Fighting Shame

February 4, 2013

I posted about my dog so I’m not going to rehash it, but I’ve been working through some of the issues that came out of the whole thing.  Fortunately, as my neighbor who got bit has no medical insurance, my renter’s insurance will pay for all of the medical bills.  If they didn’t, I would have because legally, it’s my fault that my dog bit someone.   However, I’m coming to realize that it being my fault legally is very different that it being my fault.

My instinct (I am the oldest child of alcoholics, after all!) is to be hyper-responsible. My dog bit someone, and while I needed to put her down for safety reasons, because she was getting worse, not better, she didn’t hurt the other dog at all, and my neighbor had one stitch.  As the renter’s insurance person told me on the phone, “Honey, for a dog bite, that’s nothing.” 

It was terrifying for all of us and I think we all feel traumatized, and I don’t want to deny that.  But as the dogs were fighting and we were trying to get them apart, my neighbor’s mother was screaming at me – things like “You’re a horrible person!  You deserve to be put down!  Not just your dog, but you!  What’s wrong with you!”   And I realized, those are the voices I have in my head a lot of the time. 

Now, I don’t really think I need to be put down, but I do often think I’m a horrible person.  I have sort of had this feeling all my life that I’ve done something very very bad and I just haven’t been found out yet.  I don’t think even I know what this bad thing is that I’ve done but I know it’s very bad and very serious and I shouldn’t let anyone find out or I’ll be in serious trouble.

I’m trying to realize that this isn’t true.  Of course, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve done things I regret, but I’m not actually a horrible person.  Or even close.

One of the things that made me realize this was that I was avoiding our (shared) yard, because my neighbor’s mother might be there and she said all those things about me.  What if she has more to say?  I’ll feel so terrible about myself.

Then I realized (I know, a little slow), that she’s WRONG.  She’s wrong about the things she said and she’s wrong to say them.  The answer isn’t to hide from her – I live here, after all and she doesn’t.  If she does say anything, the answer is to say, “I was too busy in the moment to tell you this, but you may not say such things to me, ever.  If you insist on verbally abusing me, I will go to the police and get a restraining order and you will not be able to come on this property again.”

I may never have to say it but for some reason it made me feel like I wasn’t just standing up to this one person; I was standing up to my shame.  Only in my head, but that’s where it lives.