This is probably THE post that has subconsciously held me up from finishing this stupid challenge. And by stupid I mean great and wonderful. But you know, feeling like calling it stupid right now since it’s three months after I meant to finish it and haven’t yet. It’s the darkest one. The hardest one. The one that I can’t really tie up with a pretty bow like I do all the others. I’ve thought a million times about just eliminating it and picking something random like the 35 crushes I had in college to write about instead (that’s a real number), but I knew I needed to write it. So I’m going to. And then we’re just gonna move on and wear sparkles, okay? Okay.
In reality, all the people I’ve written about, especially Jesus over and over and over again, but all of these other amazing people that I get to call mine, have been lifesaving forces. But above and beyond, Jesus put two people in my life in the darkest season I’ve ever walked through to save and change my life. So many people I’ve known, watched, and heard of, myself majorly included, go through life all the way into adulthood thinking they’re 100% totally okay and have this thing called life figured out regardless of the things they’ve been through.
Facts are facts and science is science and there are a whole lot of people out there a lot smarter than me who by studying the human brain and body figured out that humans simply can’t just compartmentalize all our baggage and hurts and scars and move on. Things have to be dealt with, worked through, healed from. Healing doesn’t happen by simply picking ourselves up by our boot straps and moving on. Surviving is necessary at times, many times, especially in trauma and tragedy, but eventually we have to deal with it all. When we don’t deal with it, it manifests itself and spills over into all sorts of things until we’re forced to deal with it. Until I was 26, I WAS OKAY. I had been through a lot, a lot of things no child, teenager, or adult should have to deal with, but I was okay, okay?!
But I wasn’t. Once upon a time (back in 2009) when I started this blog as one of many efforts to battle that dark season, I wrote this post. I was vague, and for the sake of not writing a book in this single post, I won’t divulge every detail of my story now. However, because I think it’s important, because I want to be real when I say I’m passionate about vulnerability and transparency, and because I think Satan is squashed and God is glorified when we talk about the hard things, I’m going to dig a little deeper. During that season of life when everything bubbled up and demanded to be dealt with, I started seeing a counselor. I had been to a counselor once before in college, but I was convinced I was okay, and told her I was too. I thought she believed me; in hindsight I think she knew I wasn’t, but knew I had to realize that myself first.
The trigger that finally broke me was some new and hard stuff that happened with my family. It can most easily be summed up as rejection. As a result, I started having nightmares. Because I didn’t want to have those nightmares, I stopped sleeping. I was in grad school at the time and decided to see the school nurse because not sleeping seemed unhealthy. She encouraged me to see a counselor and put me on sleeping medication. Counseling was a free resource since I was a student and she knew I needed it. I started going because I knew I needed to, but I didn’t want to. Having to deal with the new stuff and delve into the old stuff HURT! It was a necessary kind of hurt; healing doesn’t come without pain. Lack of sleep and trying to work through hard stuff while simultaneous continuing to try and avoid dealing with the hard stuff lead to a pretty bad case of clinical depression. I was on sleeping medicine, depression medicine, and then also developed social anxiety. I’d drive or walk to my class and not be able to force myself to go in. I was down to only one class and it was an online class. I just couldn’t do it.
I really do believe the thing that kept me wanting to wake up every morning was my job. I was a nanny to a precious little girl name Addie. Addie is one of my lifesavers. I experienced some suicidal thoughts when I was a teenager, but even through a terrible season of depression and hopelessness as an adult, my thoughts didn’t go there and I think one of the many reasons for that was Addie. I really think baby cuddles have healing powers. Soon I couldn’t even hang on to my one class and therefore had to leave. No apartment, no school, no job, no Addie, and no counselor. A friend and her parents took me in until I got back on my feet. People from my Slidell church were able to get me connected with a new counselor that graciously agreed to see me for free since I didn’t have a job at the moment.
Enter into the picture lifesaver number 2. My counselor before was necessary, but I was avoidant and not fully ready. Desperation was the kick in the pants I needed to make some things happen. I eventually got a social work job, a place to live, and was back in Slidell with the people that I wasn’t ready to let go of yet. For almost a year and a half I met with that wonderful lady once a week. Counseling days were hard, a good kind of hard, but hard nonetheless. I’m a healthy human on the inside now because of her. Friends are great, WONDERFUL gifts from the Lord, but so are counselors. God gifts and calls people to this career and some of us (maybe most of us) really need them!
