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‘Call Me by Your Name’: Shame, anxiety, and the practice of vulnerability.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is a beautiful Italian love story between two males set in the early 1980s. Throughout the book made movie, I was mesmerized by Elio’s courageous acts of vulnerability as he pursued his love interest Oliver. Both relented and expressed intense love, passion, longing and belonging to each other. Their expression was palpable and endearing. Elio and Oliver fought through their unwanted identities; one being gay and the other bisexual. That summer Elio pushed through his anxiety and shame, practiced vulnerability, spoke truth, moved toward uncertainty and revealed parts of himself embracing his true identity. In the end, the summer romance ended in heartbreak and anguish. Twenty years later both men meet up again and the book ends in a cliffhanger…or maybe not. Elio is once again practicing vulnerability. And that may in fact be what the entire story is about.
The story has many one liners taking on regret and shame. My favorites are included below.


‘Is it better to speak or die?’
Would Elio disclosed his adoration and attraction to Oliver? He did and death became life!

Elio thinking: ’if I were no longer transparent and could disguise so much of my life,
then I was finally safe from them, and from him—but at what price,
and did I want to be so safe from anyone?’
Would Elio hide his true desires and be free of ridicule and judgement? Would that certainty come with cost? He chose uncertainty and it yielded joy.

Elio thinking 20 years after that summer: ’Time makes us sentimental.
Perhaps, in the end, it is because of time that we suffer.’
Nostalgia is great. But if we live in it, does it keep us from moving forward? Does it hinder us from growth?

Elio thinking: ’I looked at him. This was my moment.
I could seize it or I could lose it, but either way

I knew I would never live it down.
Or I could gloat over his compliment—but live to regret everything else.
This was probably the first time in my life that I spoke to an adult without planning some of what I was going to say.
I was too nervous to plan anything.’

Get out of your head, move into your body, speak from the heart, be heard, become visible. Your body knows…let your emotions guide your story!

Elio thinking: ’I knew as soon as I’d said it that I’d broken the exiguous spell between us
…fifteen minutes ago, I was in total agony,
every nerve ending, every emotion bruised, trampled,
… pulverized till you couldn’t tell fear from anger from the merest trickle of desire
… Now that we had laid our cards on the table,
the secrecy, the shame were gone,
but with them so was that dash of unspoken hope that had kept everything alive these weeks.’
Elio spoke of shame and in doing so, he stopped shame from growing. The anxiety was gone. And as it turns, the hope kept alive those weeks did not dash, it was actualized as he persevered through his continued expression.

Elio’s story ended in painful heartbreak and disappointment. How many ‘first loves’ do? But should that keep us from loving again; abandon the practice of vulnerability? We are so brave when we are young. We feel deeply. Then sometimes we fall, just as Elio did, and heartbreak and disappointment set in, and its painful, seemingly unbearable pain. We feel as thou we will never recover. Bruised, we then run from that pain, avoiding new possibilities of love and joy that may end in disappointment and rejection. We numb or forebode joy, killing the potential for terrible endings…such painful emotions. We seek safety in disengagement or avoidance. In doing so thou, we also kill the ability to feel love, gratitude, and joy so profoundly desired. Elio’s father states it so eloquently as speaks to his heart-broken son when he learns that Oliver has moved on.

“Fear not. It will come. At least I hope it does. And when you least expect it. Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot…Right now you may not want to feel anything. Perhaps you never wished to feel anything…But feel something you did… You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you…most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent…if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!.. remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out…Right now there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.”

Such profound words. If we think about who and where we are today, there are many vulnerable acts and deeds we courageously took along the way. For some of us our endeavors end well before their time because of anxiety and the fear of feeling the emotions of our falls. We cling to certainty and let shame do us in. Vulnerability does us instead of us doing vulnerability. We forget to honor the uncertainty, risk taking, and emotional exposure that give us joy…the gratitude is gone. We forebode joy, numb, and strive for perfection. We forget that it is our imperfections, our little idiosyncratic oddities, that others love us for. Unfortunately, life is a two-way street; in dimming the bad emotions we dim the good ones too; we like vulnerability in others, yet believe it looks awful on us; we run from exposure yet we yearn to become visible; we don’t speak up, but desperately want to be heard; we express nothing, become agreeable and our needs are not met. We delude ourselves, believing certainty yields safety and security yet we are still longing for belonging. We reject vulnerability and in doing so kill our creativity and our authenticity. In short, we become emotionally bankrupt as we stifle our feelings, offering less and less of ourselves, and our hearts become worn. Thus, our story’s ending is already written. There is hope though! We don’t really know Elio’s ending but we do know that in the end of the book he is beginning to write a new ending. He is practicing vulnerability again, reckoning with his past as he drops in on Oliver 20 years after that blissful summer. Will he and Oliver end up together? That’s not really the point…it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that he getting in touch with his anger, his ‘Velvet Rage’, daring greatly, and rising strong! As long as he continues to practice vulnerability, he is living!

As adults, it is so important that we learn the skills needed to feel and heal ourselves from the many hurts and disappoints in our life that have resulted from vulnerability falls. So often we turn in towards ourselves, chastising our acts of vulnerability assuming we are defective or culpable because of painful outcomes. We forget to honor ourselves and our COURAGEOUS acts of expressed truths. Learning to rebound is essential in actualizing the love and joy we are worthy of on our quest for purpose and belonging in the one life given to us. To understand more and for help in obtaining the skills and knowledge of these pursuits check out my Daring Way™ Workshops.

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