Caught up in more shame.
March 21, 2012 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I did some out of character, stupid things while in the middle of a long nervous breakdown. I told many of my close friends. Now how do I handle the shame?

A couple of years ago, I went through a long period of intense anxiety and depression that led to a nervous breakdown and admission to inpatient care for the first time in my life. During this time, I was almost manic and did a lot of things I now regret -- degrading sex with men I met online, purposely flirting with a co-worker who is older than my dad (which certainly embarrassed him), trying to hook up with married men at bars, trying to date a 17 year old (this is the most horrible one; even though I was in my early 20's at the time, it is still definitely illegal). Now that I've been stabilized for some time, I am completely appalled at my behavior.

The problem is that I told six of my closest friends EVERYTHING that I did. I told them by text and by email, so I know written record of my behavior exists. I also dirty-talked extensively and explicitly, beyond what I am usually comfortable with, by email with some of the guys online. It's deleted from my end now, but maybe not from theirs. Knowing that me of the not too far past is hanging out there in text and in my friends' minds is embarrassing.

I want to recover from this period in my life, but I still have a lot of shame about the dumb things I did and am not quite sure how to get over it. I've already taken the step to begin therapy and have my first appointment this week. How else can I start to move on past this moment?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, wow, do I relate. I went through a really dark time in my late teens and early '20s and did any number of manic/crazy/degrading things I'm still really ashamed of.

The thing that amazed me, though, is that my friends didn't judge me. Maybe a few eyebrows were raised at the time, but as soon as it became clear that I was coming out of the dark and learning to take better care of myself, and even before, it became a non-issue. It's been ten years and they have never cast my behavior up to me. In fact, they were all going through their own rough periods concurrently.

I know this sounds insane right now, because you're so ashamed and appalled by your own actions. But I PROMISE your friends have better things to think about than your confessed bad behavior.

What I'm trying to say is that nobody will ever judge you as harshly as yourself. You don't need to wear the scarlet letter or hire a person to wear a sandwich board behind you pointing to all of your flaws and humiliations. Everyone is human and makes mistakes.

As far as moving on, therapy is huge. Journaling about your experience and then burning it can help. Maybe writing a script for yourself for when these thoughts come up. You CAN move past this shame, and when you do you'll find that everyone pretty much immediately did, too.

I am wishing you strength and peace as you heal from this. Be gentle with yourself, okay?
posted by mynameisluka at 6:48 AM on March 21, 2012 [16 favorites]

We all have things in our past that we regret. Those of a sexual nature, especially done when you werent feeling quite yourself, can be particularly 'sticky' in our heads.

But you must forgive yourself. It sounds like there wasn't any super risky behavior happening (huge amounts of unprotected sex with random partners, etc). Could you chalk it up to youthful indiscretions?

The important part here is less about trying to rationalize or explain to your friends, and more about forgiving yourself. You are, after all, only human.

i find with the sticky stuff like this, it'll pop up in otherwise positive a reminder from my 'mind' that all may be well, but 'remember when you hooked up with that girl from okcupid?'. With practice, it can become easier to just let those thoughts be, and in time, their intensity and affect on you will fade.

These are things that happened in your life. They're not disastrous, they haven't ruined you. They are things that have grown your character.

Less resistance, more forgiveness.
posted by softlord at 7:14 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

This was a couple of years ago?

Unless your friends are sadist blackmailers, they've deleted those texts and e-mails or forgotten about them. You should too.
posted by xingcat at 7:25 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

If they're your friends, loyal and all, none of that should matter now. 'Nuff said.
posted by ditto75 at 7:41 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

If these are real, true friends, they would look at it as 'anonymous was ill with a various serious medical condition - why would I judge someone for things they did as a direct result of that medical condition?' and will be more concerned for your overall well being NOW than what you did under the boot heel of the break down. Think of it this way - if you had a diabetic seizure and started ranting and raving and going off the rails, would you expect your friends to judge you because of that?
posted by spicynuts at 7:47 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would start by attending your therapy sessions, and focusing on yourself. Don't hesitate to mention this desire to make amends to your therapist, but if this happened a few years ago, then a few more months (or longer) won't really make a difference. Work through the process; there will be plenty of time for amends (if they are warranted) at some point in the future. Make amends to yourself first, with the assistance of your therapy.
posted by davejay at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2012

I had some rather violent outbursts a few months ago because I had trouble with my meds. The last outburst ended with me getting arrested for attacking my husband. (No charges filed, phew!)

