Pressing Past Shame

September 3, 2019

I was swindled. Duped.  Conned. And I am so freaking mad at myself!  Let me tell you what happened.

My youngest kid transitioned into college and was in need of a car. Nothing too fancy, just something reliable, safe and with working AC (cuz it’s hot in Texas).  

Anyway, a friend of mine recommended that I look on Facebook for people in the area selling their vehicles for cash.  She said she’d gotten one for her kid and found good deals.

I was hesitant, but she assured me it was good, explaining that many people sell their cars instead of trading them in to get maximum money. I’ve sold a few things and bought a few things from FB, so I know it can be good for stuff like that, but a car? She cautioned me to make sure to get the car checked out by an independent mechanic before purchasing.  

I discovered that most sellers were more than willing to let me get the car checked prior to purchasing.  However, what ended up happening was that by the time I was able to schedule an appointment with the mechanic, another buyer would come along and take it.

I’d been looking for weeks and had driven all around the city searching for something in my price range.  I’d finally found a guy near my home.  He was an actual dealer, but had a stroke and couldn’t handle the big lot, anymore, so he purchased and sold several cars at a time from his home.

The cars were fairly priced, and he, too, was willing to let me take it to a mechanic prior to purchasing.  Thing is, people were buying up his cars pretty fast, and he wouldn’t hold them. I know this for a fact because he’d had several cars I was interested in which sold within a day or two, including one we test drove and were interested in but was gone by the next morning.  I was always a day late and a dollar short.

Anyway, crunch time was upon us.  

My son’s classes were starting soon, and we didn’t have a car.  I’d thought I’d found a good deal on a used Honda 35 miles away at a big Acura dealership. I’d confirmed they had it on the lot the night before and made an appointment with the sales guy. We made the hour long journey just to discover that “someone bought it this morning.”

I was ticked.  

Mostly because I didn’t (and still don’t) believe someone bought the car that morning.  I’m pretty sure it was a bait and switch, because the guy tried to sell me a brand new car for 17k even though I told him I was looking for a low priced, used car.

Disappointed and admittedly stressed, we were driving home, and my son discovered the small-time dealer in our neighborhood had another car.  A nice car.  Low mileage, working AC and in our price range.  We stopped at his home and decided to take it for a spin.  We all instantly loved it. The engine purred like it was brand new; the body style was nice, and the AC cranked out breezy, ice cold air.

Problem was, it was Saturday.  My normal mechanic was closed.  On the way over, I’d called other local mechanics with good reputations, but they were booked.  We called nearly every mechanic in the area, even Walmart, to see if they could just do a new car check.

No luck.

Dealer dude, (we’ll call him Ben), says, “Ok. I can’t give you a bumper to bumper warranty on the car, but I can certainly give you a 30 day warranty on the engine and transmission. You’ll know in 30 days if you have a lemon or not. I sell quality cars, and I want you to be comfortable with your purchase. When you take it to get it checked out, let me know what they say.  If you find anything major, we’ll take care of it.”

I need to note that the ad stated the car had no accidents, no flood damage and was rated in “very good condition”, and that dealers cannot legally sell a car which cannot pass state inspection.

After some internal debating and discussion with my wife, we decided to purchase it. I felt that most major repair costs have to do with the engine and transmission.  We have that covered; that’s in writing.  The tires were darn near new.  No repair lights were on. The brakes felt great. If anything else was majorly wrong, I figured I could sink a few dollars into to get it fixed.

We were relieved he finally had transportation before school started.  You might’ve even seen the video I posted of him driving it home.

Well, I took it to my mechanic to get the checkup and state inspection, and I’m sure you can guess by now what happened…it turned out to be huge lemon.  

Fourteen fault codes showed up. Fourteen!!! Faulty brakes, engine trouble, major electrical trouble…list went on and on!

When I asked the mechanic why there were no warning lights on, she said because someone must’ve shut them off, and it needs to go through a full drive cycle, anywhere from 50-150 miles, before the lights come back on. He’d barely driven it 30. They suspected it was a flood car and told me it needed thousands of dollars of work before it could even pass inspection, and suggested that I return it.

Long story short, when I went back to good ‘ol honest Ben, he refused to get it fixed by anyone other than his mechanic. Yeah, the same one who turned off all the lights and supposedly made sure everything was up to par, per state regulation.

When I refused and demanded to return the car, his horns came out, and he barked, “I’m not in the business of giving money back.”

I could’ve vomited, I was so upset.  

My kid had been driving an unsafe car. I’d saved up and spent 4k on a lemon.  I was overwhelmed by a tsunami of shame.

I mean, how could I have been so stupid!?!? How could I let that little slime ball con me out of 4k and put my baby in an unsafe vehicle? In fact, I felt so ashamed, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted to keep it secret.

I was so embarrassed.

At first, I put him on blast on Facebook and a couple of other sites so people in the community would stop going to him, but some of the comments I received were horrible and sent me deeper into my downward shame spiral.  

I sat kneeling on the floor by the side of my bed, completely weighted down by shame. Unable to stand. Unable to talk. Unable to process. Unable to problem solve.  I just sat…inert with humiliation.

Then, I remembered Brene Brown, the shame expert.  Still anchored to the floor, I googled her name and found this video:

Three things which shame needs to survive:

1. Secrecy

2. Silence

3. Judgment

I had all three going for me.  Let me tell you, it was debilitating.  I see why people stay silent.  The judgment and criticism I received was nasty and cruel. I took down my posts, warning the community, in less than fifteen minutes.  Enter the secrecy element.

