The What I Be Project changed my life. Before I go sounding like an infomercial, let me back up a bit.

It started with a clip of an article – a quick blurb on Twitter or Facebook, I don’t remember which, just one of the feeds I scan daily. I was sitting in the classroom as I clicked on the link for more information. Steve Rosenfeld’s What I Be Project sounded interesting: the idea that one can build security through insecurity using a picture. The project is a photograph (headshot) with the subject’s greatest insecurity written somewhere on the face or hands and a caption of “I am not my _____.” But the pictures are just the beginning, every one of them has a story. It is not a static moment in time, as many photographs are, but a continuous struggle of one person’s fight within themselves.

Soon I was back to the reality of concentrating on my class. The article gone but never forgotten. As the day wore on my brain continued to mull over what I had read and seen. My own image hit me like a ton of bricks and I knew what the day’s therapy topic was going to be.

Handing her my cell phone, I asked my therapist to read the article. “Powerful,” she said. “So what is your caption?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “That is what we need to talk about today.” Perhaps, I am backwards, I close my eyes and see my headshot as it would be in print, but its caption is missing.

“Tell me what you see,” she says softly and I begin.

I close my eyes and see myself. I am not smiling nor frowning; truth be told, I look vulnerable. (Not something I am used to seeing in myself). My contacts are in making my eyes look a bit greener than they are usually. My red hair falls down past my shoulders. My right hand brushes back the bangs, though as usual, one wisp escapes adding most of an exclamation point to the word written in black bold letters across my forehead: WHORE.

She looks momentarily shocked as my eyes open, but recovers herself quickly. And it all begins to pour out of me. The child looking for love and finding sex; the sexually repressed household in which I was raised; the horror of being sexually assaulted and not being believed; the horror of waking up without clothes in a strange place feeling bruised and sore and remembering nothing; the teasing of having to take a pregnancy test at the doctor’s office; the use of sex to get what I wanted from relationships or in order to keep a relationship; the inability to orgasm until many, many years after I began having sex; the being bored or analytical during sex; the being so good at play that he finishes and it can be over faster; the blame of cheating; the allowing myself to be sexually abused; and the self hatred.

When I am empty; when I have nothing left to say, she starts. I need to give myself some of the compassion that I so easily show to others; I need to realize that none of this makes me “bad” or “evil”- that much of it was not my fault. Yes, I might have made poor choices, but that doesn’t give others the permission to hurt me. I don’t “deserve” any of it. Humans make mistakes, but they forgive themselves and move on.

When I left, much later than the 50 minutes I was usually allotted, I felt lighter, almost hopeful. I had always thought that locking away my demons would be less painful, but in opening the door to the light of day, they seem to have diminished if not disappeared.

Huh, I guess I am human and I am not my Shame.