Blog#77 – Airing My Dirty Laundry

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Welcome back to my blog. Here’s the link to the audio version.

I hope things have been going OK for you. In our house, things have improved considerably thanks to talking and listening to one another about our feelings, especially in relation to the tragic death of our hockey mate, Stella. May she rest in peace. We know that we must get on with life, no matter what. The new academic year is in full swing here in the southern hemisphere, and there’s much to be done.

The overflowing laundry basket

With all members of the household back into the flow of studying, sport, leisure and gardening, the pile of dirty clothes has been building fairly quickly. As the homemaker of the family, it is my privilege to ensure the laundry basket doesn’t overflow because that would surely mess with my head. Thank goodness for the fantastic invention of the washing machine as it makes light work of the task. When I think about the plight of previous generations who had to slave over the wet washboard and flex their muscles to rinse the heavy clothes, I realise just how lucky I am. Ah, the simple pleasures of life. But as I was pulling the smelly sports shirts out of the basket the other day my mind went to a painful place. A criticism that I’d received from someone who had read one of my newspaper articles about my drinking popped into my head. On the newspaper’s Facebook post, the person commented, ‘Why is this even news! The writer is nothing but an attention seeker, airing her dirty laundry in public. Who even cares.’

Sharing is caring

The comment hurt at the time, of course it bloody did! Even if it was only for a split second. I quickly turned my attention to the emails from readers thanking me for my honesty, an honesty that they say allows them to feel less daunted in opening up about their own issues. Like most human beings, I suffer with unhelpful thoughts of self-doubt and the raw feelings of not being worthy. It isn’t always as simple as telling yourself that you are worthy. Often, we need to go deep and do the work with the help of a counsellor to unpick the causes of these thoughts and feelings. But I must admit that when I receive uplifting feedback from readers of my blog who tell me that my writing resonates with them, or gives them hope, my self-doubt dissipates for a while. It makes me think that I am living a meaningful life, that I am worthy. I find it empowering to know that in sharing my story of how I used alcohol as a coping mechanism I am helping remove some of the fear others have of facing their own unhealthy coping behaviours. While external validation and approval is helpful in the moment, it isn’t the long-term solution though. The work of unpicking the deep-rooted causes of my self-doubt and learning to accept my own worthiness is ongoing and is made easier with the help of my counsellor.

Shame and stigma in dirty laundry

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we all generate dirty laundry yet our society teaches us to hide it away. It’s a part of life unless you live in a nudist colony!  The term ‘to air one’s dirty laundry in public’ has been in use since the 1800s and is derived from the old French proverb, Il faut laver son linge en famille, meaning, ‘One should wash one’s dirty laundry at home’. Today it is used as a metaphor for not sharing things that might cause shame or embarrassment.  How many people do you know who would never dream of telling others truthfully how they’re feeling? What about people who wouldn’t dare speak to a counsellor even though all the evidence is there to show the benefits to be gained from stuff of off their chests? Why do you think they pretend that everything is rosy in their garden instead of opening up about their struggles? My own experiences have shown me that people are afraid to speak honestly because of the shame and stigma associated with not coping. It’s as though we are expected to be stoic, to hide our emotions and just pull our socks up and be bloomin’ grateful for everything we have. This makes it way harder to open up. The fear of judgement far outweighs the need to get help. Being social creatures, we are wired for connection and anything that might threaten our place in society is to be avoided at all costs. Fear of being rejected by our tribe stops us from revealing those parts of us that show our vulnerability and weakness. It requires strength to drop the fear of judgement and take a risk, a risk that many are not willing to take. But staying stuck in a place of pain and shame takes its toll in the long run and can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health. I am not suggesting that everyone should do what I did… write their story in a national newspaper. I agree that this would be a step too far for many. It was OK for me as I made a life out of challenging the status quo. I was already very used to being rejected for my outspoken ways, the black sheep. But opening up in a safe space can and does change lives.

Bound by our humanity

So, apart from the people who happily live life in the nude, we all have dirty laundry. Just remember that. Nobody is perfect. Whether it’s issues around hoarding, drinking, shopping, working too hard, pornography, gambling, drug-taking, engaging in risky sexual behaviour – the list of unhealthy coping behaviours is as long as human suffering has been a thing. Some people feel brave enough to come out on stage with their hands in the air declaring, ‘I am struggling. I need help’, others are waiting in the wings, watching, learning, and building the confidence to walk out into the light. Then there are those who so choked with fear they cannot speak. All it takes is for someone to offer them a kind ear to help them discover their strength to fight the fear and free their voice so that they can speak their truth. What binds us together is the fact that we are all struggling, in one way or another. In our humanity, we are also bound together by the fact that each one of us deserves to be happy. To be happy, in my view, is to be free of fear – your fear and my own. Fear is the greatest theft of happiness that ever darkened our door.

Light and breezy

Sometimes it’s necessary to visit a launderette to tackle the heavy load of dirty laundry that has built up over time. Ignoring it will not make it clean. Using the launderette as a metaphor for a counselling practice, it is a place we can visit to help us to clean up the mess of our past without shame or judgement. It’s practically impossible to get through life without some baggage, but we don’t have to carry it all for the rest of our lives. One way to lighten that load is through self-compassion and self-leadership. I have one life and I have the leading role in it. This means not being afraid to admit when I am not coping, taking my healing into my own hands, seeking the right support for me, and absolutely not allowing other people’s judgement to hold me back from living a life that is true and meaningful to me. Like the freshly laundered clothes that have been dried outdoors on a beautiful day, we too can find a way to refresh, start again with a clean slate and feel light and breezy. A problem shared with an empathic, caring person is a problem on its way to being solved.

Launching my counselling practice

My new counselling practice is almost up and running. While I put the finishing touches to my website, I would love to get your views on the idea of counselling in a virtual world. If you were to consider seeking the support of a counsellor, how would you feel about attending via Zoom, Skype, or other virtual meeting app? How about by phone? I’d appreciate your input. I will be offering free 15-minute consultations to explore if I might be a good fit. Please let me know if this is something that’s of interest to you. I am looking forward to being of service to people who wish to lose the shame, heal their wounded parts, and live a more authentic life.💚

Thanks for taking the time to read this far. Hope you found it helpful. Until the next time, bye for now. Love, Gill x

Gill Kenny - the Writer & Blogger

About the author – Gill Kenny

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Through my blog, I aim to provide you with a place where you can feel valued by inviting you to share your journey too.  I will regularly have guest writers who wish to share their views or experiences on each topic. I am open to ideas and happy to cover any topics that interest you, so please feel free to share yours with me.

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Love, Gill x