Rejection is bad enough, it feels awful. However when it ever it comes around it never comes alone. Rejection brings its unwanted twin siblings shame and contempt. When rejection arrives it delivers its punch, and lets lose the other two holy terrors on my life. What’s worse, after the initial rejection sting…these two stick around for a while. In this crazy train of his addiction, the part that gets me is why do I feel bad? I shouldn’t right? But nonetheless there I am. Turning the rejection inward, and now I am in shame. I am going to say it again, shame is nothing more than rejection turned inward.
I use shame as a way of rejecting myself, and I am really good at it. Since childhood I have lived with I am not good enough. So I then use whatever slight was hurled upon me as a way of justifying the heap of shame I lob my way. I don’t stop there, I then proceed to make my case not only with the current slight, but with every other one from the past. Like a prosecutor presenting a case before a judge and jury…I bring up every failure to be paraded in front of my soul to win my case.
The funny part is, I hate losing. I hate losing with a passion. Even when I am the one at stake, I will take rejection and run with it until all that is left is a shell of the woman I could have been. So not only am I the prosecutor, I am the defendant, the judge, the jury…and ultimately the executioner. The defendant never takes the stand, and judgement is passed quite swiftly and just like that I become the martyr. How twisted is that?
Shame, I believe is what gives rejection it’s true power. With out shame exploiting my own insecurities, his actions or anyone else’s would not have power over me. I wouldn’t buy into the lie that ‘I am not good enough’. There would be no case to present, and no life to destroy.
Shame is the insidious bastard that has ruined my life. It is the one thing that has prevents me from recognizing any story of redemption in my life, and I let it repeat the message ‘I am not good enough’ with a mega phone. I am constantly amazed at how it can hone in on the things I am insecure about the most. It’s like a missile on a seek and destroy mission, whipping through twists and turns until it finds its target, and blows it up for the world to see-or so it feels like it anyway. In order to remain “safe” I isolate. I hide. I distract myself with work, children and victim hood. I wear fear like a piece of armor, and use supposed rational thinking as a defense for not taking risk. All the while shame is having a field day preventing me from experiencing life the way I was meant to. Suddenly I can’t breathe, and I circle back to my failures. How did I let it get that far out of control? More shame.
This addiction, by its very design ruins lives. It uses gorilla warfare tactics and my personal belief is shame is the secret weapon. The operative word here, is secret. I let shame keep and exploit my secrets, it stuns me into silence about all my past failures-real or imagined. I don’t call them out, I tuck them away. I pretend they don’t exist, and I certainly (heaven forbid) don’t forgive myself for them. I don’t name my failures, and learn from them. I use shame to destroy me.
So how do I stop it? The truth is I don’t know. I don’t know if I can-completely. But I can minimize its effect. I can recognize when I am crossing the border from healthy examination to shame. I can bring that shame into the light, and ask a trusted friend to hear my fear/ confession. I can ask forgiveness, and I can use my affirming emotional safety plan to build myself up in the heat of battle. Most importantly I can acknowledge it exists and let grace cover it all.
As I wrote in part one, I have allowed rejection to write a reoccurring theme of “I am just not good enough” on my life. I wish these messages came to me with ex-h, however my journey with rejection started much earlier. Unfortunately too early.
I can’t remember a time in my life when rejection wasn’t a prominent part of my day. My mom is mentally ill, and that time manic depression or more commonly known as bi-polar disorder was a relatively “new” thing. My earliest memories of her caring for us are mixed in with her own messages of self-depreciation. It feels like every day she would cry, wail, carry-on about how she was stupid, dumb, unlovely, etc. As a young child (and I mean young 4-5 years old), I thought she was the greatest thing to walk the earth. And why shouldn’t I? However, these daily barrages of how awful she saw herself, had me questioning if my perceptions were untrue. At first I would affirm and praise her, only to have it continue. More questioning. Soon, it was a tired game, and I believed her. What this ultimately begat was a notion that “I just wasn’t good enough.”
I just wasn’t good enough, at the ripe old age of 6 to soothe her self perceptions. I wasn’t good enough by accident or default of birth. I reasoned that even if my father was the polar opposite of her, by birth I was at least 50% stupid, dumb, unlovely and that was already failing. My odds of being anything more were certainly stacked against me. I wasn’t good enough to cover her tracks and create a normal life for us. And I wasn’t good enough to be rescued.
By age 6, I was already caring for my brothers full-time (ages 4 & 2). Making us food, cleaning what I could and keeping my four year old brother from her screaming fits-as he was usually the subject. She would lay in bed for days-crying. Unable to care for us…until my dad was about to come home. Then she was magically better. My efforts were completely unnoticed or if they were, it was expected and certainly not praise worthy. Of course my dad didn’t really know who had done the work, and so he would come home and say little things like “these dishes need re-washing” or “it must have been a rough day, this ‘insert meal’ is a little over done”. To which she responded with “I guess I just can’t do anything right!” Run off and cry some more. Of course I died inside.
Her illness also left me wondering why we were not enough for her to feel joy? Why wasn’t my dad enough to sustain her through out the day? Why when it came to school did I not have the energy or the desire to care about it? Why wasn’t I normal?
Rejection whispered so loudly into my ear that I believed I was so faulty that there really was no point in trying. Teachers sent home with report cards with comments like “she is such a bright kid, if only she would try.” I wondered how they knew that. Didn’t they know my mom was dumb? And since I didn’t try, there was no evidence to support their statements. Thus they became liars in my eyes. Rejected again by people who wanted to justify their failures. Not good enough to care about.
