TURNING SHAME TO GRACE: “ALL OF MY FEELINGS ARE OK”
TREATMENT - DAY ONE
When I walked into out patient treatment that winter day, it was cold in Wisconsin and I was scared to death. I didn’t have any idea what to expect. My guard was up.
I checked in and found my way to the group therapy room. The chairs were in a circle and I found my seat as the room began to fill. The group was way too small for my liking, I think there were 7 in the group including the therapist and the co-therapist.
We went through the usual and expected introductions, group rules and so on. I was just starting to settle into my new environment, sizing up the other group members and the therapist, when the therapist surprised me by turning her attention to me. I had been doing my best to be invisible and was a little surprised by the attention. The therapist actually turned her body toward me and locked her laser eyes on mine. I felt like someone had just pulled my pants down.
She asked me some questions and I tried my best to answer, but I must not have done a very good job ‘cause she gave me an assignment…”Go home tonight and write 500 times, all of my feelings are OK.”
The assignment pissed me off but I wasn’t about to tell her that. So, I went home and typed out the assignment,- at least the first two sentences. The rest was cut and paste. 100 “all of my feelings are OK” on one page and then I printed off 5 pages on the printer. (I didn’t know the meaning of passive/aggressive yet.)
So, wait till you see what happened on day 2 of treatment! - Tomorrow, I promise.
TURNING FROM SHAME TO GRACE: BURN THAT SHIT!
I can hear my friends ask: “How’d Ya Do It Hawk?”
Well, the first thing I needed to do was stop carrying around all the shit that I was carrying. If you’re carrying shit, you’re gonna smell like shit and look like shit AND feel like shit. - AND I DID!
Soon after I got sober from drugs and alcohol, I hooked up with some other folks who had similar issues to mine. We were a pretty small group. Remember this is pre-Adult Kids, pre-PTSD treatment for childhood abuse and so on. We were a primitive group of individuals who knew that we didn’t decide one day to become alcoholics. We were nurtured into it by a lot of “stuff.” But believe me, that was a very unpopular belief at the time.
So, this small group of us met for a national meeting in Kansas City.
At that time,I had a guide in the group. She told me that I should take a couple of hours and write down on a sheet of paper all the bad stuff that I had ever done in my life. Then she said to meet her and some of the other people from the group in the parking lot at noon.
My guide,Chandra, was no one to mess with so I did as I was told.
When I got to the parking lot at the appointed time, there was a group of about 8 people waiting for me. To say the least, I was terrified! Chandra asked me to read the list IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE GROUP!
I had hurt a lot of people and done lots of bad stuff, so by the time I got done with the list, I was sobbing and incredibly filled with shame. I couldn’t look at anyone. With Chandra’s encouragement, I was able to lift my eyes off the ground and into the eyes of the people in the group. I looked each straight in the eye.
I remember each face clearly. There was not an ounce of judgment anywhere, only love and compassion. THAT CHANGED ME! Dumping my shame that day CHANGED me. It clearly was a huge step toward turning shame to grace.
After this, a garbage container was brought out to the parking lot from inside the hotel. We all stood together while I burned my pages, turning my shame to mere ashes.
So, my first suggestion to others who are carrying bags of all their SHIT around is to find some caring people who will not judge you and BURN THAT SHIT!
turning shame to grace: the fall
I said in our last episode, “It wasn’t until all of this came crashing down on me that the solutions began to emerge. I could not understand how to turn shame to grace until a part of me was crushed.”
The performance cycle that I was in had turned into a destructive cyclone, taking out everyone and everything in its path. All that I had spent years building; a marriage, a family, a reputation, a career, all crumbled to dust. I ended the ministry, or it ended me. My marriage ended. All of my attempts to put my shame to rest, had only resulted in a bigger pile of shame. I was defeated.
What are the choices when you’ve burrowed that deeply into the mud called despair? I saw only two choices: First, I could take my own life (but at that time I was a Missouri-Synod Lutheran, so all that would buy me was a quick ticket to the fires of eternal damnation). Second, I could ask for help. Now that was hard for me.
Remember, I said that there was part of me that needed to be crushed. It was the part of me that I have come to know as self-will. Or, maybe it was just plain stubbornness. Whatever it was got smashed.
Fortunately, my mother, who was my nemesis growing up and at the root of much of the shame that I carried in the first place, was also the one who forged a path for me. Ironic isn’t it?
She had gotten sober some years earlier and was dealing with her own shame issues when I entered treatment. She had already been through treatment and had come out the other side demonstrating that there was a way out of the shame that had been passed down from generation to generation.
After she had gotten sober, she went back to school and became counselor for people dealing with addictions.
Well guess what I did? I also got sober, went back to school and became a counselor for people dealing with addictions!! Ha! The irony of it ALL! Let’s break this destructive family shame cycle, OK mom????
turning from shame to grace: you shame me? I'll show you!
Before I get into what worked for me in turning from shame to grace, let me begin by sharing with you what didn’t work. It was a counter attack! I attacked the people who were attacking me. “You think I’m no good? Well, let me just show you!” “I will work harder and outperform any of you. You will see that I am NOT bad, I am not only good, I am a star!” In short, I was saying to myself, “I’m gonna prove you wrong!”
I held this stance for 39 years of my life. However, the problem was that in order to perform at that high level ALL OF THE TIME took a tremendous amount of effort. That level of effort begins to wear on the body, the emotions and the mind. That level of effort got me through college, graduate school and placed me in a career.
I became a clergyman. But my propensity to prove myself was still present. I placed myself in an impossible situation following a pastor who was a legend. And, I was pastoring a church that was dying. I was determined to “show ‘em” and do what had never been done before. I was going to save a dying inner city congregation. It was an inevitable catastrophe. Ironically, the congregation survived a lot longer than I did. Why? I was caught in a cycle of destruction that looked like this:
As the possibility of failure loomed, I would perform at a higher level which would in turn lead to higher stress levels. In order to compensate for the stress, I would turn to my drugs of choice. This action would then create shame which would again lead to redoubling my attempt to outperform my shame. But the driving force was always “Prove them wrong!”
It wasn’t until all of this came crashing down on me that the solutions began to emerge. I could not understand how to turn shame to grace until a part of me was crushed.
TURNING FROM SHAME TO GRACE: HOW'D YA DO IT?
I’m pretty sure the people who have asked me to answer the question, “How did you turn from shame to grace?” did not ask for an academic dissertation on overcoming shame. They were simply asking me to share how I overcame shame or better stated what is my process for overcoming shame. Since I am still working on this, I will share the process that has worked for me as I continue on my journey.
In the 12-step meetings I attend, if someone receives a medallion for their sobriety time, the whole group will ask in unison, “HOW’D YA DO IT? Then, that person shares their personal journey to sobriety.
The question of overcoming shame, moving from shame to grace was asked of me in that way, “Hawk, how’d ya do it?”
But I left a question unanswered from my last post. How did a 5 year old (me) come to believe that I was a bad kid in the first place?
Let me share a little of my personal story. By the time I was five years old, I had been sexually abused. I was consistently beaten with hands, fists, razor straps, belts, fly swatters, willow branches, but the most humiliating of all was the slap across the face. I received verbal abuse on a daily basis, shamed and belittled. Further, my parents belonged to a church body who believed that kids were born bad (original sin) and somehow if you “spared the rod” you would “spoil the child,” making the child a candidate to burn forever in the fires of Hell.
Let me say, however, I thank God every day for my childhood. It has been the roadmap to creating who I am today. Believe me, I am not condoning the physical and verbal abuse of innocent children. But I am saying that adversity has been one of my strongest teachers.