Let’s talk about shame for a minute (or two)

I was minding the Erik Erikson theory of personality development when I got to the toddler stage. 1-3 years, independence/autonomy versus shame. A jab in my chest-soul- made me stop. I’ve just moved past the balancing tears. Yet here I was doing some refresher reading ati to help a client. Now see; a blog post, pain, and near tears.

When did you first experience the feeling of shame? I’ll go first.

I remember my introduction to shame very well. I was maybe 3-4 years old. I had never felt it before, but something told me I was in trouble with my mum after putting up an impromptu dance performance for some guests my parents had over. They said “whoa” and even clapped for me, saying how good that was. I covered my face, giggling, and ran back into the bedroom. I was exploring something I liked that I’d done in my room alone for a while before that day.

She followed me into the room, and I asked her if I was in trouble, and she said no. She paused and said, “You are big for your age.” Read: you are fat for your age. FAM.

We have forgiven mum. She had her own insecurities.

I started wearing somewhat fitting clothes halfway through high school. You won’t find me in a body suit or anything close today. I shy off stylish outfits to avoid attention. We don’t want people staring at this “big” body, now, do we? Oh, and when I got my first job, mum told me I could go for that body wrap at a spa that tightens you up because I have a fat back.

Enter body dysmorphia. Wanders off to look for parts of lost self-esteem.

That was the starting point, but since then, I did EVERYTHING STUPID to lessen myself and fit in. I felt that I had to do something all the time just to get liked, entering levels of desperation most times. In the process, I collected more shame and enlarged my baggage along the way. So, if you say I’ve changed, no, I am just healing. My whole life has been a HUGE FAT CRINGE FEST with a few positive highlights. I just recently, through “meditation,” learned to stop and observe memories and not engage them. They used to eat me up alive my guy! That means no self-pity, blaming, or anything. Just observe. I fall asleep faster these days. But it’s taken me what, 31+ years?

I have lost relationships, jobs, and opportunities, stagnated, and I have not been my best because of shame. So, any attention I got, in my mind, was good attention, and I did whatever I could, to a degree, to keep it. It was after age 25 that I was like, wait, the neighbor molested me at 3-4 years; never mind that I thought it was such a privilege at the time.

Shame can just mess you up in ways beyond what you can think with your conscious mind. It is this poison that reaches every corner of your life. “Woke” parents today would say that if their child did what I did, they would enroll them to dance classes, whether in person or at the School of YouTube, but this was the early 90s. I’ve always been a good dancer, not the shake your ass, pop-lock-and-drop, but generally where if my parents walked in, I wouldn’t be slapped and showered with anointing oil.

Now we might never know. Issokay.

The interesting thing though is I recently rediscovered dancing and did a whole dance routine in the kitchen while preparing a meal. For the first time, earbuds on, I did not care if my mother or father passed by and saw me. I. Did. Not. Care. Before I’d dance in my room and stop when someone walked past the door. The horror and shame of them “hearing” me dance! The good news is there’s the other side, however long it takes.

I’ve worked through most of the shame whereby I no longer feel the need to please people. I distance myself from those who appear like their “allowing me” in their lives is a favor. I dish out “nope!” endlessly like how Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish. I no longer want to please anyone. Finally! It’s the awareness of shame that got me here and the very many sources of it. Oh and Salima my therapist. God bless her soul. The short of it is I can now say earnestly and confidently that I, Wambaire, am worthy of the space I occupy in this world, just as I am. Fat-backed or not.

And yes, mother and I are good. All’s forgiven.

I invite you to consider how shame may be impacting your life. When did you first feel this feeling? How may that be secretly running operations in your life?

Stay sane.


Peris, Morah, and the other two women

Warning: Triggering content as it covers domestic violence and suicide. All characters are fictional, and any likeness to a real story is purely coincidental.

It wasn’t the bruises that sent her off the edge. It was the silence. The silence came after he punched her everywhere apart from her face. It drove her to walk off on the 5th-floor rooftop edge at Kasarani. She left half of the wet laundry in a basin. I was opening the gate when only what I can call a sickening thud had me jump and spin around, only to find her eyes looking straight at me. The rest was a mess I tried to forget.

It was clockwork, and the walls were thin, so I could hear almost everything. I had only been there one month, but it was soon evident that what was happening was the norm. He would leave at around 6:00 am because that’s when I’d go to bed. The sound of their metal door opening is what told me I needed to get off my computer and go to bed. It’d finish the article or whatever video had distracted me, and I’d prep for bed. Mornings were quiet.

The war began at about 10 pm when I was well into work my “day.” The first two times it happened, I sat behind my computer traumatized. On the third time, I had to ask the caretaker about my neighbors.

“Is how that couple for 401 are fighting like that? Si, they will kill each other?”

He chuckled and told me they had lived there for three years, and the fights were the norm. He only noted that the beatings had become more frequent in the past three to four months. He told me not to worry about it. That’s how these things go, he finished, going off to sweep some corner of the parking lot. So I started wearing earphones at around 9 pm so that I was in the flow. I didn’t know which days they’d fight, and I didn’t want to know anymore.