I can’t tell anyone this happened to me.  I can’t deal with any more judgment.  They’re right. This is my fault. I am so stupid. I’m not going to tell anyone this happened. My son is going to be so disappointed. I am not going to even tell the mechanic I can’t return it. They’ll laugh in my face or give me that: “Boy, you screwed up, didn’t ya” look.

I could almost feel myself physically crumpling under the weight of shame.

If I was going to get out of this downward spiral and move forward, I needed to listen to the shame expert.  Per Dr. Brene Brown, three things that need to happen to overcome shame:

1. Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love about it

2. Reach out to someone you trust

3. Tell your story – Shame cannot survive being spoken

Shellye, my wife, helped me with number one. She said, “If I had saved up all my money to buy our son a car and this happened, what would you say to me?”

That was easy.

I looked at her and said, “You are not stupid! Don’t even say that!  You are a good, thoughtful and kind mom. You were doing a good thing.  We both saw a few small signs, but neither one of us thought it was enough to cancel the deal. It was a tough situation, and he was being completely dishonest. You were just trying to make this work. He was a con man doing a good con. You wouldn’t have known that he had no problem breaking the law. We were at his home for goodness sake! At his kitchen table!! His kids were there! That doesn’t make you stupid. That makes you human.  But that makes him unscrupulous. He is the one in the wrong in this scenario, not you.”

I said other choice words that may be offensive to some members of my audience, so I left them out. ;)

Then she repeated back to me what I’d said to her.  I realized in that moment that one of my triggers for shame is making mistakes. I was okay with Shellye making a mistake, but not me.  Recognizing triggers around shame builds resilience to it.

Let me tell you something people, I plan on becoming immune.

Next, I reached out to a few friends whom I trust. One in particular really helped.  She was affirming, supportive and compassionate.  Her empathy was a cool, healing balm on my soul.  

Lastly, I am telling my story.  I’m telling it to you.  I am also telling it to a lawyer, but that’s a story for another day. I am telling you because shame is an overwhelming and incapacitating emotion. It can come from so many different places:  sexual abuse, indiscretions, addictions, gaslighting, infidelity, failure, and lapses in judgment, just to name a few.  It can literally and figuratively shut us down.

I don’t need to know your exact story to know the effect that shame has had on you.  You can push through it though, and it’s worth the work it takes to do it.  

Because I was able to navigate my way through that shame spiral (Thank you Brene Brown), I learned a valuable lesson (and not the one the internet trolls tried to teach me).

After some introspection, I discovered that I have a tendency not to listen to my gut when certain factors are present. I looked at several events in my life where I went against my gut and came out on the losing end. I tried to find commonalities.  I learned that I tend to be more susceptible to predators when I feel:

1. External pressure - “Time’s running out. This is the last time this will be available. Better act quickly.”

2. Internal pressure - “Lynnette, you better get this done, ASAP. Things are going to fall apart if you don’t do something, now…”

3. That I am doing something for someone else’s benefit  - “Getting a much needed car for my son, buying my wife something she loves and needs”

One or even two of those factors alone do not make me susceptible. I still can counter them, listen to my gut, and make better decisions, but when all three are present, I tend to make more concessions than I would otherwise. This is valuable information for me.

Moving forward, it will keep me safe. The next time I am in a situation where I feel pressured to go against my gut, I can stop and think, “Are the three gremlins present?” If so, then I know to listen to my gut and walk away.  

Had I stayed in the shame cycle, I would not have been able to find ways to grow resilient from it and would remain vulnerable to predators and con artists looking to do what they do best…steal, kill and destroy.

You know you’re in the shame spiral when you intentionally keep something secret, are judgmental of yourself and/or receive judgment from others about it and stay silent about it, even when asked to discuss it.

If that describes you, GET OUT OF THERE NOW!!! It’s a trap. Talk to yourself like you would someone you love, reach out to someone who you KNOW you can trust and who will offer empathy and support, and lastly, tell your story.  

When you are free of shame, look back and examine that situation. Try to find your triggers, thought patterns and behaviors which make you susceptible to shame.  In essence, learn about yourself without judging yourself.  Gain insight which will help you the next time you come across a predator or find yourself in a vulnerable state.  

Practical ways to kick shame in the butt:

1. Think about the situation in your life which causes you to feel shame. Imagine someone you love coming to you for support and love with that same situation. Write a letter to them. Take the letter and read it out loud to yourself.

2. Think about the last time you felt ashamed.  Don’t judge it as good or bad, just recall the events. Do they have anything in common? Can you identify at least three commonalities? What triggers can you identify?  Write them down. Keep watch for them the next time you start to go down the shame spiral.  

3. If you have been holding a secret which brings you shame, think of one person you can tell. Make sure it is someone you can trust. If you can’t trust a friend or family member, a counselor’s office is a great place to let go of long held secrets.

4. Tell your story.  Once you feel strong enough, and you know can handle whatever comes, tell your story to help others who need you.

5. React with empathy. When you are online or talking with friends, listen to a story carefully.  If you are tempted to respond with criticism or judgment, rethink it.  Instead offer empathy and support. You never know who is on the brink of suicide and your words could pull them back or push them over.

Thank you for reading my story. Thank you for listening and caring.  If you haven’t done it yet, scroll down to the bottom and the page and sign up to receive articles in your email. I'd love to spend just a few moments together each week learning to live, love and laugh out loud.

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