Yesterday, two of womanhood's biggest supporters, Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter, published an anthology that just may become a life preserver for those struggling to get past the events that have shamed them.
Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small is a collection of confessions from 27 amazing women who courageously exorcise their demons by making public the very personal embarrassments and humiliations they've spent years trying to hide. There are secrets involving body image, infidelity and posing nude, and admissions of abuse, abandonment and alcoholism.
Amy and Hollye came up with the idea for the book after a year-long conversation about their own self-imposed limitations which, they had concluded, were rooted in shame. "One day we just decided to expose our shame and see what happened," recalls Hollye. "We joked about being Thelma and Louise, holding hands and jumping off the cliff together."
They both blogged about their shame on the same day, and were overwhelmed with private messages and emails from women sharing their own stories. "We knew then," says Hollye, "that everyone was suffering with a story they felt they could never tell. We thought, 'What if we all held hands and did this together?'"
The two friends put out a call to the women in their lives, asking if they would be willing to share a story they kept hidden away -- something they were ashamed of. "The response was extraordinary," remembers Amy. "Each individual essay is unique -- which is nothing short of miraculous -- and each one sheds a light on both the pain, sorrow and cruelty within human beings as well as their absolute pure beauty, kindness and magic."
Because, according to Amy, the goal was for the book to be "a collective victory for each and every one of us," it was important to have a title that reflected that feeling of empowerment.
"One day Amy said, off the cuff, 'I feel like I'm at the shame prom,' and contributor Monica Holloway jumped on that," explains Hollye. "When we saw that some people had a negative reaction to the word 'shame,' we added the 'dancing' part' because we wanted readers to know we were celebrating -- not sitting around, crying in our beers!"
Releasing their secrets has been liberating for the contributors. According to Kristine van Raden, who, along with her daughter, Kate, wrote dual essays about Kate's eating disorder:
When we pushed 'send' and knew our collective pieces were released into the world for everyone to see, we danced! We danced, we hugged, we cried and remarked over and over that even one year ago, neither of us could have imagined such a thing. We are proud of ourselves and of each other, and hope that maybe, just maybe, we can provide some hope for others who are suffering.
Amy Wise agrees:
When I was asked to be part of this amazing book, I wasn't sure if I was ready to share my 'shame,'" she admits. "In fact, I didn't think I would ever be ready. I finally chose to write my story because we have always raised our daughter to be open and honest about everything -- the good and the bad -- but I wasn't being totally honest with anyone because I continued to keep something hidden. I was carrying the shame of an abortion from many, many years ago. When I finally shared my secret, the burden was lifted, the honesty was freeing and the shame was gone. I hope my story shows others that even though this is one of the most difficult and personal decisions a woman can ever make, they are not alone and they have NOTHING to be ashamed of. Ever.
At the end of every essay, the author shares what she hopes readers will take away from her story. This support makes Dancing at the Shame Prom even more personal and valuable. If readers don't take to heart the important messages being sent here, well, that would be the real shame.
Follow Lois Alter Mark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/loisaltermark