stuck/unstuck: Samantha Dunn

In this series of stuck/unstuck, contributors from Dancing at the Shame Prom on being ashamed, and how it connects to writing.

First, I asked Samantha Dunn, author of Failing Paris, and the memoirs, Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life, and Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation. She’s written for the Los Angeles Times, “O” The Oprah Magazine, Ms., Shape, InStyle, Glamour, SELF and Men’s Health and is a Maggie Award winner for the personal essay. http://samanthadunn.net

I said/asked: Shame is kind of sticky – as a concept and a something that we live with in our lives. The more we try to shake it, the more we’re reminded of it, and how we feel it, and that that we don’t like it. And then feeling stuck in it. However, much depth can come in writing from being with feelings that make us feel out of control–like shame. So how do we hold that close, while writing, and how do we tolerate the feelings we’ve so often tried to avoid? Because doing so can enable us to not only create, but to heal.

 

by Samantha Dunn

I’m not the best example. I wish I could think of something enlightened to share, but here’s the truth: Shame has been a kind of nuclear reactor in my life, the toxic fuel for everything. It was the reason my mom and grandmother ended up raising me where they did, “beyond the pale,” way out West, away from the small Pennsylvania town our family had called home for a couple hundred years. It’s the reason that I used to practically glow with ambition, with an incandescence caused by the unholy desire to be SOMEBODY.

How I tolerated it and held it close was that I didn’t tolerate it or hold it close. I used to fight a lot. I liked to yell at people. Humiliate when I could. Punching things felt good. I didn’t drink much but when I did I obliterated my consciousness. Then, for a while, I found opiates and pills. That helped until it didn’t help. I tried therapy, yoga, and Zen Buddhism, but eventually that all made me want to punch things again, so there you go. Relationships died, or were outright killed by me.

I don’t feel like that now. Writing did remove that shame. What I mean is, writing evaporated it. Writing disappeared it. But I don’t know when, exactly, or how. It just suddenly was no more. I couldn’t conjure shame now if I tried. I can maybe still throw a punch, but not like before.Let me tell you though, the process of writing it dead wasn’t pretty. It has for years involved crying, hysterical laughter, much insomnia, and all the activity mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Let me add too that not just writing killed it, but publishing. Writing the worst, most painful thing I have suffered under and then having random people not recoil but say, “Thank you, I know exactly that feeling. Exactly.” Even if it is only one other person, that recognition is liberating. Liberating, truly.