I woke up one morning, selected what I was going to wear for the day and looked down at the bottom of my closet to see that the only pair of sandals I had to wear had a crack in the sole. I went and found some tape to hold my sandal together. I hoped that since my foot would be inside of it, no one would really notice the crack on the bottom.
I got to school and before long it was time for lunch. I grabbed my sack lunch, sat at the table alone and finished eating. As I was exiting the cafeteria, I noticed a group of popular girls from the cheerleading squad, walking behind me. That’s when the tape broke and my sandal started flapping as I walked ahead of them. I heard them laughing and snickering behind my back, making fun of my broken sandal. I was so embarrassed and humiliated. I felt like I wanted to crawl into a dark corner. I picked up my pace and got out of the “line of fire” as quickly as I could. By the time I reached the bathroom, tears were already streaming down my face.
It didn’t help that I had experienced sexual abuse at the age of thirteen from a trusted adult. From that point on, everything in my life seemed to reinforce the shame I was harboring.
In high school, I had four close friends all move away around the same time. I was grieving over the sudden loss of my friends. My tenth-grade year, our high school combined with our rival high school. I started a new school, with new teachers and no friends. I was a loner. I dreaded lunch time because I felt so conspicuous eating my lunch alone. My only reprieve was when my art teacher would allow us to come in and finish art projects during lunch time. Then I could lose myself in my art and feel safe from the judgments and ridicule from others.
My junior year in high school, I started dating seriously. My boyfriend was on the football team at his high school which made me feel a sense of redemption from being rejected by the popular kids in school. I was dating a popular football player and I took that to mean that I was “one of them” now. Our relationship was tumultuous and I constantly felt pressured to compromise my morals and values. This created a lot of tension in our relationship which had become increasingly toxic. This relationship ended by being invited to his home for a farewell party. When I got to his home, I was greeted by his new girlfriend and a group of his close friends. I was devastated. He had been dating someone else and I didn’t know it until that moment. My heart felt broken.
After graduation, I did my best to focus on my studies. By the time I was nineteen, I was engaged. We married six months later, just a few months after my twentieth birthday. The ten years we were married, were filled with highs and lows. Our marriage was plagued with trauma. We were young and immature. Our marriage became toxic and our two young boys suffered because of it. Ultimately, our marriage ended in divorce.
I spiraled into a deep depression. I had been an at-home mother all those years and suddenly found myself all alone, with no family or friends (again), trying to learn how to make a living. I had just finished Beauty School and was just barely making enough to support myself and even then, I was struggling. My boys’ father got engaged five months after our divorce to a lovely woman who I felt was an angel in our lives. They moved to Michigan. While I was grateful that my boys would have two parent figures in their daily lives, I felt limbless like I had two gaping holes in my heart. I had no sense of identity because for so many years I identified myself as a mother and wife. Now I was neither one.
As I tried to navigate through single life on my own, I made poor choices that reflected how little I felt about myself. I had entertained thoughts of suicide on several occasions. I truly felt that something was wrong with me. I didn’t know that what I was feeling at the time was shame.
Shame says, “I am the problem.” Guilt says, “I cause the problem.” That shame was reinforced continuously through date rape. I was in a relationship with a sex addict and stayed in that relationship out of fear and insecurity. I had become extremely co-dependent in that toxic relationship.
One night he proposed to me and when he did, reality set in. I realized that I would be stuck in an unhealthy relationship for the rest of my life if I didn’t leave. The next morning, I went into work and gave my boss a week’s notice. I turned down my promotion, I moved everything into storage, and called my dad to drive down from Utah to Nevada and come pick me up. Within a week, I was gone. I knew that I would have to physically remove myself from that relationship in order to gain the strength I needed to move on with my life. I lived with my parents for five months. As hard as I tried, I could not find the strength to keep myself away and ended up moving back to Nevada. In some ways, I felt I had run away from my problems and needed to confront them. Upon my arrival, I discovered that my fiancé was cheating on me. I had made some friends who became an extension of my family and with that source of love and support in place, I broke up with my fiancé. I continued to date and although I started dating people who were respectful, the relationships didn’t last because I was “broken.” I had a low self-esteem and even though I sometimes projected myself as confident, I learned to “fake it till I made it.”
After three years of being single, I met my current husband. That is when my life changed for the better. My husband created a safe space for me to heal in. I went back to school and studied experiential psychology. I became certified in several methods. My confidence increased and I was finally able to address the abuse that I had experienced on and off throughout my life.
Through school, I had an experience where I came face-to-face with my shame. One of the requirements in graduating was that I had to complete a Ropes Course. A Ropes Course is an obstacle course that is meant to challenge you physically, mentally and emotionally. I was carrying my shame in the form of excess weight. I was extremely overweight and the heaviest in my class. My class was filled with people who took their health seriously.
On one of the obstacles, there was a tree that stood about 15-20 ft high. We had to wear harnesses. At the bottom was a rope ladder that transitioned into little pegs that only one foot could fit on. These pegs spiraled around the thick tree and led to a point where there was a larger peg that both feet could fit on. It was exactly the size of an average person’s feet with no extra room. Once a person got to that larger peg, they would leap across the sky and hit a hoop that hangs from another tree, before they came down. I got up the rope ladder which was a lot trickier than I thought it would be. I got up to the point where I needed to position my body to turn around the tree so that I could stand on the large peg. I sat straddling the tree trying to figure out how on earth I was going to do that. I had envisioned clearing this obstacle with no problem. I knew that once I reached the larger peg, I could confidently make that leap; however, as I sat there holding onto the tree for dear life, I was holding on so tightly, trying to support my weight, that my arms became badly bruised, scraped and started bleeding until finally they gave out. I realized in that moment that my body couldn’t support me because I hadn’t taken care of it. The shame I felt turned into self-loathing.
