“If you could tell them anything, what would it be? What would you tell the people who love the people who harm?”
I remember our first conversation. We sat in a little booth at a Tex-Mex restaurant and laughed over queso and margaritas. She wanted to talk about writing and what it meant to find your voice and how it felt to be brave – and how it felt to be safe. I wanted to know the same.
We were kin that day, bound by story.
I remember the first text. She needed boundaries. She needed prayer. Because she knew she needed to stop cutting. It was a bold thing, the stopping. The cutting offered companionship and comfort. Yes comfort. Self-harm does that, you know. In the bleeding, in the pain, in the wasting away, it comforts the heart and mind of the afflicted.
I know. Because we’re kin, bound by shame. And unshame.
For her, it’s razor blades. For me, it was food. A quarter head of lettuce, sprinkled with vinegar and salt. And a Dr Pepper. Day after day. A tablespoon of peanut butter when hunger tore too violently. Hers is about self-injury. Mine was about self-denial. Both are about self-hatred.
The stopping would be so much easier if the stopping was just about the action. Because then it would be all about the externals, and a simple decision – to cut or not to cut, to purge or not to purge, to drink or not to drink – would determine our worth. But it’s not about the acting out. And demonizing the razor blades or the alcohol only adds fuel to the fire of shame.
The seeds of shame are a garden. For both of us, the seeds were abuse and neglect. And when those seeds bloom, their petals are colored with condemnation and accusation.
When shame owns us, defines us, has its way with us, it finds its ways of acting out in us. Shame sneers, “You are alone, and you are to blame.” Shame gathers its cronies, fear and pride, to trap and deceive. Shame tells us we are only worthy of being worthless.
And the journey from shame to unshame is a walking one. There are days when the pain is still palpable, and more days when the pain goes completely unnoticed. There are pieces of the shame that have been erased completely – and all that remains are the memories of the battle. But there are other pieces that are still a deliberate act of will to overcome, a moment-by-moment staring down and saying “be gone today – you don’t define me anymore.” There is worthfulness in the walking forward.
This road to unshame begins with love. Raw, real, unconditional love that says “there is nothing – NOTHING – that can make you worthless. No matter what happens to you, it can’t destroy the beauty that’s IN you. You are full of wonder, a masterful creation, with a voice that is here to be heard. And I want to hear that voice.”
That love exists. For real.
I received the panicked text from a friend. The mother had discovered her daughter was cutting. Everything seemed fine at home. The daughter was a lovely smart girl. Life was upside down now – and nothing made sense.
And I knew my friend would have the answer. Her words are for the mother. And her words are for you, if you love someone who harms.
“Don’t assume it’s about you or because of you or to get attention from you. Or about attention at all. It’s not that I necessarily want to die; I’m just having a hard time living. I don’t know how to handle all the things I “feel” – I don’t even know what I feel or if I feel.
“Talk to me. Tell me I’m not lost. Let’s go talk to someone. And can don’t take me to make you look like a better parent. Take me because you love me and want me to not hurt, because you want me safe.
“Ask me why. And listen for the answer – because it’ll probably take a while for me to answer you. I’ll probably be really awful and say hurtful things. I don’t really mean them. I just don’t know how else to “protect” myself. Wait. Please wait. Don’t walk away so easily. Keep asking. Keep talking. Show me that you aren’t going anywhere.”
That’s what love does. It doesn’t go anywhere.
Do you battle shame? I want to pray for you – for unshame to shine brightly in your heart…