Shame and Creativity: Why I Hate My Work Sometimes
“Don’t quit. You’re already in pain. You’re already hurt. Get a reward from it.”
When I was 19, I wrote a book called Spin. I sent it to one publisher. I got rejected. I put it in a drawer and never took it out again.
I still remember looking at what I believed to be the final product and thinking, “Oh god, this is awful. It’s so horrible. How did I ever think I could show this to people? It’s so dark, so twisted.”
And, in some ways, it really was. The book plunged right into the heart of addiction and suffering, and it never came out. It was a sad story that ended sad. When I wrote it, all I knew was suffering. I had nothing to offer except sad stories.
Into the drawer it went—foregone and forgotten.
It was 5 years until I tried writing another book.
Throughout writing The Love Mindset, I plunged into the same darkness that Spin described. I went into the heart of self-hatred and addiction. This time, however, it wasn’t a faux-fictional portrayal of the darkness and nothing but the darkness. This time, I had a way out. I had a solution.
I thought this would be different. Spin, after all, was immature and incomplete. It was a cry for pity and salvation in the midst of pain. I hated it for a reason. Right? After all, The Love Mindset is spiritual, inspirational, and out to change the world. It is a cry for compassion and unconditional love in the midst of pain. Surely, I thought, I could never hate something so beautiful.
Oh, but I did.
About two months ago, very suddenly, as walking home from the grocery store, I started getting that familiar feeling. I hadn’t seen the book for over a month because it was away with the editor.
I imagined the book and, all of a sudden, I was washed over with a wave of disgust.
It was the same disgust I had felt for Spin. It was the same disgust I felt for close to a decade every time I looked in the mirror.
It hurt so much I couldn’t move.
Maybe, I thought, if I just read it, I’ll realize it’s not so bad. So, when I got home, I opened the file. Each word of the first sentence of the Preface hit me like a wave of nausea. What a horrible first sentence! Who would ever write a sentence like that? Who would ever read it?
I was deep in shame.
Oh god, I thought. I hate it. It’s awful. How could I create something so horrible?
Burn it, I thought. I must burn it, break it, hide it. I must destroy all the evidence of this horrible thing ever existing and pretend like it never did.
For close to two hours, I was stuck in something near paralysis. I was stuck in a haze, a cave, a dark hole. I couldn’t see, couldn’t understand, couldn’t imagine a future for myself with this ugly, horrible book with my name on it out there.
I decided to follow my own advice. I did what I teach others to do. I dove into the pain.
I went into the disgust, the shame, the horror, holding on to nothing but my understanding of my eternity. I felt as if I had tumbled down a cliff and was hanging on for dear life on a small (yet powerfully strong) branch. I was frightened, hurt, exhausted.
Suddenly, I saw, like a sliver of light, the similarity between what I’d felt in the mirror, what I felt for Spin, and what I was feeling at that moment. Wow, I thought. It’s the same thing. It’s just self-loathing. It’s not real. It’s not real. Just thoughts, only thoughts.
I held on to my little piece of eternity, and I let it hurt. I let the pain wash over me, again and again. It hurt for close to two weeks. I’m not sure if I can explain how long that really is. In the world of unguarded, vulnerable pain, especially to a girl who spent years being bulletproof and emotionless, that is a really long time. In that time, I didn’t look at the book, didn’t let myself near it lest I do something ridiculous.
After two weeks, after I had surrendered to those waves of nausea and hopelessness, again and again, the pain subsided. In its wake, the torture left a childish innocence, a beautiful self-confidence, a radiant feeling of eternal creativity. I felt more powerful, more alive than I’d ever felt in a long time.
I worked through my shame by exposing it, bare and vulnerable, like I would heal any wound.
And this might not be the last time. In fact, I’m certain it won’t be.
It’s funny how I think I’m out of the self-loathing trap for good just because I know how to get out.
Just when I think I’m safe, I’m thrown back into the pits of shameful thoughts, and I have to find my way back home to self-acceptance and true love.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from returning to love, over and over again, it’s this: the thoughts that seek to separate me from my authentic self are just that—only thoughts.
After you return back to love 70, 100, 1000 times, you also will begin to realize that all of those silly thoughts can’t possibly be true, that shame is a master of disguise, and that the ultimate goal is not to avoid getting lost but to keep returning home.
The point is not to create something that is so perfect that I won’t hate it. That’s not possible. The point is to create and create and create, feeling that hate, disgust, and fear each time. To feel it completely.
When you let yourself feel shame, you process through it. You let it heal. When you trap it, keep it back, and destroy your creation, the shame wins. It wins and, like a virus, spreads everywhere.
The only antidote is vulnerability, sharing, and connection. The only solution to a breaking heart is to let it break completely, totally, because once it breaks, you can find something beyond the breakable shell, something that can never be broken. The key to resilience is vulnerability and healing.
In the end, I realized (ironically enough) that the inspirational and spiritual message in The Love Mindset could be applied to The Love Mindset. I realized I needed to embrace my work with that same unconditional love.
And however long that takes, however painful it is—it’ll be worth it. Love is always worth it.