My friends and my closest relatives know, and they were all supportive. Nobody's judged me and many of them have said, "Hey, shit happens, and nobody's perfect. We're just glad you and Mr. Yum are okay."

Moral: True friends won't judge you, and will encourage you to be kind to yourself.
posted by Val_E_Yum at 9:19 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your friends recall that period with about 1% of the clarity you do. If you started acting like that again, one of them might take you aside and say "hey...there's a thing happening that looks like that bad period you had before, I'm worried" and that's great, you want people who are close to you who can give you an objective POV if that's happening.

Getting sandtrapped in old shame is a pretty classic depression symptom. You've already set therapy in motion, which is the right thing.

Just...honestly, nobody's using nearly as much bandwidth on this as you are, and with work it'll pass for you too.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:11 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds more like you are trying to cope with your own shame upon reflecting on your past behavior. The only solution there is acceptance. You're not that person anymore. You once were. You have learned something from the experience, and it will never happen again. Move on. Don't waste one more minute dwelling on the past.

But about these friends. Are these people you do not trust? If so, perhaps it's time to say goodbye and seek greener pastures of friendship. A truly good friend would not hold you eternally responsible for past mistakes. However, if you do trust your friends to not spill the beans about your history, then I think you're fine – you just have to deal with your own feelings about yourself.
posted by deathpanels at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2012
posted by tacoma1 at 10:21 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a decent chance that the situation with the 17 year old wasn't illegal, if that matters to you. In North America, for example, the age of consent ranges from 16 - 18 depending upon the state. I believe in some locations age difference is also a consideration.
posted by Carbolic at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's also not illegal to "try to date" a 17-year-old person, even where the age of consent is over 17. Sure, it's inappropriate and shows terrible judgment, but what's illegal is actually having sex with the underage person, not flirting with them or asking them out. So even if you are in a locality where the age of consent for partners of someone in your age is over 17, you didn't break the law by "trying to date" them.

Everyone on Earth has done things they regret later. Your friends aren't going to hold your past misbehavior against you, especially because you so clearly understand that what you did was wrong, you've actively worked on fixing the issues that made you engage in these wrong and hurtful behaviors, and you've moved on with a commitment to do better in the future.

Something to think about is moving past shame to understanding, repentance, and amends where necessary. I think shame is like a "Check Engine Light" of emotions; it can alert us to a lot of different things, but we need to go deeper to figure out what the appropriate "fix" might be.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:57 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like you hurt anyone else during that period. The worst that can really be said about what you did is that you did some stuff that probably worked out badly for you, but you've already paid those consequences. So try to give yourself a break. Life is long, and people are complicated, and we all do all kinds of things that we wish we hadn't. Maybe spend some time looking into where you got the idea that you're not allowed to make any mistakes.

As for your friends, are they still your friends? If they are, then they've proven to you that they don't have a problem with anything you've told them, so there's nothing to worry about there.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think there are two main issues when we feel ashamed. The first is concern about how others see us and our behavior. The second is how we see ourselves and our behavior.

As people have said, if these friends are still your friends after this revelation, their image of you is likely undamaged by your past behavior. You say you've been stable for some time, so likely the most obvious image they have of you is "stable you." The former, wilder you is a much hazier image, especially if they didn't know you back then. The good news is that the longer you are stable the more concrete that idea of you will be in their minds.

When it comes to how you feel about yourself, I worry that your past experiences are clouding your idea of your own worth. I think it's important for you to realize that you have value beyond those experiences, that they are a part of you but don't define you. It may help to write a list of ways in which you are valuable. Are you loyal? Kind? Creative? Funny? These are essential things about you that your past experiences can't touch.

You include your past, but you include many other things as well. Contradictory, likely wonderful things. You are more than your past.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2012

I went through a crazy period in my early 20s. Funny, that always seems to be when these things happened.

I didn't do anything sexual, but I was damned hard to be around, obviously crazy, and not pursuing treatment. Must've been damn hard to stay friends with me.

But you know what? Some people did. And years later -- like 13 years later -- we're still friends. Yeah, it's embarrassing that they remember a bunch of embarrassing crap about me, but they stayed with me when times were bad, and so I know they're my true friends.

And yeah, some people were mean to me at that time, catty, cruel, talked a lot of shit about me. And you wanna know what? I have no idea what they're doing now. They're like the most irrelevant people who were ever born.

Right now, the wounds are too fresh. But perhaps a decade from now, you'll be glad there are a few people who remember a bunch of embarrassing crap about you and still like you.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:45 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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