Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Journey Through Anxiety: The Shame Factor

I have had it in my heart to share more details about my journey through anxiety, but couldn't work up the courage to do so for fear of offending anyone. Please hear me very clearly. This is MY story. This is not a step-by-step get well program, nor am I suggesting  that  what worked for me will work the same way for you. I don't believe in formulas for  freedom and wellness. I'm also not a medical professional; if you feel that you are depressed or suffer from anxiety, please get help. I hope you'll read this with an open mind and heart. And I pray that you'll find encouragement and hope through these posts.

If you're just joining me, you should start with:


The Shame Factor

I had discovered the Holy Grail of my recovery and it was this: Kill the shame and you'll kill the anxiety.  All this time, I had been fighting against Anxiety and Depression, not realizing that Shame was the one keeping me trapped. But how did Shame meet its end?

I was sitting in a women's conference at our new church in Kansas City. I had been praying about this, asking God to help me discern what the truth was about shame and my recovery. How did he help me experience such huge freedom in such a short amount of time? And if he did it for me, couldn't this truth help others, as well? During the worship, I heard him speaking to me. I grabbed my journal and wrote:
Shame cannot survive in the light. It shrivels and dies when exposed to the light. Exposure to the light is not the same as embracing or celebrating the thing shame has attached itself to. It wants you to think that so you will keep it hidden. But really, it knows that exposing it to the light and owning that part of your story is what strikes a death blow to shame. Shame manifests as the "fear of being found out", found to be a phony or "less than." Shame says, "If they really knew me, they wouldn't love me." Shame tells lies. It propagates this fear of being found out; the root of that lie is that whatever shame has attached itself to (the act, event, memory, activity, habit, etc.) is part of your identity. It says whatever shame is attached to is WHO you are.
That's a lot in one paragraph, so let's unpack it together.

1)  Exposure to the light is not the same as embracing or celebrating the thing shame has attached itself to. It wants you to think that so you will keep it hidden. But really, it knows that exposing it to the light and owning that part of your story is what strikes a death blow to shame.

I had read blog posts where they basically bragged about having anxiety or depression. They were proud of it.  When the Lord told me to start sharing this part of my story, I was afraid that doing so would be embracing or celebrating this very ugly thing. That lie kept me from exposing the anxiety and depression for what they were really are: temporary struggles.  Even if I were to deal with this for the rest of my life, it would still be temporary, in light of eternity. But God wanted more for me than that...he wanted me FREE. And to get me there, he had to break the hold that shame had on me.

I don't believe it serves my good or even my neighbor's good for me to be so bound up with anxiety that I can't even function. But it absolutely serves the good of others when I actively seek freedom; when I allow the Lord to work in my body and heart; when I freely acknowledge that I don't have it all together, but am on a journey with the Lord where he is doing a transformative work in my heart that only he can do. By bringing it out into the light, I wasn't celebrating Anxiety. I was celebrating God's power to bring healing and wholeness to the broken places of my life. I was celebrating his power to make beautiful things out of dust.

2) Shame manifests as the "fear of being found out", found to be a phony or "less than." Shame says, "If they really knew me, they wouldn't love me." It propagates this fear of being found out; the root of that lie is that whatever shame has attached itself to (the act, event, memory, activity, habit, etc.) is part of your identity. It says whatever shame is attached to is WHO you are.

This one was HUGE for me. I had grown up thinking, "This is who I am. I don't know why my brain works this way, but there's nothing I can do about it, it's just the way I am."  And to a degree, there's some truth there.  Some of us process information in different ways; some of us are considered highly sensitive people. BUT what I failed to understand was that I could re-train my mind to think differently. I could learn new coping skills. I could break the spiritual agreement with anxiety. 

Anxiety wasn't a part of my identity. For me (and this may not be true for everyone), anxiety followed this pattern:
  1. Initial spiritual attack (that first panic attack at 7-years old.)
  2. A series of lies I began to believe about the world ("There is no safe place." "If I'm going to be safe, I have to protect myself.")
  3. The development of unhealthy coping techniques which reinforced those lies in my mind (control of my surroundings, unhealthy relationship with food, addiction, and isolation)
  4.  Steps #2 and #3 on repeat for the next 25 years
Anxiety stole my power. It made me feel weak and helpless, all the while telling me that if I was going to be safe, I'd have to protect myself. In a family where the women are strong, take-control types, I felt like such a failure. I had been raised in churches that further propagated those lies by their facades of perfection, where everyone looked like they had it all together. And that made me want to keep my struggles hidden in the shadows.

Bringing them out into the light was a huge step of faith. It wasn't celebrating anxiety and it wasn't embracing those struggles as a part of my identity. But it was acknowledging that this was a very real battle I was fighting, that I needed love and support from friends and family, and that I trusted God to take care of and protect me, even if others didn't understand my journey.

Join me for the last part of this series tomorrow, as I share about My New World.

Blessings,
April

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