I remember learning what shame feels like...
Early in the morning, 5:30 or 6 am, I would rise and go downstairs into the living room before anyone else woke up. This was my favorite part of the day. It was just me and my books. I was 6 years old, and I would sit on the brown couch with a volume of the Childcraft library and read until Mom woke up to get our day rolling. The volume I read the most was called "Look Again", and it was full of works of art, from Jasper Johns to Picasso to daVinci and Rembrandt. I loved it. I'd pour over the pictures again and again.
I discovered that if I held the book just right, the hard part of the spine made me feel...well...very good. I had no idea why it made me feel good, but it did, so I'd sit there with the book between my legs. It was as mindless as wrapping your hair around your finger or sucking your thumb.
One morning my mother came out of her bedroom and discovered me sitting in this way. She erupted in disgust. "Shame on you, you dirty girl! That's disgusting!! I don't ever want to see you doing that again!" The book was ripped out of my hands and I was marched to the bathroom to wash. Reading was wrong? Or was feeling good wrong? I was very confused. I felt a hot burning on my cheeks, and guilt that was unattached to any action, as far as I could tell. This was shame--an embarrassed confusion covered with anger...I had finally discovered an activity that I had to hide from my mother.
Over the next years, I continued to find ways to "feel good", and felt dirtier and dirtier. I was very good at hiding it. It wasn't until I was in Grade 5 and read a book by Judy Blume that I discovered I wasn't the only person in the world who enjoyed the feeling I got from rubbing my genitals. I nearly cried as I read that book. I had thought I was some kind of freak, that I was broken in some way...and here I was normal. It was a shocking thing to realize.