Last night in our SOSA (Survivors of Sexual Abuse) meeting, we talked about shame. I know I have blogged about shame before, but I was asked an interesting question: “How did I overcome my shame?” It was a question I did not have an immediate answer for. I said the typical Christian responses; with God, time, patience, prayer, but that wasn’t a complete answer for me. And as ridiculous as it seems to me at this moment, I really had to think about it.
Before I get into my answer, I’d like to spend a minute or two addressing the topic of shame. Especially for those of you who are not survivors, but are reading in order to help a survivor close to you.
Shame is an overwhelming, suffocating, life-debilitating condition. It encompasses the survivors heart, soul, spirit, and general well-being. It is more often than not what causes depression and self-loathing. It makes you feel unworthy to be in the presence of others, friends, loved one, and most devastatingly – God. The worst part is that shame really isn’t ours. We didn’t cause the abuse. Our hearts aren’t the ones filled with evil. We were the victims, yet we carry the burden of shame that is associated with childhood sexual abuse.
Many of us have made numerous mistakes… more than our fair share and more than we would like to admit. And there is definitely shame associated with that as well. According to Committed to Freedom’s “The Way Forward” self-help workbook, there are scores of self-protective behaviors that victims routinely engage in. This is a small sampling of the list:
- I isolate myself from people.
- I am hyper-vigilant.
- I am always late.
- I choose people I can control.
- I often lie.
- I depend on no one but myself.
- I use sex to express power or rage.
- I cut or burn myself.
- I over/under eat.
- I avoid sexual situations.
- I often think about death.
- I abuse others.
- I use drugs/alcohol to numb or to feel better.
- I attempted suicide.
- I avoid people, places, or circumstances that I do not like.
There are 102 self-protective behaviors on the list. This was just a sample of the first few or ones I thought to mention. For me when I first read the list, I could check off 34 of the behaviors. 34! The good news is that these behaviors are considered a “normal” reaction to what happened to me. Normal! That was a crazy thought.
Now checking things off on that list made me quite aware of the shame I had because of those choices. My biggest, shameful choice was having sex with someone while my husband and I were separated… to me it was committing adultery. It was a purposeful act, which would send me to hell. A choice I literally made instead of killing myself. Now finding out that I was “normal” helped relieve a little of that shame, along with praying, focusing on God, counseling, etc. But the thing that truly released me from the shame of what I had done was brought to my attention by a dear friend. It is the FACT that if I did not commit adultery that night; I would be, without a doubt, dead. I’d be dead. I would have been dead for 8 years now. My kids would have been without a mom for 8 years. That was powerful… the realization of a truth in my life.
I then took that to the cross and laid it at the feet of Jesus. I repented for what I had done and the choice that I made. Then I saw the world with new eyes. They were the eyes of a woman who should be dead, but is now thankful for the messed up alternative I choose. The one that saved my life… and I am free, I have joy, I have a thankful spirit, and I will NEVER be ashamed of my choices again. I am forgiven.
Love this song: Shouting Grounds by Crowder
“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth, And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.” – Isaiah 54:4