by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
The two-headed enemy of recovery is our sin nature and the devil himself. This enemy had a baby, and called it ‘shame’. Shame sets out to hold recovering sin addicts in captivity. Shame is a sinister device of the devil that fans the flame of slavery to addictive sin and all of its consequences. As we determine to hold on to memories of the past that lead to our sorrow, the result is the sabotage of restorative recovery. There is no doubt that we have all made mistakes and need to claim responsibility for our behavior. However, there needs to be a clear distinction between guilt, which when addressed properly can lead to repentance and growth; and shame, which takes self-obsessed addicts into a cycle of failure that is ultimately fatal. Shame is the filter that distorts thoughts and feelings leading to destructive behavior and harmful consequences.
I treated a client that I will call Deloris, who was sexually and emotionally abused in her pre-adolescent years. She had been bound up for years with bitterness and unforgiveness due to the horrific memories that had caused her deep indelible pain, leaving her with open wounds for more than twenty years. Over the course of a year or so, Deloris had been drinking hard liquor heavily on a daily basis. She effectively hid her alcohol use so that her family did not know the severity of her problem. Her husband did not comprehend that his wife had this secret.
Her painful past made it difficult to be vulnerable to the people she loved. In moments when she would relive memories of her past in her thoughts, Deloris would tend to take it out on whoever came into her path. As she spent more time struggling with memories, she drank to numb the pain brought on by bitter hateful feelings leading to vengeful thoughts and verbally abusive behavior. She vented her inner rage on people mercilessly about things that did not matter much. Deloris hated that she did this to people who had nothing to do with her past. Alcohol became a friend to her. Drinking seemed to help for a spell, but she was becoming more and more stuck in the addictive process of self-medicating trying to minimize whatever pain she was feeling so that she might not inflict so much pain on those she cared about.
While in treatment, Deloris and her family bought a dog, a cute little puppy I’ll call Candi. She was thrilled to be able to love and care for Candi. Deloris had not had a drink in almost three weeks since beginning treatment, but remaining sober was difficult. Treatment was intense. Candi, this new friend in Deloris’s life, gave her something else to do to occupy idle time. However, Candi had a problem. This puppy relieved herself constantly and would make messes all over Deloris’s house. They would let Candi outside to do her business, but then when she came back in they had to keep her in a cage so that she would not make that kind of mess all over the house. The puppy still managed to mess up her cage, which did not adequately contain her mess, and which seemed to spread through the cage onto the kitchen floor, cabinets, etc. Even after making her mess outside, she came back in and promptly went another round while in her cage. Deloris reported that, while her husband and pre-adolescent son were patient and understanding, they agreed as a family that it was all quite disgusting. As much as Deloris loved her pup, her nerves were wearing thin. She was constantly cleaning up after the dog’s mess. Anyone who attempted to get involved with cleaning Candi’s mess tended to get messed up as well.
After a week or two of this pattern of Candi messing herself up and everyone else who got in her way, Deloris and her husband decided to get rid of the cage to see how Candi might manage without the cage. Candi immediately stopped relieving herself in the house after doing her business outside. It turns out that the only time Candi made messes in the house around the family was when she faced the prospect of having to re-enter her cage. When Deloris and her husband got rid of Candi’s cage, she was rid of the mess. Getting rid of the cage, though, was not easy. It required risk, which involved a process of letting go of what seemed to be their only means of containing the mess from spreading through the house.
This discovery led to a therapeutic revelation in treatment. Deloris was making a mess whenever she re-entered the cage of her past. When she dwelt on a feeling linked to a painful memory, Deloris made a mess on herself and on anyone else who happened to be around while she was in her cage of painful memories. Anyone who thought they could help her while she was in her cage would get messed on as my client relieved herself, metaphorically speaking of course, all over them, including her husband and son.
While in treatment, Deloris realized she needed to ask God to help her to let go of the shame of her past and exit her cage of shame. Deloris would always remember her past, but God could and is helping her to let go of the ongoing bitterness and anger that she’s been carrying. She was also holding onto the shame of things that she was led to believe about herself. Our last session was the week of Good Friday and we were able to focus on letting go of something she was powerless to manage on her own, and allow Jesus Christ to take it to the cross with him, so she could be free to live and love those who have faithfully loved her through such a difficult time in her life.
As you recognize you are powerless to change the past and are able let go of the thing that has imprisoned you, and trust God to release you from your cage of shame, he promises to fill the void. The love, peace, and joy of God can replace the pain of your past. You are allowed to make mistakes with knowledge and understanding that you are forgiven. When the love of God is alive in you, you can experience conviction in your heart that helps you to learn and grow from a mistake, even a painful mistake.