When I was a young girl, my mom urged me to repeat the prayer, “Dear St. Anthony come around something is lost and must be found”, whenever I had misplaced something. Even now, as a grown woman, I have friends who swear by St. Anthony. They suggest I call on him to find my keys or my purse in hiding. I shake my head in disbelief when they urge me to ask him for help. I grumble, “he never helped me before, why would I ask now?”
In fairness, there must have been a time when I found the lost shoe or toy, tucked away in a bedroom corner while saying the prayer. But that isn’t what I remember. I remember the time this mythical saint did NOT deliver. The time that the stakes were high, and I really, really needed help. Saying that prayer over and over didn’t make it happen; St. Anthony held out a false promise.
I gave up hope in St. Anthony when I was eight years old. I had just started wearing glasses and wasn’t happy about it. For reasons that are still unclear, I took the glasses off while making mud pies, placing them on an outdoor windowsill. I must have been afraid to muddy them, right? Searching for hours, I frantically said the prayer over and over. My mom’s voice still rings in my ears: “How could you lose your glasses? Why did you take them off? Don’t you need them to see?” Reasonable questions, for sure. The glasses weren’t found until months later, long after ordering and paying for a new pair.
When St. Anthony didn’t deliver that day, it wasn’t just disappointment that I felt; I was ashamed because I believed I wasn’t good enough. In my mind, if I prayed hard enough and was good enough, then he would perform his magic and save me from trouble. From that point on, my memory was that St. Anthony NEVER delivered. It seemed that I was always losing things, often in trouble for it, and always carrying an extra load of shame for being the girl who couldn’t keep it all together. If St. Anthony didn’t “come around” to help me find my lost items, I must be bad, I must have too little faith and I must be lazy with my bedtime prayers.
To my dismay, 40 years later, I sometimes slip into the shame of that little girl when I lose my keys, cell phone, important papers, etc. I still carry a small resentment towards St. Anthony but it has become a funny joke, rather than an angry rant. I have declared a truce with this saint and more importantly, with the critical, blaming parts of myself. I didn’t just arrive at this truce-it took a lot of help and guidance from a trusted therapist, wise spiritual teachers, compassionate friends and carefully chosen family members. It has also meant developing a lot of self-awareness through meditation, yoga, writing, dance, and self-expression.
It is my belief that many of us are in recovery from something, but we are all in recovery from shame. My work with clients almost always includes rooting out the voices that carry the shame messages to find understanding and self-compassion. I love this work! Realizing those voices are only a part of you is the beginning of the amazing journey in recovery from shame. Once the voices are recognized, the heart of this life-changing work begins. Compromise, agreement, negotiation, discussion and quieting the blaming and shaming parts becomes possible and we recognize that the voice is not who we are. We don’t have to be run by the shame tapes! Gradually, we hold our heads higher, speak with more confidence, trust our decision making, appreciate our relationships, and even laugh with ourselves.
I still lose things and there are times when I don’t find them. What I can find now, though, is the voice that says “Oh, honey. We all lose things. You’re human!”.