On the surface it all seemed to be going really well, but inside there was a storm brewing. Anxiety and rage were overtaking my life. Eventually I landed in my doctor’s office hoping for some happy pills to ease the miserable edge.
The doctor asked what I was up to in life…. and a wave of shame crashed over me. I had to confess I was studying to be a pastor! I was studying to become a leader of the church – an organization that professes to believe you are to be anxious about nothing. And, somehow, there I was riddled with anxiety and rage (not good attributes for a future pastor) and most of it was happening in ministry!
The ministry I launched during my internship at my home church was going great. But my tendencies toward anger, impatience, and defensiveness brought me into clash after clash with the congregational leadership and it wasn’t long before it was suggested it might be best if I left.
That was my home church – I had gone there since my early 20s when I was an atheist. I felt gutted by that experience. However, instead of taking the opportunity to reflect and grow, I did what any narcissistic over achiever would do: took a promotion at work, adopted 4 kids and decided to start my own church!
That little church never really took off – I had left my job in corporate America and gone back to school to get my doctorate but nothing helped. After 10 years it had dwindled to the point it needed to be put out of its misery.
It was in that same period I watched three of the four kids we adopted run away from home as soon as they turned 17. They were returning to their biological mother, their boyfriends, or homes of friends who were eager to hear stories about how horrible it was living with us. That period culminated with a big ($250,000) investment in the real estate and livestock markets in 2007 – just before the crash.
I returned to corporate America, but the anger and depression grew.
I remember walking through the pasture one day and tripping on my shoes that I always refused to tie. I began to berate myself – verbally berate myself for what an outstanding idiot I was. Now, I had said that to myself a million times before, but for some reason, for a moment, this moment, after the millionth time I addressed myself like that, I actually stopped and thought “who talks to people that way”? I would never let anyone talk to someone I loved that way? Why did I allow ME to address ME that way?
That was the light-bulb moment – the reality check I needed in order to start turning some kind of corner – to start to really understand how this thing called “shame” was controlling my life. I realized I couldn’t continue this pattern and survive.
Today I consider myself a survivor. I have survived what has taken the “lives” – philosophically and literally – of many ordinary people from CEOs to pastors to salespeople, farmers and entrepreneurs. In all aspects of life now I see people chained to their self-understanding – making decisions and taking actions they later regret in an attempt to alleviate this sense of shame and self-hatred.
I want to offer this space as a place where we can begin the process of living a life we want to live – not one dictated to us by our psychology. A life less crowded by the demons that taunt us into making choices we regret. That’s what I want to offer here. I hope you’ll join me.
Email me about speaking engagements or to receive a list of books
that have been helpful for me in my struggle with shame.