by Sara Daves
I wrote this talk in 2019 when I was asked to speak at CARE Talks at the McShin Foundation, a peer-to-peer recovery center in Richmond, Va.
I feel these words are especially important now, considering all the world is going through. We are witnessing yet another wave of major division – in many ways, and for many reasons.
My son’s life taught me how our societal structures perpetuate separation through shame. It’s the easiest way to divide and conquer and establish control. What if we could leave the old paradigm of blame and shame behind, and do something different?
I want to talk to you about two dualistic, opposing forces: separation and connection. I want you to keep these two words in mind during this talk.
Four years ago, my son Trey, died of a drug overdose. And it happened six weeks after he came home from a five-year prison sentence.
Trey went to a good school, he had plenty of friends, we lived in a sought-after neighborhood. He started college at 16 years old. He spent his childhood playing sports and volunteering in the community. He was a confidant for many of his friends and he really cared about people. Everyone had high expectations for his life, which looked nothing like what he would go on to experience.
Everyone said, ‘This was not supposed to happen to kids like him.’
When he was 18 years old, he was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. His public defender told us that the jury would NOT be that of his peers, and so they figured he had a 50/50 chance of spending 25 years behind bars. But if he pleaded guilty, his plea deal would shorten that time to five years. We had an impossible decision to make.
While Trey was in prison, he stayed busy serving people. He served as a litigator for inmates who received charges on the inside. He pulled together volunteers to start baseball teams and to rebuild the volleyball court. He taught people how to read. He met men who would spend the rest of their lives in prison. And that gave him a profound sense of gratitude for his own situation because he found connection while he was there.
He really saw the other inmates and understood what happened to them and how they ended up in the system. His level of compassion grew tremendously and that is how he found his purpose during those years. He stayed positive, even in the midst of what he described as “daily emotional violence.”
Right before he came home, he admitted to me that he was afraid to leave. He said, “Mom, I’m afraid to come home. I was just a normal kid before I got here, and in here, I’m a genius. But when I get out, I’m just a felon with without an education.”
My heart sank.
Emotional violence breeds shame, and he was caught in a shame cycle.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about shame. I’ve created an acronym that describes the internal state of SHAME, and that is: Self Hatred Attracts Malignant Epilogues.
Essentially, when you don’t love yourself, you attract toxicity and destruction.
And since you are the creator of your reality, the way you see yourself dictates all of your external experiences. When we experience shame, it means that we feel that something is fundamentally flawed within us. Not that we did something bad, but that we ARE bad. We reject certain parts of ourselves after the sting of rejection by others.
I tried to calm his fears by reminding him how amazing he was and that he had a solid support system back home, and also how much he was loved. And when he came home, we were both optimistic. All of his friends flocked to him, he had a job and a car within one day. He planned on going back to college in the fall.
But all the goodness happening in his life wasn’t enough to pull him out of that shame cycle. He dreamed about prison every night. And he was on probation, so he wasn’t allowed to travel to all the places he wanted to go. He was still imprisoned, just not behind bars. He was reminded every day that his status in his community was at the very bottom.
This is how the systems we have in place create separation. What systems am I talking about?
I’m talking about the school system for one – It was designed to support the Industrial Revolution and groom factory workers to work as many hours as efficiently as possible. That concept is still in place.
And then we have the corporate environment. Over time, it has transformed from doing good for the people into toxic environments that are doing nothing more than creating wealth for a small group of people. And in these environments the people work to keep the corporate structure intact. And corporations cannot support the people who work for it, because its primary focus is stakeholder supremacy, and that has become law.
And the justice system: It is the oldest system we have in place in the industrial world. And it is the foundation for all the other systems. Its primary function is to create separation through punishment, and it steals our conflicts from us.
All these systems bleed into one another. Just look at corporatized prisons and the school-to-prison pipeline. These systems encourage us to serve our own self-interests without regard for how it impacts other people or anything else. And shame is used to enforce this concept.
It’s a systems’ failure on the grandest scale.
Separation is the root cause of every single problem we have in the world. Family feuds, divorce, world hunger, addiction, all forms of harm – more people than ever are experiencing heightened levels of loneliness, and this is how wars are made – by feeling separate from other people. It’s a painful experience.
I’ve also created an acronym that describes the external outcome of SHAME from a systems’ perspective. And that is: Separating Humanity Actualizes Mindless Enslavement.
Think about that. Separating Humanity Actualizes Mindless Enslavement.
Essentially, separation creates an opening for slavery in many forms.
We are never going to be able to FIX these broken systems. Instead, we have to dismantle them, and the way we do this is to stop participating in them.
My son’s life inspired me to do my part to dismantle these broken systems, by teaching people to love themselves and how to show up authentically and claim their own unique gifts. And also to own their conflicts so they can heal them.
All this becomes easier to do when you understand that you are a divine human being who is connected to every other divine being on this planet.
We are all beautiful and unique expressions of source consciousness. Quantum physics teaches us that connection is our true reality.
If we are all connected, then our wellbeing is crucial to the wellbeing of everyone and everything. And so that means that we have to care about our natural talents, gifts and abilities and our purpose here on this planet.
The way we move out of separation and into connection is through recognizing our shared humanity. And then compassion grows. And compassion leads us to discovering our passions. Think of the word compassion: Come – passion. That’s how our purpose finds us.
To know yourself is to heal yourself. And when you heal, you naturally stop participating in broken societal systems and you stop perpetuating the shame cycle.
When Trey died, his friends began getting tattoos of the word “Love” written in his handwriting from the letters he wrote from prison. I’ve got one too. Now, lots of people have this tattoo, even people who never received letters from him and people who didn’t even know him very well. This beautiful representation of connection was inspired by a young man who spent five years in prison and died of an overdose.
I want to leave you with this: The fact that you even exist means that you are a divine badass, and that you have something unique and beautiful to share with the world. The fastest way to change the world is to be the change. And to do this, you must understand that you are a unique and beautiful person, connected to everyone and everything.