Overcoming Shame – A Big Step on a Man’s Journey


I moved to Minnesota in February 1989 for all of the wrong reasons. I thought it was for a woman. I was wrong. I thought it was to complete a CD counselor training program at Hazelden. Wrong again.

With the grace of hindsight, it is easy for me to see why I moved to Minnesota. The move was simply the next step in my journey of healing, perhaps the first in my awakening as a man. But let me back up a few steps to give you a broader perspective.

I officially began this journey of self-discovery in November 1985, as my Jeep skidded off a curve into the wet dark chill of the night. This would be my last drunk. Thirty days at Spofford Hall in New Hampshire and six months at Opportunity House in Springfield, Massachusetts and I would hardly recognize myself.

Amherst, Massachusetts beckoned, and I found my first real home. A genuine family grew around my yearning heart AA and “A Course in Miracles” soothed my aching soul. I truly felt as if I was being reborn. And Amherst was a fine place in which to learn to walk all over again.

I promised myself three years of simple living, so that I might keep a clear focus on my new priorities. I didn’t own a car. My home-owning past was now unthinkable. I would only work a half-time job, and this at something heart-centered. I worked for Howard, a middle-aged fellow with advanced MS.

I look back fondly on this time of earnest awakening. I can chuckle as I think of how hard I tried to be “good.” I volunteered at my church. I volunteered at the local prison. I performed some “secret service” in local parks. All this, perhaps, as attempts to undo all the years of “badness.”

Amherst was a sweet womb, a very intellectual, politically correct, environmentally sensitive place. It was safe and maternal, and I took a stance decidedly anti-male. This was a reaction against my father, whom I told I could not see. He was still an active alcoholic, very wounded and very wounding. I stayed away from him during this Amherst era, even denying his request to come and carry his mother’s casket.

Oh, how I wept, especially that day. My father’s only son turning against him. Abandoning the only father I would ever have. I knew that I was doing what I had to do, and the pain was immense. I witnessed now the agony from which all the drugs and alcohol and unconscious sex and endless moves had shielded my tender heart.

At my three-year anniversary in recover, I was ready to move on. Ready to claim a bit more power, to begin to assert myself in my world. Some kind of career in the healing profession was beckoning. I had known this since I was a young man, when I had heard an inner Voice speaking what seemed startling truths.

I trusted the current manifestation of this Voice, which now called me to Minnesota. Through my confusion and homesickness for Amherst, the Voice held firm. Through my expulsion from Hazelden, the suicide of my sister, Lynn, and the breakdown of my first romance in the heartland, the Voice held firm. I was to stay here in Minnesota.

As “coincidence” would have it, I was soon sharing an apartment in St Paul with a woman who was hosting an intensive men and women’s intimacy group. I was invited. Six men and six women. Of the men, I was the only one who was not “initiated” through the New Warrior Adventure Training Weekend. After I worked through my fear, which always shows itself as contempt, I realized that these guys had something which I desperately wanted.

I used money as a stalling technique, but eventually went to Milwaukee in August 1990. It was crystal-clear why I came to Minnesota now. By entering a very supportive community of men, I was given the tools and the help with which to do some tough work. To truly move into my power as a man, to find release from the shackles of shame, I had to close some of the gap with my father and create some distance with my mother.

I, like so many men, growing up with a distant father, had become very female dependent. All of my need for acceptance had come from three sisters and a mother. And, equally crippling, all of the “good” male energy for my mother and sisters had to come from you know who. I performed very well for women all my life, and I resented this role tremendously.

The hardest thing I have ever done in my healing journey is pushing my mother away, exposing our “secret” in the process. With all my awareness, immersed in a loving brotherhood, I was at my threshold of anxiety. The thought of being a “motherless child” was unthinkable. I felt myself to be at the very bottom of an immense abyss. And I understood my sister’s suicide for the first time.

That was three years ago. I could tell you wonderful stories about my “new” relationship with my father. Suffice it for now to say that he came out to stay with my wife, Suzanne, and me not long ago. A whole week. It wasn’t always a joy, but there was joy. I can tell him today how much I love him, and he tells me the same. This alone is a miracle.

With my mother the progress is slow. I don’t know if she and I will ever be very close again. I do love her, but it is this separation with her which has allowed me to settle happily into a committed relationship with Suzanne. Another miracle.

As a man, I need a primal intimacy with other men. This is my foundation to self-acceptance. An essential part of my spirituality which was missing in earlier days. I loved God dearly in my early recovery. I could sing “Amazing Grace” with the best of them. But I still held myself in contempt. My “dark side” was frightening.

Like AA taught me about alcoholism and “A Course in Miracles” taught me about my sense of separation from God, “men’s work” teaches me about being a man. Overcoming gender shame is a huge step in my journey. I need to feel acceptable in this male body.

I have found great blessings in my participation at The Men’s Center, the premiere men’s organization in the Twin Cities. I found comfort and guidance with many “men’s work” professionals in town, several of whom are represented in this issue. There is probably no metropolitan area in the country with a better representation of “men’s work” groups and individual practitioners. I am grateful to now include myself in their ranks.

In this man’s healing journey, I found that I could bless myself first as a spiritual being, second as a human being, and finally as a man. This, for me, is coming home, in body, mind, and spirit I give thanks.

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