I continued to fail every obstacle I attempted with the last one ending in my rear end being hoisted over a flat, tall wall by all of my team members – most of whom were young, attractive, ripped young men! That hoist got me over the wall with a resounding “thump” as I clumsily fell onto the narrow, little rafter that was on the other side. My ego was shattered!
I went home after a long day at the Ropes Course. I was beyond exhausted and sat on my couch sobbing uncontrollably. I was so angry at myself for letting myself down and putting myself in a situation where I was continuously humiliated. The only thing I knew to do to try and control the sobbing was to grab my journal and start writing. I wrote until my fingers and thumb were numb. I was so emotionally, mentally and physically fatigued that I ended up crashing on my bed early that evening.
The next morning, I skipped school, still feeling the repercussions from yesterday’s disaster. I continued to cry off and on throughout the day and promised myself that one day, I would be strong enough to either go back and redo the course or at least cross the monkey bars.
You would think that after a fiasco like that, I would have immediately “changed lanes” but I didn’t. It took another five years for me to completely heal from the shame, the self-loathing, the abuse, the guilt, the pride and victim mentality. It took me that long to finally forgive myself.
Looking back in retrospect, I can see how I had spent my life in a cycle of shame. I came away from the abuse with the beliefs that something was wrong with me, I was unlovable, that I wasn’t worthy of love, and that my body is repulsive. The amount of varying, negative beliefs I held about myself created a tapestry of dysfunction throughout my life. The emotions that felt trapped inside of me continued to eat away at my sense of self, safety and security.
Next, there were situations that would arise that would trigger past events. My natural, physiological response to the trigger was to turn to food, specifically sugary, processed foods which inevitably would need to be balanced out with salty, fattening foods. I became addicted to food. This addiction felt uncontrollable. The more I ate, the more shame I felt. The more shame I felt, the more my anxiety would increase. In order to cope with the anxiety, I would self-medicate with food. This self-medicating was a natural response to the stress hormones running rampant in my body. My body craved pleasure chemicals and by eating food, those pleasure chemicals would release. This is true of any addiction. The more food I ate, the more out of control I felt which increased feelings of guilt and shame. I would end up right back where I started from.
For years, I didn’t understand how to heal shame. I thought that if I processed my feelings (if I allowed myself to acknowledge them and feel them), that the shame and guilt would leave. While processing helped, something would happen that would trigger those feelings all over again. This is about the time that I realized I had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I would experience intense anxiety and panic attacks that would sometimes come on unexpectedly.
I believed for so long that I was a victim, that even having gone through years of therapy to heal from the abuse that resulted in addiction, I struggled to let go of the shame and guilt which only kept me bond to the addiction.
In October of 2018, everything came to head. I woke up one morning and got dressed up, thinking for sure I was forgetting about needing to be somewhere. I sat on the arm of my sofa, feeling restless. I asked myself what I was waiting for. My inner voice responded with, “You’re waiting to be loved and accepted just as you are.” That caught my attention. I moved to the center of the couch as if to listen more closely. At that point, I heard a voice that wasn’t my own, a voice that I recognize as my higher power (God), say, “Julie, I have loved you perfectly and infinitely, all along. What are you waiting for?” Those words pierced me to my core, as did this intense, immense amount of perfect love that washed over my entire body and poured out into every cell of my body. I knew that all of the shame, the guilt, the self-loathing, and the victim mentality was completely healed. It was gone! I felt like a new person – a pure, clean, cherished, loved, daughter of God. I struggle to convey what that experience was like but I know that as long as I live, I will never forget it.
For years, I had prayed to know how to love. I intuitively sensed that this was a part of myself that seemed to be missing. For years, I didn’t feel like a “whole” person. I felt incomplete. During those times that I had been abused or experienced trauma, a part of me felt dead inside but after that experience, I felt whole again.
What heals addiction is reconnecting with God. By this, I don’t mean that you simply love God (as in a verb). It’s more than that. It’s realizing that He loves you perfectly and infinitely; that He never abandoned you. It’s realizing that God is love and He lays it on the table waiting for us to accept it and let His love into our hearts and minds. He waits for us to exercise our agency and draw close to Him.
For years, I kept God at arm’s length because I believed that love hurts. My perpetrators were male and because I believe that God is a male, I projected those authority figures in my life – those perpetrators – onto Him, without even realizing I was doing that at the time. Bad things happened and I blamed God for letting those things happen. I was angry at Him because He didn’t protect me. I thought I was being punished. My reality was filtered through my pain causing it to become very distorted.
Addiction is a coping mechanism that is unhealthy. We do what we do, when we don’t know what else to do. When we experience any feeling or emotion that is heavy or extremely difficult, we will resort to various ways of coping. We disconnect with others out of feelings of shame and guilt. We don’t want others to see or judge our weaknesses. We usually end up pushing others aside or try to hide the addiction because it feels “safer.”
In order to heal addiction, we need to address the shame. For me, the shame was healed through an experience that was an answer to prayer. I asked for help. If I hadn’t, I doubt that I would have had that experience. Having that experience ended the shame cycle and I was able to finally recognize the truth – I am loved perfectly and infinitely no matter what. I could no longer hold onto the negative beliefs I held about myself. Once you know truth, you can’t unlearn it. You can deny it, but you can’t unlearn it. That’s when I began my health journey and released 68 lbs. of shame (and counting). That’s when I started to reconnect with people I loved and had pushed away. That’s when I could love others without expecting to receive love and acceptance in return. That’s when I could forgive myself.
The most beautiful truth is this: Each of us are loved perfectly and infinitely by our Creator. His love heals and brings peace and joy into our lives. Therapy helped, increasing my education helped but nothing compares to the healing power of our Creator.