Shame. It’s the only thing you see as you catch a glimpse of yourself in the hallway mirror. Not your smile. Not your hair. Not the color of the shirt you’re wearing. Only the mask of shame and secrecy…and the longing to be free of what has stolen so many years of your life.

You’ve heard other people talk about how they’ve healed from their pasts and been able to release the power it has on them, but you struggle to believe it could ever be a reality for you. You’re so desperate for it to be true, yet you don’t know how or where to begin to even entertain the idea.

1. Put Pen to Paper. Even if you start with “I don’t even know where to start…” putting pen to paper and writing down EVERY.SINGLE.THING you’ve allowed fear and shame to hide from others and yourself, do it! This powerful exercise allows you to see the past for what it is and was, to become more present with who you are because of those experiences, and to realize you’ve been doing the very best you could each step of the way. You’re in no way the same person you were when you the shame process began, so allow your pen to help you free your mind of the lies and secrets because once shame has been illuminated, it can no longer survive.

2. Linger in the Valley. Exposing shame to the light will most definitely bring up some of the very same emotions you’ve become as master at avoiding. In order to heal, however, it’s imperative to give yourself permission to linger in the valley — but not to take up residence — in order to feel, cry, be angry, resent and even hate. You’ll be tempted to play the “Yeah, but…” and “If only I had…” game with your past, but stay strong and hold close to you the fact that you can never know what you don’t know until you know it. You couldn’t have possibly done anything different all those years ago because you didn’t have the knowledge you have now. If you have to make it your manta, keep telling yourself over and over and over again until you can own this truth about yourself: Your best IS good enough — it always has been and always will be.

Remember to keep journaling as you continue to heal so you’ll be able to remind yourself how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time.

3. Forgive. It doesn’t matter whether or not your past holds an addiction, an affair, a little white lie that’s haunted you for 21.4 years or something you had absolutely no control over, forgiveness is the next step in the healing process. To forgive doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination you’re excusing the offense; it simply means you’re finally willing to release the power it’s had over you all this time. It means you’ve done enough work on yourself to realize you made the best choice you possibly could in each situation and you are stronger and wiser because of it. You were even blessed enough to have gained a valuable perspective from whatever it was that happened to be able to help someone else make it through a struggle of their own.

4. Share. Once you feel strong enough to finally share your past with someone other than the person in the mirror, choose a confidant you know will only have your best interests and continued growth at heart. This person will be the one to hold you in the light, love you unconditionally and who won’t try to “one-up” you with, “Oh, please. You think that’s bad? What till I tell you what I did!” Surround yourself with the select few who will sit with you in the pain until it no longer hurts…or at the very least begins to hurts less.

Your journey is made up of either experiences or lessons, all of which were necessary to develop you into the powerful, resilient, compassionate, loving person you are today. It’s time for you to walk in your true identity. Bless your lessons, embrace your experiences and live the life you were created to live…starting today!