My phone rang. On the other line was a friend of mine, asking me to come talk to her this afternoon. “It’ll only take about 10 minutes then you can go on about your day,” she said kindly. Despite what I know of my friend (to be loving, supporting and gentle in her communication), I plunged into one of my all-too-familiar shame contractions.
When this happens I feel small all of a sudden, and I cave into myself. Instinctively my stomach cringes and I assume the fetal position, and make my body as compact as I possibly can. Non-verbal translation: Perhaps I won’t be seen. Maybe the outer world won’t realize how utterly unworthy I am. My mind gets in on the action, too. It frantically searches for what I’ve done now. What could it be? I ask myself. I’m usually able to dig up several possibilities — none of them as existentially awful as how I cause myself to feel. None of them, to be sure, reasons for my instantaneous emotion of somehow being unlovable, unforgivable and overall not worthy of respect or good esteem.
Old patterns die hard.
Actually, when it comes to codependence, old messages and feelings never quite fade away completely. Infancy and childhood are the one time in life when healthy paternal love, nourishment, protection and care are imperative. Each plays immeasurable roles in forming the child’s senses of self and value. If the parent(s) or the crucial provision is dysfunctional or missing, the child will be bereft for her lifetime of the irreplaceable foundation of self-esteem and ability to esteem herself from within. That child grows into an adult who (at best) struggles with relationships, particularly with those closest to her like her spouse and children. And the beat (unintentionally and unconsciously) goes on from generation to generation.
Unless someone stops the madness and works to break the pattern.
Truly, the first step towards healing is recognizing that one has a problem that is beyond her personal ability to overcome. The next steps are one foot in front of the other, each day for the rest of one’s life with said awareness in mind. Sometimes we take one step forward only later to take two steps back. Yet we move on, knowing that recovery is a process for which there is great hope for not only coping but growing freedom from past haunts.
I am a recovering codependent. I have an emotional chasm as dense and dark as a black hole residual from my childhood that exists within me. One life-changing spiritual journey, 2 years of counseling and 1 year of spiritual direction have helped me to let go and allow God to fill it. My self-sabotaging voice is no longer blaring in my ear and pounding in my head. I am much, MUCH better and less anxious than I have ever been. Hallelujah!
When I have experiences like I did this morning, I apply coping mechanisms that I’ve learned along the way. Deep breathing and centering prayers serve me well. Additionally, I’ve found that the most effective thing for me is envisioning and hearing God affirming me as her beloved, precious daughter.
Interestingly, my most common God-imaging and message look and sound much like Aibileen repeating and teaching a self-affirming mantra to 2-year-old Mae Mobley in the book and film versions of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. “Shhh, my daughter,” says the Perfect Caregiver with profound love for me in her eyes. “You are kind. You are smart. You are important.” After a while of meditating with this vision and message, I am able eventually to expand to full-size Angie once more.
My anxiety won me over this morning. I couldn’t stand the thought of going through the day, wondering almost obsessively about that which my friend wanted to talk to me. So I called and offered to come in, as I was out and about doing errands. Thankfully, she was available. I was able to calm myself and walk into her office with a relatively open mind, but I was still shame contracted and fearful of a bomb being dropped. No bomb. Just love and support, which are totally consistent with who she is.
I see my shame contraction today as some steps backward. But I also view my awareness of what was happening to me and ability to apply some coping techniques in the moment as leaps forward in my healing and recovery. Along with the rest of humanity, God created me good and calls me beloved. God tells me that I am kind; I am smart; and I am important.
I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.