I can’t tell you how many times they fought that month before the suicide.

What I do, though, remember is that last week, I was talking a break and had chanced back to sleeping nights. Almost every night, at random times, I was woken up by the commotion. The houses were differently built but the same on all floors. For mine, 402 shared a bedroom wall and bathroom with 401. On that last night, I’d wake up startled by slamming or smashing on the bedroom wall. From the window, I would hear a muffled voice, and then a scream stopped halfway. Then silence. I picked up her low distressed voice, which I’d say was loud given that I could hear it. I didn’t hear his voice.

That night the fight must have started in the living room because I heard her shout after a minute, “Don’t lock me in the bedroom!” and after banging, “Why do you do this and not tell me why? AKI!” that the last sentence haunted me of a few days wishing I had gone over to their place and said something. But as who? If the caretaker and the neighbor didn’t, who was I? I just got up and closed my window. I’d rather sleep without the duvet because of the heat than hear more of that drama.

I’d seen her about five times in total. Twice in the stairwell, once when hanging laundry on the rooftop, and the other times I was leaving the house, she was passing by. We always exchanged polite ‘hi’s. I never saw any bruising on her face. When I saw her, she was always in a baggy sweater and a leso. I only knew about the bruising because I looked at her body longer than I should have and noticed the back of her legs was bruised; the leso was up to her waist as she lay on the untarmacked ground. It takes a lot for someone with my complexion to bruise.

For me, it was the audacity. I’d only seen the guy once before and only because I was leaving for an early meeting. About three months after the incident, I heard the metal door opening. It was 6:00 am, time to wrap up and go to bed. I was curious; there hadn’t been any activity for a while, and I assumed he had relocated or had been arrested. It was a Monday morning, and I’d only gotten in the night before from a weekend at my parents’ in shags. I assumed something had happened when I was away.

I only left the house on weekends for lunches and night outs from Friday night, and the most I’d do was a late Sunday lunch. I had just moved out from my relative’s house, and the idea of not being able to pay rent gave me intense focus.

In my curious state, I walked to my kitchen curtain, wondering if the person who lives there now knew what had happened three months prior. He passed by. He looked down at his phone and missed the slightly parted sheer. As he walked past, I heard “good day, babe!” a pause and the door closing. He didn’t respond to the woman.

This again? I started working longer hours. There was still silence from the apartment. I started looking for flats the week of his return. I found one after two months that I liked and could live comfortably, having saved for rent for two extra months. Two weeks before leaving, I heard the first commotion. During the week I was going, it happened twice.

I saw the young woman several times, and we exchanged polite hi’s. Six months later, I saw her face alongside my former residence on a muted screen at a local pub that I’d started frequenting. It was small, and most of us knew each other.

“Njoki! Ongeza volume!!”

The urgency with which I said it had everyone stop, glance at me, and stare at the screen as Njoki, the bartender, unmuted the tv and increased the volume.”

“… investigations are underway.” The bottom of the screen read, “WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN A KASARANI APARTMENT” I tuned out and snapped back when the caretaker came to the screen among other faces I did not recognize. “We spoke to some residents that don’t want to be mentioned, but it is alleged that the man was abusive and that a woman he previously lived with had jumped to her death from the same rooftop about a year ago.”

I’d caught the final part of the report. I was talking to a fellow frequenter and had turned to ask Njoki for a double shot of gin. She inquired who she was, and I only said, “I used to live in that building.” People went back to their business.

I made excuses that I had an early morning and left. My parents had summoned me. I went to the wines and spirits, asked for a bottle of gin, and went home to drink alone.

Three months later, when I yelled at my mother at a family function while drunk, it was evident that I had a problem. There were threats of rehab because my drinking had become a daily affair, but I pleaded to see a counselor instead. I had blamed myself for those two women’s death. If only I had said something or if I had stayed.

The truth is, there were a total of four families over ten years that had blamed him for their daughter’s death. First was an overdose, and second was a “robbery gone wrong” in which he claimed he too was a victim hence the bruises he had. She died of head trauma from a blunt object. The third claimed the woman was mentally unwell and the bruising was from the fall or something else. This one, he couldn’t get away with. She left a note in her panties before taking poison as the reason she was taking her own life. The coroner found she had bruising on her stomach and back, as though he had learned not to injure her arms and legs from his past sins.

I wondered how friends and families couldn’t have known the abuse he took those women through but a column in the online newspaper about the rise of domestic abuse in the lifestyle section answered me. He was in IT, making good money. He cloned their phones and monitored their every move. He threatened the women by showing them messages of him flirting with the women’s younger sisters or cousins saying it was either they stayed, or he’d go for them. I didn’t read all of it. I was sickened by then.

I still think about Peris and Morah. I still drink more than I ought to. I don’t see their faces anymore, but the guilt will take some time to go away. I wonder if it’s just me who feels this way for letting a 37-year-old man cause this much pain and trauma. He’s in remand as the investigations continue.