Not Your Shame
By Anicia S. Eriksson
ISBN 13: 978-9188187758
Book reviewed by Kavita Khajuria
Not Your Shame is a cathartic expression in poetry and prose – a translation from Swedish. Themes include sexual assault, shame, guilt, grief, identity, survival and self-worth.
The devastating effects of sexual assault are described in resonating detail. Initial mental states include emotional numbness, pain and exhaustion – with suffocation, hopelessness and a lack of motivation verging on paralysis. The sense of self initially translates as objectified, dehumanized, fixed and frozen “in a fog” “not dead not alive” – with tortured obsessions and agonizing unanswered questions. Other states range from palpable anger and disgust – to avoidance and hypervigilance, amidst visceral reactions to flashbacks “drowning in myself” …“pieces forced and pressed together.” Conflicted identity and a need for dissolution conveys attempts to escape from the prior self. Obsessions convey self blame with desperate inquiries. The reader can hear the impoverishing consequences of assault – including loss of voice, worth and power – with self infestation “silent screams silent suffering,” and repulsion of attention. One hears resentment and rage at the sense of exploitation and loss. Other moments include hints of psychosis and death wishes.
Amidst all this, we hear flickers of self-compassion, awakening, and a pursuit of peace “it’s time to take the anxiety by the hand.” All of this is intertwined with a shift in focus: from sexual assault to the impact of grief from a father’s death – as she describes the coming to terms, along with the regrets, doubts and questions that remain. A yearning for release progressively emerges, and craving for understanding. Moments of insight include the questioning of being a ‘giver,’ emotional unavailability, and a letter to self social anxiety. With a concluding section on love and hope, a context of healing and safety emerges – with wonder and curiosity, despite the anxiety and recurrent insecurities. Passive suicidal ideations and hopelessness dissolve, and a yearning for a continued stability prevails, with gratitude, love and emerging self acceptance.
This book compels one to contemplate on the concept of shame. Shame is a universal phenomena, and we are all subject to shame at some point. Overwhelming shame can strike at the core, and cause one to feel damaged or broken – trapped and powerless, with debilitating thoughts and sensations, and an overwhelming need to isolate – all of which are well described by Eriksson. Shame has been implicated in a number of mental health problems, if unresolved – including depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, eating disorders, violent behavior and suicide. Secrecy and judgement fertilize shame. But growth can evolve through self reconstruction. Expressing the shame, refocusing energy, facilitating understanding, and taking back the power – are all essential processes to recovery. One can restore the self concept, rebuild connections and increase a sense of control. The survival that emerges can be a powerful opportunity for growth.