Breaking Free From Shame
“When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness. Full of shame or the fear of shame, we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and to attack or shame others. In fact, shame is related to violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and bullying.” Brene Brown
Have you ever experienced shame? I’m not talking guilt, where you feel remorse for something you did. I’m talking about where your whole being is inadequate and bad. I know a thing or two about shame and the lies it tells us.
When I was a freshman in college, I was raped. I’ll spare the details. In the grand scheme of things, the details don’t matter.
What does matter in this instance is the aftermath: the terrible shame I carried every day knowing what happened and how it made me feel. I couldn’t stop seeing and feeling that night over and over.
I lived in a small town at the time, so I saw him around town often. I began falling deeper into the lies of my shame. I went through the motions of going to class, going to work, meeting up with friends.
I was there, but I wasn’t present. I was consumed with shame and depression and it was smothering me. I couldn’t escape this. I couldn’t really tell people what had happened. What would they think?
My cousin knew, of course, because she was there that night. I also told one of my best friends. I began to drink more to escape. For a few hours, I was numb and it didn’t consume me as much.
I could pretend to be normal again.
The shame never left, though. The lies of shame became the voice I heard on replay until they became my identity. I wasn’t worthy. I was broken. I was no good. I was dirty and bad.
I was in my car one day and noticed a notebook on my floorboard. It wasn’t mine and it didn’t look familiar. I looked inside to see if I could see who it belonged to.
I flipped open to a page that had my name written on it. I read through it and realized it was a journal of some sort. This entry was about me and telling my friend about being raped and how she thought I made it up to get attention. That gut-punch hit deep.
I had to put it down and couldn’t read any further. I didn’t know how to even bring it up or address it. I pretended I hadn’t seen it. The depression got worse and so did the drinking.
The shame was getting heavier.
People really thought I made this up? I couldn’t breathe. I was drowning. I was self-medicating with alcohol. I was not doing well in school. No one saw it, though, as long as I kept pretending and going through the motions.
I knew something was wrong and I needed help. I couldn’t talk to my friends. They apparently didn’t believe me. The whispers of my shame were right. I was dirty and bad and unworthy and unbelievable.
Who better to talk to than the local pastor? I went to share with him what happened and seek advice. I needed help. I needed a lifeline. The shame and hurt were far too much for me to carry on my own.
I mustered all the courage I had to share what happened. I was met with the next round of shame and disbelief. He asked me if I was feeling all these feelings and self-harming because I was feeling guilty for wanting this to happen.
I was speechless. I wanted nothing more than for it to have never happened. I wanted my virginity back. I wanted myself back. Guilt? I wanted it to happen? The lifeline I had been desperate for was dangled before me and destroyed.
I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My entire being – mind, body, soul – was in crisis. I tried crying for help. People who should have been safe proved to be unsafe.
The shame kept growing and consuming more and more. The lies of this shame kept whispering to me that I was damaged and worthless and no one would ever want me and I wasn’t believable.
Add in that I still had to see his face often. I had to get away or I knew I wouldn’t survive. Literally. The whispers of my shame grew to an all-time level of loudness.
I was unworthy, broken,unlovable, and unbelievable. It would be better if I weren’t here.
I created my exit plan. No one understood. It didn’t matter. I had to leave. I wasn’t going to make it if I didn’t. I transferred schools the next year.
I moved clear across the country. I figured a change of scenery would help. And it did, for a little while anyway. But I still needed to deal with myself. There was still work to do.
“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” Brene Brown
It was a while before I actually took the major steps to deal with myself. I needed to feel safe. It wasn’t the place that made me feel safe, though, it was the people. Thankfully, they didn’t have to know why I was there.
I was able to go through the motions and slowly begin to put myself back together again. I knew I’d never be the same, but I sure hoped I’d come out resembling my past self. Parts of that version of myself were forever lost.
Years later, through prayer, fasting, therapy, more prayer, fasting, and some of the most amazing friends I could have ever dreamed up, I’ve come out on the other side no longer hearing the lies of my shame. I know who I am and Whose I am.
I still have rough days, as everyone does. A simple call or text to those who listen, just saying it’s a really hard day is all it takes. I don’t have to explain if I don’t want to. Empathy and love are given freely.
Brene Brown wrote, “when we find the courage to share our experiences and the compassion to hear others tell their stories, we force shame out of hiding and end the silence.”
I’ve shared my experiences of shame with you. Your turn.