddenly I understood the appeal of Jesus. God makes you feel ashamed and then Jesus was like, “Hey man, it’s okay. I love you no matter what.”
Luckily for me and other heathens Brown has defined the four elements of shame resilience. These tools are light sabers you can use to combat shame’s dark shadows.
1. Learn to recognize shame when it happens and call it by name.
Shame hates to be called out and loses a ton of its power when you say, “I see you there Mr. Shame and I know what you’re up to. Also you have some thing green between your teeth and I thought you should know.” Just because he’s a jerk, doesn’t mean you have to be.
2. Get real and critical with shame.
After you’ve recognized Mr. Shame, now is the time to grill him like the dirty little perp that he is. Does what he’s saying even make sense? Is whatever is making you feel shameful really as bad, important, permanent as he is trying to convince you? What are some logical and rational steps you can take to correct the mistake or problem?
3. Have a shame busting party!
Shame is like a seriously codependent lover, who likes to keep you all to himself. Sharing your story with someone else you trust creates empathy and human connection, two things that shame absolutely hates. The more you share and own your story, the less powerful shame will become and the more powerful you will feel in your ability to heal yourself and ask forgiveness from others. This is the step where you try and get some perspective and assistance by talking to a friend, counselor or really engaged stuffed animal.
4. Asking for what you need.
That’s right, we saved the best for last! When sharing your story for maximum shame battling effects it’s important to ask for what you need. Do you need empathy, a second opinion on the impacts of your behavior, a reality check, forgiveness from the person you may have wronged, a frickin’ hug? Tell the person you’re connecting with what you need, so that they have a better chance of helping you.
So per element number three and four I told some kind and empathetic people about my shameful behavior, after letting them know I needed reassuring that I wasn’t a terrible human. Then it was time to put on my big girl pants and return to the scene of the crime. Since the first rule of apologies is not inflicting more harm just to make yourself feel better, I decided in advance to follow their lead and not bring up “the incident” unless they did.
Too scared to approach directly, I sent Alex and Lexie a round of drinks, a liquor based peace offering. Then I hid in the corner and waited, trying to cool my hot, sweaty palms by wrapping them around a beer glass. He came over and thanked me while she stayed on her stool and avoided eye contact. This was not going to be easy.
Realizing that the only way out of this shameful hell was right through it, I forced myself to get up and go talk to both of them. We bullshitted about something or other and I attempted to be the most warm, friendly, loving human on the Earth. She smiled at me and complained about her job and I realized that I was forgiven. Relief hit me harder then any shot of tequila could. I had faced down shame and made it to the other side. Instead of a shame chicken I was a courageous connector. Rawwwrrr!
So the next time you screw up big time and shame rears it hideous head remember the four steps and pull out your shame busting light saber. Just be careful you don’t spill my beer.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.