shame and the blood donor clinic.

shame therapy winnipeg.jpg I donated blood for the first time last night.

It was something on my ‘to-do’ list for a while, but actually pulling the trigger on it seemed to feel like more effort than I had energy for. It wasn’t until a lovely woman at Canadian Blood Services called to follow up with me (I ticked a box on my stem cell registry form that said they could call), that I committed to getting prodded with a needle and my blood sucked out by a machine.

My husband has been donating blood as long as I can remember. He has the coveted O negative type, the universal donor. His blood is always in high demand, and he is regularly scheduled to donate – and he surely receives a call if he forgets to schedule his next appointment.

I used to know my blood type, but I have honestly forgotten. All I do remember is that it was so regular that I didn’t need to notice it. My husband had the special blood, the highly sought after, superior variety. I am just a run of the mill commoner when it comes to this. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve come to realize the lack of uniqueness was a deterrent in heading over to donate all these years. Somehow my regular blood didn’t seem that important when compared with my husband’s O negative type.

Yet when I sat at the intake desk yesterday, the woman who greeted me was simply thrilled that I was there to donate. I made some sort of self-deprecating comment about my ordinary blood type, and she quickly dispelled that with an enthusiastic affirmation that my donation was just as important regardless of what kind I have.

Ok…so you’re probably wondering where this is headed.

See, in working with clients in therapy, I regularly address the idea of shame with folks. Brene Brown, a researcher, author, and renowned speaker on the topics of shame, vulnerability, and connection defines shame as an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Shame can show up in lots of different spaces. We can experience shame around appearance, skills, parenting, shame around what we feel, what we own, or for me – shame happened to show up in how I felt about my regular, super common blood type. It seems kind of silly. Somehow I felt a little less than when stacking myself up beside my husband, as though he (or really, his blood) was more worthy of being collected and used than mine.

When I heard the kind lady affirm that my presence was indeed valued at the donor clinic, I felt my shoulders drop and myself relax. I hadn’t known that I had been writing a story about being less than. But I was. And it had contributed to me not showing up in my own life in ways that felt important. And it was in becoming aware of that story that I could confront it, challenge it, and invite myself into a new narrative.

I wonder how many of us regularly, and perhaps without knowing, tell ourselves the story that our offering, our gifts, our abilities, our capacity (or in my case – my blood type!) isn’t enough. That we are less than, because there is someone out there who is stronger, smarter, better, prettier, thinner, richer, etc. I wonder how often we stack ourselves up against the other, and then discredit the value we have because we get stuck in the trap of shame, comparing ourselves to someone else. How often do we simply not show up because someone else might show up and do it better?!?!

Perhaps you need to hear the same message from Donelda at Canadian Blood Services that I did. So glad you’re here. We want what you have to offer. It doesn’t matter if what you bring is different than the next person, or if it seems ordinary – your unique contribution is important. Maybe those need to be tattooed on the back of your hand, written in a journal, or set as the screen saver on your phone. What you have to offer is important. You be you. Offer your own gifts and skills and abilities, because they matter to the world. You matter to the world.

And as I watched my bag full of blood get set in a crate next to all the other donors, I realized that the type was irrelevant. There were no gold stars on the bags of O neg, rather there was evidence of a rotating room full of people coming together to all offer what they could, and that the collective offering from all sorts of folks is changing lives and making the world a better place.

If shame is dragging you down and that sense that you are less than is keeping you stuck – know that the story isn’t fixed. There is hope of creating new narratives, and of leaving behind the idea that you aren’t enough. While I don’t have the Coke and cookies like the donor clinic, know that it’d be a privilege to work with you on navigating shame in your own life if you’re feeling ready to do so. Get in touch today if this is a script you want to change, and we can help you learn how to craft new stories moving forward.


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