The playground was an even more cruel place. Neighborhood kids were aware of the crazy I lived with, and like me they instantly knew I was 50% defective-and exploited it. Rejected again. I had a few friends-mostly social misfits like myself. Many of whom became bright spots in my life. One in particular, who is officially my oldest friend. She moved away in fourth grade-rejected again by circumstance. Not good enough to stay.
Fast forward to the truly awkward years of teenage hood. I craved complete acceptance . I desired more than anything for someone to love me as I truly was. But I couldn’t believe for a second that I was worthy or good enough for anyone to see me. Enter Holmy.
Holmy, was this goofy guy in geometry class that couldn’t remember my name half of the time. He simply called me “hey you”. He was popular, every one loved him and he noticed ME! We became friends, and even dated a little off and on over the years. But what is important about him, he was the first person with whom I allowed even a hint of vulnerability. He held it like a precious gift. He never spurned me, or rejected my notions. As far as I know, he never whispered behind my back-it wasn’t like him to do so. We would spend nights talking until the sun would begin to rise, about life, love the future, we would laugh and dance-more like boogie, and sometime be silent together. My appetite for acceptance-his acceptance grew. You know when you haven’t eaten for a long time, and you get a hint of food & your stomach becomes ferociously hungry…it was like that. What does every girl desperate for affection at the age of 15 do? She seeks it any way she can. Let’s just say, I scared him off. I didn’t realize at the time he too was dealing with quite a bit-and years later I learned the battle he faced was far more complex than the one I was begging him to soothe for me. (That is his story to tell-not mine.)Nonetheless, our friendship/ somewhat romantic life went on like that for about four years. One day he disappeared (it was his journey that took him places. But I didn’t know or understand the depth of that journey, and it would take almost 20 years to reconnect again. Not good enough to be around.
By the time I married the first time, I was willing to settle for someone-anyone to see me as special, beautiful and amazing. Rejection had whispered so much pain so much heart ache that I could not see any value in my self. And why bother trying. It masked some of the things in life that were truly beautiful. I became a mother 5 months after my wedding day. It was the first time I experienced-so I thought….unconditional love. But even then rejection whispered…20 years old and already a failure. I failed to do the marriage thing properly. Failed to be the good girl I was taught to be. I failed at being a good friend, and failed to learn how to live life appropriately. I didn’t know how to budget, or manage money. I let my ex-h do all of that. Not good enough for this little baby.
Suddenly I understood the hurt my mother hurled upon herself. The feelings of inadequacy in caring for such a small human being. How easy it was to hide all the fear and rejection for the sake of another. And I let it whisper quietly, never to be spoken out loud lest my daughter feel the pain of rejection by a parent. It ate at my soul, it paralyzed me with fear. And primed me to become a sexual assault and domestic violence victim. I deserved it all. The twisted lies whispered more.
I stand today, the spouse of an addict. Who knowing every bit of this history…its sordid details. The intense pain, took the most sacred part of my life/ our life and use the one thing that I perceived to be the only pure thing in marriage to betray and reject me. I have already discussed my discovery day, so I will not rehash that here. The ultimate rejection, and it because the final whisper “You, Sarah, are just not good enough.” Rejection my one constant companion. It became the thing that I could rely on for sure…and my heart closed. I pulled inward. It whispered more and it grew into a monster I could not contain. I lived in deep shame, and projected contempt.
I hate rejection. When it happens real or perceived…I become a wilted flower. So give me a minute….I am going to straighten up…force those leaves to unfurl….open up the petals. Here I go.
Rejection-I reject you. I reject the hold you have had on my life. I reject the notion that you are my only faithful companion. I denounce you. You can no longer take up residency here. I am good enough. I am good enough for long-lost friends to return. I am good enough to be a faithful and beautiful wife. I am good enough to have a mom who loves me, and she doesn’t have to be biological. I can chose my mom. I can be an amazing mother, and I don’t have to dwell on the past. I was exactly who God needed me to be at the time, good,bad and ugly so that I could shout this today: “I AM AMAZING!!!!”
I recently had the pleasure of going through a class called the “Re-Telling”. It is all about taking our story/stories and holding them as a gift-examining them as we experienced them…how does it impact us now…and where does the redemption of God reveal itself in the Retelling. We worked in small groups each week and listened to one another and spoke out hurts/ slights and perceptions out loud. Extremely powerful stuff.
I dreaded going each week, doing the homework etc. I kept asking myself why would I pay and subject myself to a ripping of my heart out just so it can be thrown on the ground and kicked about each week. Each week I would leave the class learning new and powerful things about myself, and ultimately glad I went. It was horribly affirming. Yes-I do mean that exact combo of words.
I became acutely aware the power rejection has had on my life. I wore it like a merit badge. I allowed real and imagined rejection to force me into a position of fear instead of empowerment, and I learned I was indeed a fighter…but more importantly I discovered I was also a protector. A protector of my brothers and my fear protected my children-and it was okay to let go of the things and experiences I failed to protect. Friendships, relationships, my dignity, my pride.
I allowed rejection to form my life’s story. I allowed it to tell the story “I am just not good enough” and it gave me shame and contempt to carry with me-for myself and rightfully so for others.
I was able to see how I could take that pain that sorrowful intense emotional trauma and use it for good. That if I hadn’t felt the fear, hadn’t experienced the rejection and lived it..I couldn’t bless others with empathy. More importantly I could now forgive myself for the road not traveled. I could let go of the coulda, woulda, shouldas.
In the face of this addiction I have journeyed with rejection like it was a lover. I could hide behind it, and use it to keep my heart at a distance-no risk. But nothing gained either. And while it served to protect at times it has cost me dearly. Time to say good bye and give it power no more. The next few posts I will say good bye to this unwanted lover of my soul.