Monday, June 3, 2013

Today's Confession: Shame (on Me)

I am a believer in Jesus Christ, and I struggle with shame and insecurity.

If you have never had moments of utter rejection and loneliness; if you have never experienced fear; if you have never understood what it is like to go without - without touch, affection, kind words, compassion, safety, nurture, or basic human care; if you have never been lied to or cheated on; if you have never lost a loved one; if you have never done something that you do not want anyone to know about - ever - then you will not understand this confession.

It is surprisingly easy to pretend that I do not have shame and insecurity issues.  The only signs, unless I know how to pay attention, are certain emotional or irrational moments, a few incongruous patterns, some transient anxiety, or the one or two things that never seem to quite work right in my life.  I usually have to clear away the distractions, the numbness or apathy or anger, the busyness, the activities, the denial to find that shame and insecurity are there.  They are the things that whisper to me in the dark, quiet places of my soul and tell me that I am worthless, that I am ugly, that I am a failure, and that things will never get better - I will never feel safe, I will never be protected, I will never be loved.  They point out every flaw, every failure, and every piece of evidence to that end - and there is plenty.

Needless to say, fear and depression are natural byproducts of shame.  My perfectionism took root here in the past, as well, along with codependency, hiding, intellectualism, over-spiritualization, over-achievement, obsession with looking good on the outside, anti-social behavior, appeasing, self-harming, suicidal ideation, prescription drug abuse and, finally, a suicide attempt.  Shame has prompted me to reject before I can be rejected, to judge others in a desperate attempt to self-protect, and, ironically, to tolerate neglect and abuse - not just tolerate them but cling to them.

All of these behaviors are isolating, self-destructive, and they only cause more shame, which keeps me locked into my cycle.  But it is this last part - the abusive and neglectful relationships part of my story - that is the source of my greatest shame.  I have walked naively into dangerous situations. I have passively allowed myself to be victimized - worse, I have even participated in my victimization.  And I have hurt others.  In the course of my life I have been selfish, unloving, manipulative, avoidant, calculating, and dishonest.

I am confessing this for two reasons:

First, this month I will celebrate ten years in recovery from these addictive, compulsive, self-destructive cycles.  I have ten years of sobriety from suicidal ideation and self-harming behavior.  Nine years ago I said no to the abuse and neglect of an unfaithful, addicted spouse, and God delivered me from that destructive relationship a year later.

But I also need to confess this because I still need help and I want breakthrough.

Every year, God has been faithful to show me my patterns, to peel back a layer of not-so-helpful attitudes, behaviors, or defense mechanisms.  One by one, he has revealed my "little addictions" - like wanting to be successful even if it is not healthy, or wanting people to think well of me to the point that I ignore what is going on inside.  At each stage I have had to bring another part of my life, world, heart, and past into recovery - into conscious, intentional, and relational submission to God - in the hope that He can "restore me to sanity."

I think I am finally at the root of my cycle: Every time I am in shame, I stop thinking clearly. I grow more and more terrified, hurt, and hopeless.  I may not act out in the ways that I once did, but even now I "freeze" and can allow unhealthy things to continue.  I definitely withdraw from myself and others.

I want to win this war on shame so that I can make good decisions, so that I can love myself and others.  I want to dispel the lies of shame so that they do not control me, and I want to build up my resilience to shame so that when it attacks I am not taken out.  If shame gains any ground in my heart, mind, or behavior, I want to recognize it immediately, admit when I am wrong, make amends, and live a life worthy of repentance.

The first step is always to admit (face, acknowledge, get honest about, confess) that you have a problem.  Well, I have a problem, people.

Brought to you by: Today's Confession.