FB Pixel

By Sarah Hodges

I feel very honored to have a writer and human being with such an authentic voice as Sarah Hodges to pen the lead story this month. Sarah even illustrates her own writing! Perhaps you should know that the same beautiful, talented individual who so fabulously played that extremely dynamic role of Pele is the author of the story you are about to read. (Parenthetically, let me assure you from my last letter that my hero husband Cliff did indeed complete his annual solo Molokai channel crossing outrigger race this past weekend. However, conditions were so dangerous with 30+ foot wave faces, he has wisely decided not to strain his guardian angels any further, so will make this year’s competition his last.) And now, let me leave you to fully take in Sarah’s powerful journey into vulnerability. – Renée Tillotson


I’ve gathered a bouquet of ‘shoulds’ messily arranging all the parts together and holding them in my arms as I walk around these past weeks. ‘I should have been so many things that I’m not’, the mantra plays. The flowers of shame droop in my arms, their prickly stems dig into my bare skin. I’m uncomfortable, tense. I imagine people can see it on my face, smell it from my pores, just as I thought for all those years when I was young that they could see the shame on me.

I know it’s not an uncommon story, which saddens me. So many children fall to the hands of physical abuse, trauma, and other unfortunate circumstances of the bigger, mixed-up, messy world. Sometimes it seems best to tuck these happenings deep down into the furthest corners of oneself, to evade the daunting and unclear path of ‘dealing with’ the equally messy and disorienting unpacking. Sometimes the ‘dealing with’ doesn’t begin until adulthood.

As I take off for an artists workshop in California, I realize that I want more than anything to find healing and see why I’ve felt a big roadblock for so many years. This is by no means the beginning of a process, but as climbs and plateaus go, I can feel the terrain under me turning into another steep incline.

And so, with a curious mind and heart, I arrive on a snowy mountainside in Idyllwild, California amongst a group of seventeen full-spirited, bright-eyed artists. The first two chapters of my travel are like a gift. Loving hugs of new and old friends, an abundance of work, soulful conversations, tea with close friends, talks by the fireplace, laughter over tacos, and the whole enchilada.

I travel back and forth from LA to New Orleans and then back again. The final chapter of this trips lands me in New Orleans for a second time, and by the grace of a new friendship, I’m generously accommodated. This is when the old shame and guilt start to creep in. I’m not quick to catch it.

As I walk around New Orleans this time, I’m interested in taking photos, hearing great music, meeting people, and yet this pile of shame starts stacking taller and taller on my head like a pile of bricks. I’m trying to hold them together, they’re threatening to crash down. The more time I walk alone, the more I feel I need to hold up this life-sized poster board image of myself. Nobody wants to see that horrible shameful image that I feel inside. Of course, by now, holding up the poster board is not difficult. I’ve practiced it for so many years, since I was young and buried in a deep suffering that I thought I must hide, must keep anyone from knowing, must not let anyone find the truth.

Trauma patterns can come with a barrage of self-blame: ‘I should be able to get through this, I should be able to just overcome this, I should have figured this out a long time ago.’

By the third day, I’m walking with a full-fledged shame monster barking at me everywhere I turn. I walk down the street, hiding behind the dead bouquet of shoulds, shoulders and head held high, but inwardly screaming, shaking, shuddering, ashes. As I walk, a girl around my age crosses my path and stops. She tells me with clarity and grace, “You’re beautiful.” Then she pauses and adds, “And if anyone tells you you’re not it’s because they’re jealous.” I give her the best thank you I have in me, and we both keep walking our separate ways. I’m left wondering what she saw, and what she would think if she knew how broken down I felt in that moment.

A few days pass and I’m in full brawl with my internal monsters. Holding tightly onto the bouquet of shame, trying to turn the wilted flowers into a beautiful spring array, trying to act normal, trying to keep a good attitude, trying to be friendly, trying, trying, trying. I haven’t had friends around for a few days, and finally get myself to answer a good friend’s phone call. Her cheerful voice and our closeness and trust bring me energy for a moment.

I’m just beginning to say something to her when I see an older man in his 70’s walking out from a nearby gas station. His arms are open wide, reaching up toward the sky, and he’s looking at me. As I get a little further down the sidewalk I see he’s walking in my direction and then he very simply asks me, “Can I have a hug?” I laugh and say “Sure” and give him a big hug as my friend listens a little confusedly from the phone line. I say goodbye and tell him, “Have a great day,” and he playfully replies, “Any day with you is a great day.” I laugh again, but inwardly wonder why I don’t feel this way.

“What happened?” my friend asks me when I return to her call.

“An old man wanted a hug,” I tell her. “But actually, I think I needed the hug more than he did.” I keep walking and talking, and I realize how much warmer and gentler I feel inside.

The shame monster doesn’t let up though. By the evening it is back swinging punches at me. I’m taking the blows, sometimes ducking in time, mostly not. The monster tells me I am worthless, I am not good enough, that nobody likes me. Some of my ducks are successful. I tell myself this dark transit will pass, that I’ll come to clear sight again.

I am deeply aware of how tempting it is to slip into a sense of victimhood. The journey from feeling like a victim to self-supporter is a profound process in its own right. I believe there is a bridge between understanding how trauma affects the neural pathways of our brain and believing in grace and our ability to adapt and heal.

At some point, I catch a cold which lands me in bed for five days, without the energy to battle anything other than the physical malady. Everything stops. I rest, sleep, take short walks around the room, let go. The shame also softens its grip. It begins to look gentler, less menacing, like a lion who just has no energy left. I can see that it is tired, too. It has given its toughest fight.

It is no match for the quiet pulse of spirit that lives inside me, far beyond the reaches of any thoughts.

The ugly bouquet of should begins to shrink to the size of a penny. It has just been too close to my face for me to realize how small it actually is. Grace comes through the windows reassuring me of the ever-changing magnitudes of life. Although small things can shape-shift and appear big in moments, nothing is so big that does not later become much smaller.

I can only explain this as a knowing that enters my mind, maybe even into the cells of my body like a gust of wind entering the room. Not a new realization, yet a new layer of this realization.

Energy returns to my body. The shame monster, now looking like a house cat, peers up at me as I tap its head, agreeing to not brawl it out for now. I step out of the house, tossing the little dry bouquet of shoulds into the garden to soften with rain and sun and become part of the soil where something new will grow.

Renée Tillotson

Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!

Get the Still & Moving App

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)