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Carly Keyes: Leaving my shame behind

By Carly Keyes, Daily Health and Fitness Columnist
Published February 6, 2014

“I’m sorry for your pain.”

That’s what someone told me recently after hearing a song I wrote for my upcoming album, and it’s not the first time. It’s not the first time that someone’s recognized the unmistaken, palpable agony in my voice and lyrics and then apologized for the evident, all-consuming pain.

I don’t share openly about my trials with mental illness because I want sympathy. At one point in my life, sympathy was like oxygen; I needed it to survive. But I don’t need it today. I’m not sorry for my pain. I am sorry that I thought I ever needed to hide it.

I speak up despite the social stigma because I’m hoping it might encourage others to do the same — to feel comfortable enough to share their struggles with mental illness, too. I used to think that my problems — alcoholism, depression, perfectionism — were so unique. But I quickly learned that it’s not my struggles that are unique; it’s my willingness to share about them.

Every time I watch “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and I hear James Lipton ask his guests during the famous exit interview, “What is your least favorite word?” I know my answer: Shame. It’s an ugly word, it’s an awful emotion and it’s killing people left and right by keeping them from asking for the help they so desperately need.

In my last column, I focused on another emotion, fear, and how letting it run my life will dampen my dreams and prevent me from living life to the fullest. But if I let shame fester and infiltrate my soul, this toxic emotion will prevent me from living period . It’ll get me alone, keep me alone and prey on my self-worth until there’s nothing left.

I’ll never know the true extent of the harm I caused while in my addiction as I spent hours upon hours blacked out, but I do vividly remember plenty of embarrassing, shudder-worthy incidents, and these memories constantly tempt me to spiral into a shame attack: I drove drunk hundreds of times — with unsuspecting passengers in my car — and got arrested twice (the first time I was in a bathing suit). I spent two weeks in Oakland County jail. I woke up next to men whose names I never learned. I stole from my loved ones and blamed it on other people. I lied and lied and lied and lied … and while today the idea of taking my own life sounds more than foreign, at one time it wasn’t. At one time, I was in that place.

I remember first hearing about the concept of suicide as a young girl, and it confused me. I didn’t understand what might lead someone to viewing death as a viable option — until that someone became me on a Sunday night in the fall of 2009. I remember it was a Sunday because I had been watching an awards show with my younger sister earlier that evening. I love my sister dearly, and some of the best memories I have are of us making music together, whether onstage or in the studio. The beautiful sound of our voices blending together is a fitting metaphor for our relationship — harmony at its best.

But even though I had the love of my sister, a devoted family and sea of friends in my heart and an abundance of passion for athletics, academics and art in my soul, I also had a physical ailment in my brain: A vicious pair of mental health disorders known as addiction and depression, and I was drowning in a well of shame — filled to the brim and spilling over the edges — and instead of swimming, I decided it would be easier just to sink. Yes, that night I decided that it would be better to die than admit that I was an alcoholic suffering from depression who couldn’t get sober and stay happy when left to my own devices.