Shame (#45,232)

I think I had come to take this blog for granted, neglecting the importance its very existence played for me. When, some months ago, I put it behind a password, I felt a sting, an immediate sense of loss. And as it disappeared from Google’s search results, that sense of loss deepened. Years ago, I tracked my statistics obsessively, compulsively. How many visitors I had each day, how many new, how many returning. I observed how people found me, how long they stayed, and which pages they viewed. I was hungry for traffic, for attention. I delighted every time someone visibly became obsessed with the blog. I set up a notification so that if someone clicked on more than ten pages, I got an email.

I didn’t learn anything particularly intrusive or specific about my viewers. I learned roughly where they were (if they weren’t behind a VPN). With a little effort, I could track returning viewers who didn’t make attempts to anonymize themselves. But all of this was really just in service of narcissistic gratification, of little jolts of dopamine that signified to me that I was good, that I was desirable, that someone found me interesting. Over the years, my compulsive, obsessive attention to these metrics waned. I paid less attention to new and intense visitors. The email notifications persisted, not so much because I craved them but because I didn’t bother to shut them off.

When the web page went dark, when I put the blog behind a password, my viewership plummeted, naturally. The only people who visited the blog were those who explicitly asked me for the password or who guessed it. I went from two hundred or more visitors a day to somewhere between zero and twenty. I wouldn’t have guessed how much this hurt me, but it did. There was, of course, the loss of narcissistic gratification associated with my vanishing from the search results. But the more pernicious, slow-rolling, subtle, and unexpected result was that my shame mounted. I found myself confronting feelings I hadn’t had in more than a decade, a sense of badness, of disgustingness, of undesirability. This was in spite of the fact that I’m objectively hotter than I’ve ever been, more successful, thinner, better looking, more muscular, more fit, not to mention smarter, wiser, and possessing other virtues.

My access to women outside of my marriage atrophied, partly, I think, because of changes in the dating landscape, partly because of changes in the apps, and I suppose partly because of my advancing age. But most of all, I think, my impediment was the hit to my confidence, the undermining effect that my mounting shame had. No one said it, but the knowledge that somehow there was something so dangerous about my blog that I needed to protect it and me from being seen was toxic. It was poison. And the poison festered in my system, its effects worsening with each passing day.

When recently I removed the password, I was shocked at just how instant, how powerful the relief I felt was. My confidence skyrocketed. My attractiveness skyrocketed. My prospects skyrocketed. I went from having no dates to having a plethora of possible dates. My writing, which had been paralyzed, unlocked. I found myself with a long list of draft posts to work on, topics I wanted to write about, feelings I wanted to explore.

I’ve always known intellectually that sunlight is the best cure for shame, but I had forgotten that in my body.

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