The difference in a friend and a counselor is that when your friend tries to argue with you and tell you that God loves you (insert any other truth you don’t want to believe) and you argue back and are convinced He doesn’t, you usually win because you’re pretty dang good at arguing and fighting to believe the lies you cling to. Because your friend loves you, they probably get frustrated and hurt and sad AS THEY SHOULD, because they care. Counselors care too, but it’s different. You can tell your counselor over and over again that you can’t and don’t and won’t believe that, and they’ll let you say those things. They won’t get frustrated, but they also don’t let you win. They know how to get to the root of the lies. They know how to teach you how to fight the lies and how to really stop believing them (cognitive behavior therapy). They know, and studied for MANY hours and days and years, how your brain works and how the things that have happened to you shaped you beyond your power or knowledge.
I BELIEVE IN COUNSELORS! Mine saved my life. Not just in a literal since of the word in that if I didn’t learn all of that I probably would have ended up wondering if life was worth living again or coping in unhealthy ways that likely lead to a quicker death. But also, because of her I learned how to have a full and happy life despite my circumstances. THAT IS LIFESAVING! I will add this little tidbit that is subjective, but I’m passionate about it. I think Christian counselors are the way to go. I’ve been to both. There is a difference. I think ALL counselors are great. I am an advocate. Go! But if you’re a believer, go with a Christian counselor. Cognitive behavior therapy is cognitive behavior therapy, Christian or not, BUT, if you’re a believer, counseling and cognitive behavior therapy through a Gospel lens is vital and life-changing.
To sum up all these jumbled words, a sweet little girl named Addie unintentionally poured into my life in a way that made me love that part of my life and made me want to fight to love more parts of my life. My amazing counselor intentionally poured into my life in a way that changed me forever and taught me how to never stop fighting for the abundant life promised me (and all believers). Because of counseling and God’s hand in it I learned A LOT of things and overcame A LOT of things. But the biggest most life-changing thing I learned is this: Shame is one of the biggest obstacles that prevents healing from actually taking place and it doesn’t belong anywhere. Shame is not the same thing as guilt and it simply DOES NOT BELONG in our hearts and heads.
I learned that children of dysfunctional families, children of addicts, and those who have experienced abuse and neglect whether it was seeing their loved ones suffer those things and/or personally experiencing those things (both in my case) survive because they have to, but their insides are changed in ways beyond their control and they don’t even know! Many of those children become adults who unknowingly have an identity defined by shame. When your identity becomes shame-based, you simply can’t get rid of that without retraining your brain. Guilt is an emotion felt over a behavior or action (or failure to act). Even guilty feelings sometimes lie and have to be evaluated against truth. But shame? Shame is an ugly word! Shame is self-condemnation. Shame doesn’t feel bad about a behavior or action, it feels bad (worthless, small, defective) about the person who committed the action – you. Shame is always a lie.
Cognitive behavior therapy retrains your thoughts. It’s hard. It’s ugly. It takes a LONG time and a LOT of effort. But it works. Most of us probably struggle with believing lies. Some are surface, some are deeply rooted. Deeply rooted lies that have become part of how you define yourself and are second nature to think and believe, require HARD work to get rid of. It’s worth it. It’s SO SO worth it. Shame and living an abundant life don’t coexist. I think and hope you probably know that when I say abundant life I don’t mean a life full of wealth or things. It is possible to materialistically live an abundant life and cling to shame, BUT not the kind of abundant life Jesus promised. For kicks I googled “define abundant life” just to see what the internets said. Even Wikipedia, the most reliable source for information (sarcasm) gets it! “Abundant life refers to life in its abounding fullness of joy and strength for mind, body, and soul. Abundant life signifies a contrast to feelings of lack, emptiness, and dissatisfaction.”
Shame doesn’t belong! My life is abundantly full now despite my circumstances, a life that was always mine (and yours) to have, because shame no longer exists. I love myself – my face, my body, my mind, my quirks. I love my life – my people, my story, my scars. I love my Jesus – more than life and no longer want to hide from Him even when I mess up (and I do OFTEN). And I know He fiercely loves me, chose me, and came to “take sin and bear shame” – my sin, my shame – on the cross. FOREVER. I couldn’t say any of those things for myself before and in the thick of counseling. I believed God loved you, but not me. I believed I loved Jesus, but not enough and didn’t deserve to. Finding and replacing those lies freed me up to live an abundant life. Being able to live that kind of life saved my life because that kind of life is worth living. SHAME DOESN’T BELONG!
(Note: I still have bad days and lies still rear their ugly heads! Like my 2009 self said: “Acceptance is the end. And I personally think the last stage is lifelong. Like a cool scar. A story to be told. And in the case of these life scars, a God’s glory scar.”)
This is part of my 31 People(s) I Love series. I’ll be writing about 31 people/peoples that I adore! Click here if you would like a list of all the posts in this series.