Tag Archives: shame

God-trauma-vulnerability

Shaking off shame

Last year, I connected with Jake Owensby’s blog, Looking for God in Messy Places. My own sense of where I find God resonates with his writing, and now I am reading his book, A Resurrection Shaped Life. In both his blog and his book, Jake writes about traumatic events from his childhood, and I am amazed at his openness.

In a memoir I recently read, the author declares that she wishes she could write openly about the trauma of her childhood, but she is not there. Me neither.

God-trauma-vulnerability

I want to be there—that place where I can speak openly and honestly about traumatic things that happened to me, where I have moved past shame—but I am not.

Thirty years ago, I read John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You, hoping it would lead me beyond shame. It gave me insight and understanding, but I was still bound by shame.

Then there was therapy for few years and a series of other therapeutic programs (retreats, family programs, al-anon, etc.). Each moved the needle a bit, but my shame is deep seated.

Shame is the yardstick by which I measure my freedom, because shame truly does keep me bound and unfree.

Looking back, though, I can see the distance I have come. There was a time when I did not even know what had happened to me. Like many children who experience trauma, I buried it deep inside and denied anything had happened.

All I knew for certain was that when I was eight years old, God saved me, that God had somehow picked me up and held me close. I had no understanding of the circumstances from which God was saving me. But I knew this one truth: God saved me.

In my twenties I realized that there was an impact from the damage that had been done to me as a child, because I could see how it was affecting the way I was living as an adult. Bad choices only begins to describe my twenties.

Chapter One in A Resurrection Shaped Life is called “Growing Beyond Our Past.”  Jake Owensby writes, “Actually, the past doesn’t just follow us around. It’s a crucial part of our identity” (Page 4). He notes, “We omit the messy parts of our lives” when building a resume, but that we have to “come to terms” with our past as part of a Christian spiritual practice.

I know my past helped me be more compassionate toward people who are vulnerable, especially children and people who have developmental disabilities. It also helped me know how blessed I am to have survived childhood trauma relatively intact.

Therapy, retreats, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, daily prayer and self-help books all helped me get to a place where I could make better choices and live with greater integrity.

I am still working with God in the messy places of my life, those places where I still hold onto shame—and trusting that God is continually healing me.

God-trauma-vulnerability
Advertisements
God-trust-vulnerability

The truth will set you free

The House of Mirrors at the Michigan State Fair fascinated me as a child. I loved how the slightest movement could cause great distortion. I could go from tall and skinny to short and fat with just one step.

In a way, these distortions reflected my everyday life, which could shift from peaceful to chaotic in a moment. Except, I was not the one creating the chaos; I just had to live in it and learn to keep silent about it.

So I lived on two planes—my interior life, where I knew the truth of my life, and my outer life where I pretended not to.

Of course, holding tight to secrets caused me a great deal of anxiety and shame. I worried that someone would realize I was a fraud—that the life I projected outwardly was nothing like the life I actually lived.

I felt trapped within walls of lies and deceptions.

I have had more than one conversation with Jesus about how knowing the truth would set me free (John 8:32), because that was not my experience. I knew the truth, and I was not free.

Only recently have I come to understand that I need one more step to be free—I need to speak my truth in order to be truly free.God-trust-vulnerabilityI have been experimenting with speaking my truth through this blog, continually revealing more and more of who I am and what I have experienced. It has been very freeing and has given me the confidence to continue to reveal my story.

My hope is to get to a place past shame, where childhood secrets have no hold on me, where I can see myself as God sees me and accept myself without judgment. Step by step, story by story.God-trust-vulnerabilityI have also realized that it is not only traumatic events that I have kept secret. Recently, I shared a story of a Good Samaritan who helped me after a car accident. When I get to the part of the story where this man paid for my car to be towed, I am overcome with emotion and tears fill my eyes.

Why would I cry in recalling an act of great kindness? And why have I not talked about this incident before?

I think my sense of unworthiness prevented me from telling it. I kept it secret because I felt unworthy to be so richly blessed, as if someone would challenge me—who are you to be treated so well? I knew I was not worthy and so I kept quiet.

But, in truth, my whole life has been filled with great blessings, with incidents of God’s abundant love being poured out on me.

I have only recently begun to share openly the good things God has done for me and the amazing way God has cared for me, and in doing so, am undoing my negative self-image.

I want to know my truth, to speak it and to be set free.

 

 

On Retreat, Part Two

While on retreat, I celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing sins from my youth and talking about the shame I have been carrying for many years.

The priest assured me of God’s forgiveness and mercy and suggested that I find a scripture passage, song or poem that would express God’s acceptance of me.

I love poetry, and I keep copies of some of my favorite poems in my Bible and prayer books, including e. c. cummings’ poem, “i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart).”

After the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I pulled out my copy of the poem and reread it. The poem speaks to me of an incredible closeness, a sense of unity.

Then I read it as if God was saying it to me, that God was the one carrying my heart in God’s heart. I listened to God say to me:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                                      i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Accepted, loved, forgiven, reconciled.

On Retreat

I recently went on my annual silent retreat at the local Jesuit center. St. Ignatius advised people to prepare for retreat by praying for a certain grace or gift from God.

At Mass the day before retreat started, these words from the song Hosea touched me: Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart….Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.

Here was the grace I would seek: to know what fear was keeping me from God and to see more clearly what my new life of living deeply with God would look like.

In the silence of my retreat days, I prayed God would reveal to me what might be keeping us apart.

And then I remembered December 8, 1972, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

At Mass that day, the priest talked about Mary being an example, a role model for how to live a good life, a godly life.

I listened to him, trying to take in his words, trying to see a way Mary and I might be connected.

But I was too aware of my sinfulness. I was not living a good life. I was not living the life God wanted for me—or even the life I wanted for myself. And I seemed powerless to do anything about it. I was living out of a broken place deep inside me, an open wound that refused to heal.

The words to a popular song ran through my mind: “I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd, I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud. I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on, strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song…”

I understood. The priest’s words condemned me. I was condemnable, contemptible.

Tears fell freely as his words accused me, judged me. His words were killing me.

In my darkness, I already felt dead inside.

I was too broken, too damaged. I was sure others could see the darkness surrounding me, the turmoil enveloping me. I did not belong here, in this church on Mary’s feast day. I was a sinner. Mary had indicted me by her purity, her godliness; the priest had called me out. “

Guilty,” I pleaded.

“Please, God, help me,” I cried.

And then a vision: the floor opened and I fell through, removing me from the presence of Mary and the priest and all the good people who sat in that church, dropping me down, down—into the waiting arms of a loving God who cradled me and offered me hope.

On retreat, all these years later, I realized I was still carrying the shame of my youth, letting it get in the way of my living in total trust.