For me, shame is hiding in the dark. It is wondering about my place in the world and never feeling good enough to be taking up the space I am. Shame smells like smoke and condom wrappers and leaves decaying in fall. Shame is the rock that you can’t drop. The lie that you didn’t want to tell. The story that never gets told. Shame takes. Steals. Whispers. Shame is sad and worn-out and hobbles along. Shame can’t look you in the eye, but often forces you to look through a broken mirror. Shame is the enemy of shine.
Shame permeates the lives of many women in recovery—like me—who have struggled to connect with a faith and recovery community because of a tattered past.
I was knee deep in addiction by the time I was a teenager, experienced repeated sexual traumas, and limped along using substances like drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and treat what I didn’t know at the time was post-traumatic stress. By the time I came crawling to faith and recovery, I was worn out. Defeated. Crushed.
Despite the shame that kept me stuck like I was doing the back stroke in an ocean of tar, my connection to a faith and recovery community did happen. Eventually.
From Shame to Connection
Connection was made possible in my broken life by the movement of the Spirit around the tables of recovery meetings; through a group of women across the globe at an IF Gathering; because of the women in my old church who prayed and sat around circular tables with fake flowers slow dancing in the centers; and ultimately, connection was made possible by God, himself, giving me sweet glimpses of an eternal message. The spiritual experience of connection shook me to the core of my being turning my shame into something God could use. Something beautiful.
How We Can Help Others Move on from a Shameful Past
What helped me along my journey of healing as a woman in addiction and trauma recovery? How were spiritual experiences able to break through my cement-heart? What could have helped me get to a place of connection sooner?
It’s easier and more convenient to blame others for why it took me several decades to come to a place of connection with others. I could say it's the church's fault. I could say it's a particular recovery pathway's fault. I could say it's my therapist's fault. I could even say something a bit bold and unpopular, something like I think the church and other pathways are failing women in addiction and trauma recovery and have been for a very long time--but I’m not going to say any of these things today.
What I would like to say today is from the Psalms:
God is close to the brokenhearted.[i]
And let me say this again.
God is close. To the brokenhearted.
To you. And to me.
If this really is true (which I believe that it is) and God is in the broken and dark and messy places—then why do so many Christians (myself included) not spend more time in those places with the brokenhearted? Why do we run away from these issues, focusing on the politically expedient or the trendy or the popular causes? Why do we stay insulated in our closed circles that smell like too many shades of the same perfume? If we really are “pro-life” does this life not also include those who are enslaved by addiction and trauma? Doesn’t life include the gritty realities of addiction and the hundreds of thousands of millions of women struggling today?
There are so many questions.
I have so many questions.
But instead of pointing fingers and shifting the blame and painting shame in the same color on a different canvas, I’d like to encourage us all (especially those like me who have worn shame like a heavy coat in summer) with the truth that hope and healing is possible. Whether we are in a church building or in an alleyway or behind the reception desk of a recovery community center, we can show up to help dissolve the shame that is keeping too many of us trapped in silence. We don’t have to wait for someone in a church pew or at a pulpit to do it. I believe that is up to us—those of us in addiction and trauma recovery—to step up and step out and learn from Jesus.
It's Time to Tell Our Stories.
As a recovery community or community of faith or both (we’re not really that different after all) let’s show up today for those who are still suffering in the quiet, empty darkness of their shameful pasts. Let’s call it out and name the injustice. Let’s share our experiences, hand-in-hand. Let’s sing our chorus: “me, too” so that hopefully, indeed miraculously, healing will arise and our light, together, will break forth like the dawn.[ii]
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