If you’ve walked in recovery for any length of time or even just began walking in recovery recently, most likely you’re well acquainted with shame. Shame seems to be one of the most common and universal feelings that those in addiction share with each other. If there ever was something that could deliver the final K.O. to someone trying to live the life that God created them to live, it would be shame.
At its very core, what is shame? Well, for one, shame is on a whole different level than guilt. Guilt says: “I’ve done something wrong” whereas shame says, “I AM something wrong.” What a paradigm shift in thinking and processing! One feeling pertains to your behavior. And one feeling speaks to your identity.
For so long in my addiction to pornography, I remember feeling an immense amount of shame. And it only complicated over the years as I continued to isolate myself from people. Rewind even further and I can plainly remember the first time that I discovered pornography. I don’t even now that I fully comprehended what I was watching. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there was something about this that wasn’t right. The excitement from what I was watching snagged me instantly. What I didn’t realize at the time was how deeply shame had also sunk a deep hook into my soul.
Author of “The Betrayal Bind”, Michelle Mays, says the following: “Shame creates a strange paradox because the antidote to shame lies in doing the very thing that shame tells us not to do. Shame tells us to hide, keep secrets, avoid, and withdraw. But when we share our shame, when we open ourselves to be seen, when we tell the secrets and allow others to draw close shame evaporates in the light of acceptance and understanding.”
While shame has the potential to be a real showstopper in your life, if you’re willing to be honest and open up, that potential will never become a reality. And if shame has already sunk it’s teeth into you, there is a way out. It may not be what you want to do. It may not be what you feel like doing. But I believe the level of your freedom and healing in life is directly correlated with your willingness to embrace and surrender the darkest corners of your soul.
One of my favorite verses comes from James 5:16, which says: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
In this particular verse, James is writing about the power of our prayers. If we have Christ within us, our prayers carry authority. But before we even enter into prayer, we find another action that carries just as much weight: Confession. The word confession actually means a “public acknowledgement”, something that done “freely” and “openly”. Before healing can take place in our lives, before sin can be forgiven, and yes, before any kind of understanding can occur, there must be a commitment to be honest about what is underneath the surface. And not only does it say confession is necessary, but it tacks on the phrase “to each other”. Don’t ask me what it is, but there is something powerful when I open my life to another person. When I’m willing to reach down into the painful, broken places within me and let others see the real me.
Let me be very clear, if you want to live a surface level life with everyone around you, this may not be for you. It takes great courage to be honest and to ask the hard questions. Difficult conversations don’t just become easy to have. They take practice and time to get better. I think it could be inferred that one of the guiding principles early on in James 5:16 is transparency. When someone is willing to live a transparent and honest life, no pain, no hurt, no confusion is too great to be healed. How do you learn to have difficult conversations with people in your life? Be ready and willing to open up the window to your heart and let others look inside.
Learning to have difficult conversations with the ones you love will never come easy. Most likely, it will require a ton of practice & proactivity on your part. The point we’re trying to make in this article is that you have to start by making a commitment to run to the hard places instead of running away from them.
If it helps, picture in your mind the police officer, the fire fighter, or the military service person. Do they run from the danger because they’re afraid? Not chance. Because they’ve already made a pre-determined decision that they are going to put their life, their value, their comfort on the line for others. They’re protectors and defenders. There is a courage and a strength about them because they are willing to do what others aren’t. This is the kind of conviction we must have too when it comes to having difficult conversations in life.
Small Groups Online has offered an incredible platform where you can share amongst other brothers or sisters who also understand what shame feels like. SGO provides you weekly support through online meetings hosted on Zoom. You can log on at the time of your choosing and in the environment of your choosing. And you’ll receive encouragement and engagement for your journey!
Shame doesn’t have to put you in the ground. It doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Instead, you can experience life that you never thought was possible as you expose what has existed in the darkest corners of your internal world. Bring those things into the light and get with people who can walk shoulder to shoulder with you on what could very well become the greatest days of your life.
Frank is passionate about helping individuals live with sexual integrity. He also works alongside his wife Tracey in helping spouses who have been devastated by their partner’s addiction. Frank & Tracey live in beautiful southern Delaware with their two children: Nathan and Addison.