I have to be honest with you, for many months I told very few people about my emergency stoma. At first this was made somewhat easier by the fact that I was in hospital for 3 months and not seeing many people. After coming out of hospital if and when I did tell friends it was in hushed tones and glossed over pretty quickly. I’d tell myself it was because I was a deeply private person (which I am) but in retrospect I was swimming in shame.

Whilst I was aware that I felt a sense of shame about my body (which no longer looked or felt like my body) – the more therapeutic work I did, I realised what I was actually feeling was a deep sense of shame in my whole self, not least because my body was a part of me – even though we often treat our bodies like a complete separate entity.

I look back and I see my feelings of shame made things so much harder for myself. In trying to cover over the shame I felt for feeling a complete lack of control of my emotions and my body, I worked incredibly hard at giving off a sense that I was managing my new normal and I was just grateful and happy to be alive. A lot of clients tell me they acted or still act the same way. And the general agreement is that pretending all is ok when really it isn’t, is a deeply exhausting and lonely way to live.

And that’s the thing about shame; it thrives on silence. Hiding our shame keeps it alive.

So, by not sharing about my stoma and the daily struggles I was facing, not only did I shut others out but in doing so I created a world where I felt lonely, isolated, and incredibly down on myself. Even though I had done absolutely nothing wrong (my emergency stoma was a result of being hit by a car), and I had nothing to feel guilty about, I began to turn on myself, becoming critical of my perceived inability to cope. My shame was calling the shots and stopping me from doing anything.

I learnt that this feeling of stuckness/ lack of ability to do anything effective is a very common ‘side effect’ of shame. Unlike guilt, which refers to feeling bad about our behaviour, and can actually be productive in motivating us to repair situations, shame can paralyse us. 

Whilst guilt says I did something bad, shame says I am bad. 

And the fear that anyone else may see this unlovable, helpless, inadequate part of us makes us want to hide ourselves away even more.

In 1:1 and group sessions with women pre and post stoma surgery, we gently explore how having stoma surgery and learning to live with a stoma can bring up a lot of feelings of shame. In these sessions shame often sounds like:

  • I hate looking at my body and I can’t imagine any one else will ever desire me either (I’m unloveable)
  • I ‘m never going to be able to leave the house again (I’m helpless)
  • I can just about get myself dressed for the day (I’m inadequate)
  • I’ll never be able to do the things I want to do (I’m a failure)

What we also discuss is how it is so important to remember that shame stems from the innocent desire to be loved – to be worthy of love and affection and to belong. From the minute we are born we need human love & connection to survive, and this does not change as we become adults, even though we can find it so hard to be ok with the desire to be loved as we become adults.

And we discuss that there is hope! A whole lot of wonderful, empowering hope! Because, as I learnt on my only healing journey, we can learn, practice, and use daily tools and techniques that are the antidotes to shame. Tool and techniques like Mindful Self Compassion and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT/Tapping) that can help you  step out of your shame so you can start to live the life you want to lead, stoma, bag & all.  

If you want to feel lighter and excited by life again, developing the courage to try old and new things however hard they seem at first, contact me direct at [email protected], or via my website or social media and lets start to de-shame your shame so you can get on with living your life, feeling confident, content and in control living with a stoma.

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