• Dancing at my shame prom

    by Kelvin Wade

    “Dancing at the Shame Prom: sharing the stories that kept us small” is a new 242 page book edited by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter published by Seal Press. In this weighty tome are essays by 27 talented women sharing their intimate stories of shame and releasing that pent up pain and reclaiming their lives. The stories are moving, raw and honest but rather than share with readers the stories from the book, I’d like to share one of my own.

    I couldn’t read this book without thinking of my own shame. It’s a story I’ve told before but that I can tell now without wearing that cumbersome cloak of shame.

    On Mother’s Day, May 13, 1990, my older brother Ken got a ride home from jail from a friend after being arrested the night before for disorderly conduct. Ken, a correctional officer at California State Prison Solano in Vacaville, California, put on his uniform, stripping off his nametag and patch and drove to the Parkway Lounge in Fairfield, California where his estranged girlfriend worked.

    He sat in the parking lot drinking vodka and eating. Shortly after noon, he entered the establishment with a 12-gauge shotgun and shot and killed his girlfriend. Then he walked outside the bar, put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

    Suddenly, in addition to mourning my brother’s death, I felt shackled with the shame of being related to a murderer. I felt guilty because I’d help move his girlfriend into his house when I knew their relationship was a disaster. For months, I’d babysit his girlfriend’s two kids at his house when they would go out for a night on the town. I was close to the children and good at directing their attention away from my brother and his girlfriend arguing in the bedroom.

    And in the aftermath, I never got to see the kids again. My brother had cruelly taken their mother away and I felt guilty for that. While I never knew the relationship was going to end in horrific violence, I knew it wasn’t a healthy relationship. I felt guilt by association. I failed to sound the alarm.

    Unfortunately, my devastation and anger afterwards was directed at everyone but the person whose fault it was: my brother. I blamed his girlfriend, his work and myself for not being prescient enough to see where that relationship was going. I massaged this guilt and shame with food and alcohol.

    I began going with my mother to various support groups. We started with the Compassionate Friends. Then we attended an eight week group in Davis, California. Finally, I help found the Bay Area Survivors of Suicide. But all the while I was sadly welcoming survivors into the group and helping them deal with the nightmare that is losing a loved one to suicide, I felt like an imposter. My shame was that my brother wasn’t merely a suicide but a murderer. A murderer that left two children without a mother. I felt I didn’t have a right to my pain.

    Years later I heard that the children’s father was killed in a traffic accident.

    It was nearly 20 years later that I found the boy I used to babysit on Facebook. I reached out to him, terrified of what his response may be. I was shocked and humbled when he told me I had nothing to feel guilty for, that he never blamed me and was actually glad that I’d reached out to him. He and his sister, despite the tragedies in their lives, have turned out remarkably well.

    And that’s when I felt I could dance at my own shame prom, reveal my shame and let it go.

    When you read this powerful book, you can’t help but be confronted with your own shame, your own pain. There’s such a wide variety of topics addressed that someone is going to leap out at you and speak to you personally. By the time you finish, hopefully, you’ll lay your burdens down.

    And dance.

    • Kelvin!!!
      If we do a mens’ version of the shame Prom- you have to write for it! Thank you for being so brave and open- and thank you for unburdening yourself, and releasing this story from your soul. So often we carry shame that belongs to others. This shame never was yours. So glad you know that now.
      Much love!

    • Kelvin, I have heard this story from you before and I always wondered why you took it upon yourself to be shamed. Unfortunately, one can’t always be the one to help. As you so stated, the kids thought only good about you and didn’t blame you for any of it. I think your persona took on the shame wrongfully, but nonetheless finally saw through the kids that it was not your burden to carry and I am so glad for you that you found peace. Too bad it took them to show you the way. I am sorry you suffered for something that you had no control over.

      • Kelvin

      • September 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm
      • Reply

      My situation isn’t unique. This is why I share the story. Most of the public has no idea what it’s like being family members of someone who has committed a horrible public crime. There’s a reason why family members sometimes change their names or don’t mention their relation. For me, having been so close to my brother, been involved with the kids, hearing the arguments, knowing my brother had a temper and knowing their relationship was a train wreck, it would be odd if I didn’t feel guilt/shame in the aftermath.

      Family members of those who have completed suicide often engage in pointless “if only” exercises. If you couple that with murder you might begin to understand the demons that can haunt a person. It’s telling to me that in my years of dealing with families of those who’d committed suicide only once did I meet family members of someone who’d committed murder and suicide. Those people were so guilty and ashamed that they only attended one meeting and never returned. I regret that they didn’t come back because we had a good conversation and they were the first people I spoke with who I felt could really understand. I met another woman whose husband killed himself who would have killed her too if she’d been home. That was a strange situation but she and I became friends. Unfortunately she passed away a year later.

      So I don’t look at it as ‘not my shame.’ It doesn’t work that way. You can’t go up to someone who feels guilty or shame and have them intellectualize it away. It’s a feeling. It’s something imprinted on them and they have to work through it. That’s what I found fascinating about the book. There were women expressing shame for events that I was puzzled about. Things that I don’t believe I would’ve felt shame for. But that’s the nature of shame. It’s deeply personal.

    • I agree Kelvin. One of my closest friend’s daughter killed herself on July 4th, her independence day. It is a long road but her family actually used his service to talk about suicide and how there is no shame in it. It was the best funeral (if there is such a thing) that I have ever attended. Their daughter had so many demons with drugs and mental illness that everyone who knew them knew this and were not shocked by her suicide only in the manner she chose. Really sad but the family deals with it openly and honestly and for them it works. I agree with you that some people hide their shame and I believe it builds until it explodes inside you. Others deal with it and move forward. All depends on the individual and why they need or want to hold on to it. I just never got that but clearly people have issues surrounding shame.

      • Sonya

      • September 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm
      • Reply

      Wow, I didn’t know that…any of that…I’m glad you were able to heal and let go of all that… 🙂

    • Kelvin,
      In the short time I have known you I find it is obvious you are a man of honor. As you know I have a very large brain. That being said it goes to reason that my skills of observation are equally large. This is what I see when I think of you;
      The acts you describe are acts of love. Acts of love are not worthy of shame and are in fact above reproach. Love and shame do not jive. Love and actions of love are pure.
      Shame suggest misconduct. In this matter, look into your heart, search for misconduct related to your actions. In doing this consider everything you have done and why you did it, or said it, or didn’t do or say.
      Any action deserving of shame will color of malice and misconduct.
      In the end, you will find yourself full of love with no room for shame.

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