I’ve struggled with shame for many years. To say I was a wild child for many years may be an understatement. Now, I could reason away the life I lived and choices I made with a million reasons like: I was just young, rebellious, trying to prove something, vying for acceptance, masking hurt, or just plain self destructive. But none of the excuses I could make for myself, could make the shame go away over the choices I made. It’s a wicked cycle too this “shame” thing. You’re ashamed of what you’ve done or who you are, then you do things or say things to “fix” it that generally leads back to more shame. As I walked away from that kind of existence and began to find real joy and fulfillment in life, I still found it hard to shake the shame from my past. It didn’t help that I had more than enough people wanting to keep me pigeon holed as that person and not accepting my changes.
Over the past nine months in Cambodia I’ve met many clients and lately I’ve been thinking about the shame they struggle with. I can see it in the way they try not to make eye contact. Or they’re all smiles and confidence, until we need to talk about their story; then I watch the smiles and confidence wash away in a second. I see it in women who have been reintegrated back into communities, and cringe at the thought of someone knowing their past. What happened to all these women wasn’t their choice. And even if they did “choose” it, their physical exploitation was never really a choice. *side bar: I’ve learned that this concept of “choice” in the sex industry has so much grey, it’s like staring into an abyss of fog. But it’s safe to say it’s almost never really a choice.
We work with these girls to help them heal through finding justice (validating what happened to them was wrong) and restoration (helping them physically and emotionally heal), but what can we do about the shame they feel? I know from my personal experience, this is not something anyone can really help you with. No one knows like you do what you’ve done and what’s happened to you. The past haunts you, usually when you’re at your weakest. It’s that vision that flashes as you close your eyes to sleep. It’s the memory that makes you step back, when you start to gain confidence or want to go for something “better than you deserve.” It’s the people who never let you be more than your past or remind you of it every time you have a breakthrough.
Having just come from a trial where I looked at many young faces riddled with shame, I was once again reminded of this incredible barrier SO many are trapped behind. I just want to grab them and help them understand the past is exactly that – the past. It is a part of who you are, but it is not WHO you are. It’s what you do with it and the power you give others over you. I may not chose to repeat the things I’ve done, but I also know it’s brought me to be who I am and the same is for them. God has the ability to make everything, good and bad, work together to make us the powerful unique people we are (or are meant to be). Who is anyone to judge, when God gives grace and forgiveness daily? Why feel shame when God loves each of us more than any person ever can and He knows better than anyone else each and every thing we’ve done or that’s happened to us?
All I can do is hope to show these girls enough love and respect that the looks of shame slowly fade from their eyes. All I can do it do that for anyone who comes across my path for that matter. And the rest I just pray for the release of shame and the strength of being a beautifully created child of God to take the place of it. I pray this continues. I’ve been specifically thinking of the girls, boys, women, and men who have gone through the aftercare “restoration” process and are now trying to move forward. We all get weak sometimes and get lost in our past. People from the past, or who know it, will always try to keep you trapped in the past if they see you rising up higher than they want to see. I pray for survivors during these moments when memories, or people, create a weight of shame that blocks these survivors from their victories. I’m asking you to remember them and pray for them as well. Pray for them to stay strong and know they are not their past, and every day is a chance to try again free from shame. Pray for them during the moments of weakness when they slip or the cycle of shame creates another reason for them to feel ashamed. Pray for them to remember it’s ok, and we all stumble, but to just move forward.
And to my lovely readers: If this is something you struggle with, then I hope you know that nothing in your past matters either. Whether done to you or done by you. God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness and strength cover it and no one else matters in the equation. Shame and guilt are a lie and trap to keep you from the life you’re meant to live each and every day.