The most debilitating effect of the abuse I suffered in my youth was shame. It’s a feeling of worthlessness, filth, and not measuring up. One thing I want to make clear before I go any further is that shame and guilt are two separate things, yet they are often confused as being one in the same. Shame says I don’t belong here, I should have never been born, I am wrong. Shame says I am flawed and defective as a human being. I am a mistake. Guilt says I did something wrong. As you can see guilt is straight forward, and shame is complicated.
I’ve done lots of things in my life that I have rightfully felt deeply remorseful and guilty about. When my grandmother, the rock of my life was dying, for the last year of her life I never once went to see her. Guilt overwhelmed me until I went to her burial site and read my amends letter to her, at which point I was given a great feeling of relief. Since that day, I have made a living amends to her by helping others that were in the same place she was when I abandoned her.
In 2004, I left my wife of twenty-one years. The women who had walked hand in hand with me through the darkest pits of hell, for another women. I also abandoned my children which left them wondering what they had done wrong. It was the deep sense of remorse and guilt, along with the love of my family, that had me crawling back on my hands and needs to my wife and family and asking for forgiveness. While it was the guilt that brought me back to my senses, my actions were driven by intense feelings of shame. I felt that no one could love me as I was. I needed something or someone outside of myself to be whole and okay.
In my childhood and adolescent years, I learned it was better to not speak my truth, to just remain quiet. There were many times I wanted to speak my truth, both as a youth and adult. However, I learned really quick that no one cared about my truth. In fact, I paid a heavy price on many occasions for speaking my truth. Therefore, I created shame around my truths when I felt unable to speak my truth. This in turn created immense amounts of shame in my life. It’s just the law of nature.
When I had the affair in 2004, I was overwhelmed by the unresolved shame in my life. My wife knew I was abused and never once showed any signs of disgust towards me. Yet the shame was telling me otherwise. Cathy had become very successful as an escrow officer and I became very successful as a contractor. I got to a point that even with all the success I had achieved and contrary to all the evidence, Cathy was going to leave me for one of her rich real estate clients. After all, as a sexual abuse survivor I was dirty and tainted on the inside. How could anyone as beautiful as her love me the way she loved me. I had never been shown the kind of unconditional love Cathy was giving me. I felt I wasn’t worth that kind of love. Even though I was feeling this way, I was unable to speak my truth to her. After all, I had been programmed as child that my truth didn’t matter and held no credence. It was time to reclaim my truth and the power that it holds.
Fifteen years later and God only knows how many hours of working and writing about my shame, it still rears its ugly head on occasion. To be perfectly honest, it is what is keeping me from advancing in my new career. It sneaks in on the subconscious level and more often than not it’s my mother’s voice saying; “Who do you think you are? No one wants to hear what you have to say!” When the shame pops up, fear joins it. At times I can ignore it, yet at other times it stops me dead in my tracks. Although I do have tools to work though the feelings of shame that pop up from time to time, I forget to use them. It’s really a simple task. All I have to do is remind myself that I am safe today. I am surrounded by people that know me, or may not, and that my voice does matter and holds power and authority. The hardest part is working through the fear of rejection. However, today I know who I am in Christ. Therefore, I speak my truth with confidence and when I do so, I have yet to be rejected. What I know is that my truth is my truth, which does not necessarily mean others will agree with me and that’s okay. Today I am choosing to release any shame and subconscious blocks that may now be holding me back from living life to the fullest.
Okay Randy that all sounds good and well but tell me why the shame keeps resurfacing. First this question comes to mind; “How long have you been living and carrying the shame around?” It is ingrained deeply with your psyche. Therefore, it will require a lot of work to root it all out. For myself I had been carrying my shame for forty-plus years. What I know is that I have been working on it for fifteen years, and there is still more work to be done around my shame. Will it ever be completely done? That I can only hope for.
When I read scriptures like Ephesians 4:23 which says - to be made new in the attitude of your minds, it makes one think that when we except Christ as our Lord and Savior, our attitudes and minds will automatically be renewed. This is not possible. Notice the scripture says; “be made new,” it does not say “has been made new.” The renewing of our mind takes time and work, and it seems that just when I believe I have this shame game whipped, it rears its ugly head and reminds me that I still have work to do.
When shame rears its ugly head today it is usually when I am talking about the foundation, my book, doing a presentation, or after talking with another sexual abuse survivor. Whenever the shame pops up, I think about the shame Christ must have felt when he was crucified. Hanging on the cross naked in front of the whole world. His hands pierced with nails and his back tore wide open by a Cat of Nine Tails, whip. He had been spat upon and beat up. The Romans were gambling for his clothes at the foot of the cross. How much more humiliating and shaming can one endure than what Christ suffered on the cross.
Romans 8:17 says - Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. When I am talking about the foundation, my book, doing presentations, or talking with another survivor, I am doing Gods work. In doing his work when the shame comes up, I think about this scripture. When I am struggling with the shame that might pop up during these times, I think of Christ on the cross and can only believe that because I am sharing in his sufferings, I will also share in all his glory.
“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” – African Proverb