Shame is a Parasite (and other suprises)

By:  Jana Greene

I once watched a television show about a woman who had traveled to **insert the name of sub-tropical paradise here** and returned home with some strange symptoms.  She felt crawling under her skin, and she couldn’t figure out what it was.   In one episode (a year later) after many trips made in vain to doctors,  she glanced down at her forearm and  saw a worm wiggling around just under the surface of her skin.  During her trip to paradise, something had bitten her and deposited its eggs into her body, where they had been growing unchecked for all that time.  She ended up getting treatment that killed the parasites, but she still had the sensations on occasion.  The feelings she can’t forget, and she is paranoid that they will resurrect.

Ew.

Yesterday, I blogged about the process of preparing to write a memoir, which I have been threatening to do for years.  I wrote about getting honest with the world, “coming out” as a recovering alcoholic and my hopes that someone somewhere might find hope in a similar circumstance.

As repugnant as the worm story is, it’s a pretty good analogy for my issues with shame.  Years ago, I considered alcoholic drinks paradise, going hand-in-hand with the sun, sand and surf at the beach where I live – socially acceptable and readily available.  And nobody judges a soccer mom who enjoys a nightly glass of wine (except that it was NEVER one nightly glass….I will address the amazing enabling phenomenon of Wine by the Box in a later column….) but I started having strange symptoms, including – but not limited to – nausea, vomiting, shaking, yellowing of the eyes and skin, blackouts and the worst of all:  a shameful sensation of self loathing had gotten under my skin.

Yet I couldn’t stop drinking. I could hide the magnitude of the issue with some measure of confidence, but  I COULD NOT STOP.  Self-diagnosis?  Crazy, weak and powerless.

Now, many sober years later, the shame I thought was gone seems to have only been lying dormant.   Reliving the experiences of those dark days through the journal pages has made me feel shameful again:

Sample entry:  Try not to drink, stop for two whole days, and relapse.  Stop again for one day, feeling triumphant.   Take one drink to stop the shaking….full-blown relapse.  Over and over and over again.

I cry while I’m reading the pages, but slowly my shame dissipates, as I realize I don’t hate the woman I used to be at all.   She is weak, yes – but not bad.

She is just only sick.

She doesn’t know the ironic  thing yet; that admitting to that  powerlessness is the thing that will get and keep her sober.    That just feeling powerless says, “Its useless…I am weak,” but admitting powerlessness to God and others says, “Ok, I am weak.  What now?”

In the Bible, 2 Corinthians 12:9 assures me that those phantom sensations of self-loathing have no place under the surface of my life.  The feelings that I can’t forget keep my active disease from resurrecting, but shame has no place.

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (NLT)

So, in writing about my experience with alcohol, I am boasting about my weakness for sure, but   Jesus considers our weaknesses to be His greatest stronghold.  He is also a big proponent of forgiveness.  Even when we must apply it to ourselves.

I think I’m starting to forgive myself.  Someone, somewhere might find hope to employ some self-forgiveness, too, in a similar circumstance.

It’s a start.

9 thoughts on “Shame is a Parasite (and other suprises)

  1. Jane, consider that an alcoholic has
    an incurable disease, and the first drink is a trigger to more, and more! If you were a diabetic, or had terminal cancer would you be
    ashamed? My feelings were that sobriety is a
    gift of grace from God, freely given. Accept
    that God given gift and hold your head high,
    no matter what we did while drinking, we are
    loved and graced filled people now.
    God bless!

  2. thanks for sharing Jana. my therapist has told me more than once that guilt says “what I did is bad” but shame says “who I am is bad”. I’m covered pretty well in both unfortunately…but I’m confident that God will work through her to replace the enemy’s lies with His truths. Thank you again and again for sharing your stories with us. (((Jana)))

  3. Your therapist sounds awesome. I have guilt and shame galore, but I’m learning to let the shame go. Thank you so much for reading the blog posts. Sending you hugs 🙂

  4. I just saw this verse referenced in The Mom I Want To Be and thought of our exchange here about guilt and shame.

    “We look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons. Loom at it!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 MSG

    I’ve only seen this verse in NIV form. I love that we get a fresh start! Thank you Daddy for that reminder this morning.

    I struggled with perfectionism, so fresh starts are often needed multiple times a day. 🙂

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