The chemical nature of shame

My mind was in overdrive. Still winding down from work, with my Over-Stimulation Meter hitting red (thanks, in part, to the combined noise of two children clamoring for dinner) it wasn’t a surprise that I broke the plate.

It would be cliché to say I saw it in slow motion. But it sure felt like it, with 30 seconds of airtime separating release from impact. I stood still, my hands shaking, their movement betraying their guilt.

I couldn’t speak. My head dropped. I felt ashamed, as if I was 10 years old, clumsily handling the fine china after Thanksgiving dinner and dropping the gravy bowl, watching my family’s faces as they soaked in the destruction of a family heirloom.

But this was no heirloom. It was a small Fiestaware plate that can be replaced. The teacups, which have sat alongside the plates since the beginning nearly seven years ago, had already witnessed a casualty just a few months after purchase.

Sensing my frustration, Kerrie laughed. “I’m surprised we hadn’t broken one already,” she said.

Comforting, I suppose. But something about that crash, that absolute loss of control, the destruction that renders the plate useless. Despite the fact that I knew it wasn’t a big deal, I couldn’t help but be delivered to childhood, dipped in the shame that we all experienced en mass.

Breaking that plate made me a kid again. And while it wasn’t a safety mechanism, that kid-like feeling of innocent shame felt like an innate chemical, as natural as adrenaline or serotonin.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 12th, 2010