I once watched a television show about a woman who had traveled to a sub-tropical island on vacation and returned home with some strange symptoms. She felt crawling under her skin, but neither she nor her doctor could figure out why — until months later when she happened to glance down at her forearm and see 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 they will resurrect.
As repugnant as this is, it is a pretty good analogy for shame issues.
Years ago, my addiction to alcohol became uncontrollabe. Living here in our paradise by the sea, I believed it harmless, going hand-in-hand with the sun, sand and surf here at the beach — 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 worst of all: a shameful sensation of self-loathing.
Yet I couldn’t stop drinking. I could hide the magnitude of the issue with some measure of confidence, but I couldn't control the consumption. Self-diagnosis? Weak. A weak and powerless failure.
Now, many sober years later, I’m finding that the shame tends to lay dormant. I recently ran across journals I kept before my sobriety stuck and the entries read: Tried not to drink before dinner, failed. Stopped for two whole days, but relapsed. Didn’t drink again for one day, feeling triumphant! Just took one drink to stop the shaking….full-blown relapse.
Although I start to cry as I read it, the tears dissolve the shame into compassion. I can never forget the feelings; remembering them keeps me from resurrecting old thought patterns and behaviors. But I am not the woman I once was.
She didn't yet understand that simply feeling powerless says, “It's useless…I am weak,” but admitting powerlessness says, “I am weak, God. What now?”
In the Bible, the father assures me those phantom sensations of self-loathing have no place under the surface of my life.
“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.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9 (The Message)
So, in writing about my experience with alcohol, I am boasting about my weakness for Christ. 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.