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How to Reframe Your Shame

How to Reframe Your Shame

Three months after I returned home, Jimmy happened upon a Facebook post of a pastor’s wife in Florida who was celebrating several years of sobriety. He encouraged me to reach out to this woman for support. I took the chance, not knowing what I would say when she answered the phone. When I heard her voice and sheepishly shared that I had just come home from rehab, I sensed her immediate acceptance and loving embrace in her voice through the phone. It was as if she was right in front of me, giving me a big hug and telling me, “Honey, everything is going to be okay! I am so proud of you!” She became my safe place and a person I looked up to who had been on the recovery journey for some time and was thriving! She challenged and encouraged me and held me accountable to my growth process, becoming my sponsor, of sorts. She embodied all the qualities a sponsor should have and encouraged me to work my program. Having a sponsor can sometimes be intimidating if you aren’t aware of the importance of having one in recovery. A sponsor is simply someone who can hold you accountable to the goals you set for yourself and who can share their own experiences of strength and hope as you process the unknown. The onus is on the person in recovery, not the sponsor. Since support is critical to recovery, finding a safe person to confide in who has been there and done that and who can guide you as you own your recovery process is vital.

My new sponsor’s support felt especially helpful as I agonized over publicly sharing my addiction to alcohol. She told me it was okay to hold things close for a while, that it was okay to to to share when I felt ready — and not a moment sooner. The pressure I was putting on myself about how and when I was to share my story was self-inflicted torture. I agonized over people finding out my secret struggle. I felt pressure to share what I had been through, but the stories I told myself about how I would be rejected, judged, and shamed terrified me into silence. She reassured me that I was put- ting unnecessary pressure on myself to share now. Who said it had to be now? It’s okay to honor yourself and work through the fear and shame before even thinking about sharing publicly. I released myself from all that pressure when she reminded me of how Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the angel told her she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus, kept things close to her heart until the timing was right to share. Scripture says she “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19 NLT).

The Bible is rich with stories of people who are dealing with the same things we are. I identified with the shame Mary must have felt as a teenager, pregnant, and not by the man to whom she was betrothed. I can imagine her fear and apprehension to share about the baby she carried. What would people say or assume about her? While her story is not mine, I felt that same kind of fear she must have felt—fear of what people would say or do. What would the church congregation think of me? Would they reject me? Would my family be shamed by the fact that their daughter, wife, sister, mother, aunt, daughter-in-law was a drunk?

I made the decision to keep my situation and process close to my heart and to think and write about it often in the safety of my home with my immediate family, with close friends, in counseling, and at AA for a season, where I could keep my anonymity. God was working in me and developing credibility in my sobriety over time while I consistently worked at my recovery program every day for a little over two years. There’s a quote I love, though the author is unknown, that says, “Work hard in silence and let your success make the noise.” Deciding to grow in integrity and healing before inviting other voices and eyes into your life is wise. Critics and cynics are easier to handle when we know we are supported, surrounded, and loved, when we know that someone’s words, disapproval, or actions will not have the power to take us on an emotional roller coaster, keeping us in turmoil.

Go slow. Protect your healing and recovery journey, especially when you are most vulnerable. Your greatest misery can become your greatest ministry, just like mine did. But you must be wise in the timing of your sharing and with whom you share. Sharing in safe places at the right time is critical to the redemptive nature of your recovery journey. If you still feel acute shame, tears, and pain, I suggest working through things before you share them publicly. Your story may be meant just for one-on-one or small settings until you experience healing and breakthrough in whatever it is you are dealing with. To provide safety for yourself and others, establishing boundaries for sharing is imperative. If sharing a part of your story will hurt someone, you need to use discretion to protect their privacy (more on this later). Oversharing can be a boundary violation and instead hurt or trigger yourself or others. You must be mindful of this when sharing about abuse and naming individuals who hurt you. Find safe places to share, like with a counselor or even in a journal, to process and keep your story close, working through your healing before you decide to share it ore broadly, or even publicly. Not everything is meant to be shared publicly. Some things are for you and God to process. Some things may be shared with your spouse, a close friend, a teacher, a small group in your church, a recovery program, or a prayer partner.

Consider step 6 of AA: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Confession brings healing. When we confess our sins to God, we are forgiven (1 John 1:9), and when we confess our sins to others, we are healed (James 5:16)!

Freedom is on the other side of your sharing, which is why being part of a small group is so important. We learn in rows, but we grow in circles. Relationships and connection are basic human needs and bring us tremendous hope and healing.

Don’t be ashamed of your story; it may inspire others! God is the author and the finisher of our faith and our stories, and He is not done writing yours. Will you let Him redeem and rewrite your story? All He needs is your willingness to be brave and share as He leads you.

Excerpt adapted from Reframe Your Shame: Experience Freedom from What Holds You Back by Irene Rollins

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