Shame Can’t Appreciate Beauty (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 1)

Growing up, I wanted so badly to believe that God loved me, and yet, I could not. I deeply craved God’s love and would do anything for it, which is what kept me trapped in a cult for so long. I was earnest and tried so hard to please God. Even though I was wrong, I loved God the best way that I knew how, the ways that I had been told to, but I always felt like I never measured up.

In the words of Jocelyn Zichterman (2013, p. 8) “If you had asked me at the age of twenty what my childhood was like, I would have said it was wonderful. I would have told you how loving and kind my parents were. I would have said that they were some of the godliest people I knew and that they had endured great heartache and trial. And I would have assured you that that the Lord had seen them through all of it.” One time I had tried to reach out to someone I thought was a friend to try to tell her what was going on at my house, and she told me to stop slandering my parents as they were good Christian people, that they loved me so much and I was so lucky to have a godly family. It was around that time that my allergy to “good Christian people” began.

Vampires in the 20th century were unable to love, according to Nina Auerbach (p. 60) who notes that Dracula was incapable of loving anybody. Dracula, however, was able to suck the life blood out of people. Love and shame cannot co-exist, because love is the opposite of shame. The very first chapter of the Bible says that God not only created me, but that God created me in God’s image. That God declared the creation of humanity to be “very good.”

But cults cannot control members that way. They focus on Eve eating the damn fruit and thus humans were doomed with a sin nature, before they were even born. It was a part of the genetic makeup of human beings. And yet the two creation stories, that appear in Genesis chapter one, and Genesis chapter two, those were deemed to be a literal account of what really happened. The part that they skipped in those first few chapters was the part about being created in God’s image and being described as very good.

Elrena Evans points out that “The vampire achieves immortality by sucking the life out of another (2010, p. 38). The vampire of shame sucked the life out of me for thirty-four years until I was overwhelmed and figuratively dead and then rose to new life believing that God loved me. Having the life sucked out of me was miserable. I did not recognize that my life blood was being sucked out of me until around my thirty-fourth birthday. One thing that I told my therapist just a few short months before was that I was scared to believe the priest who told me that God loved me, because if I believed it, I knew it would forever change my life, and that was scary. I instinctively knew that it would blow my mind and that there would be no going back.

The problem was that I had been through so much trauma in my life, and shame had been the only constant, the only thing I had to cling to when times got bad. I told my therapist that I wanted to go from surviving to thriving but clinging to shame because it was all that I knew would never bring me to a place to where I could thrive. Shame would never heal me, and it would keep sucking the life out of me until I had nothing left.

I lived most of my life in my imagination, where the world was any way that I wanted it to be, and yet the scenarios I lived in my mind were still full of condemnation and shame. I didn’t know anything else, so it was hard to imagine anything else. It just so happened that those years of retreating to the world inside my head was one of the things that saved my life. I might still have been living in shame, but it was shame for what I felt were legitimate things to be ashamed of. Going from real life shame to imaginary shame somehow felt different but shame is shame and that was the reality that I lived both in real life and in my mind.

I began writing in journals when I was fourteen in 1999, a young fundamentalist teenage girl, growing up in North Queensland, which to be honest is one of the most beautiful places on earth, at least to me. I have been to the wonderfully exquisite Cape Tribulation, in which the rainforest literally meets the sea. The Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef combine into a rare beauty. I have hiked in the bush around a lake that is inside an extinct volcano. I have lived in a small town on the rim of a crater, the red volcanic mud permeating everything and the torrential rains coming down so hard on the tin roof that I had to shout to people in the same room for them to hear me. I’ve broken off fresh sugar cane stalks and sucked the sugar right on out of the cane. I have traveled down a mountain range with over 200 bends in 19 kilometers. I’ve seen the most gorgeous of waterfalls. I have ridden down streets lined with jacaranda trees in bloom with their amazing purple flowers.

Although the beauty of North Queensland can be found nowhere else on earth, it’s hard to notice such beauty when you grow up being abused. The beauty surrounded me every single day and I hardly ever saw it. I got to drink milk straight out of the vat, right from the dairy farm of a friend, before it went out to be processed. I got to play in huge piles of cottonseed on that same farm. My family would go possum spotlighting sometimes at night. My sisters and I made entire tiny villages in the volcanic mud and would play there for hours. We would sit in a wheelbarrow full of water just to try to cool off because it was a hundred degrees outside. My father would take us for rides on his motorbike, to which he would hook up a snow sled so that we could all ride at the same time. It wasn’t in any way safe, but it was fun.

As beautiful as all that was, I never truly appreciated it until I left. I was merely struggling to survive and some days I didn’t care if I didn’t, which is probably why when I got to be an adult, the therapists would write things like “Katy-Anne engages in risky, impulsive behaviors.” Whether I lived or whether I died didn’t matter because both were as miserable and as scary as hell.

References:

Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. 1995: The University of Chicago Press.

Evans, Elrena “There’s Power in the Blood.” Christianity Today. February 2010.

Zichterman, Jocelyn R. I Fired God: My Life Inside – and Escape from – the Secret World of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Cult. 2013: St. Martin’s Press.

The Opposite of Love is Shame: a Continuing Saga of Learning that God Loves Me

I am beginning a blog series about learning that God loves me after a lifetime of shame. I plan to post on Monday and Thursday each week. I am writing this because I need to get my story out for my benefit, but I’m also writing it for the benefit of others.

You also have to know that you’re going to meet my favorite literary creature, the vampire, many times during this story. So what’s with those vampires, anyway? What kind of freak loves vampires? That would be this freak, thank-you very much.

Susannah Clements tells us in the conclusion of her book The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero: “vampires matter to us as metaphors, in what they represent. We can see in them parts of ourselves – our darkest fears or our deepest desires. The evidence of their significance is in a long, varied history of vampire lore, literature, literature, film, and television.”

Then in his book Loving Vampires: Our Undead Obsession, Tom Pollard explains that “as metaphors, vampires illumine our most secret feelings about issues too sensitive to discuss openly,” (2016, 14). He also says that “vampires symbolize hidden parts of the self.” (7).

So, that’s what the vampires are doing here, giving us a metaphor.

With that out of the way, lets begin…

One day, soon after I had turned 33, I met an Episcopal priest in a coffee shop on the Mississippi coast. She asked about some of my story and I told her some. As we were saying our goodbyes, and my promise to be in church on Sunday, she looked at me and she said: “God loves you. I know you don’t believe it right now, but God loves you, and I’m going to remind you every time I see you.”

I was always taught that the opposite of love is hate, but I’m not really sure that’s true. To me the opposite of love is shame. I say this because this is my experience with both love and shame. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid from the God who loved them because they were ashamed. Shame shows up in the first chapters of the Bible. I grew up in a cult. I’m well acquainted with shame. What I didn’t know anything about, however, was love. I learned about God’s love from an Episcopal priest and what my friend Tracey calls a “holy busybody,” an ordinary (but extraordinary, friend named Faye).

Shame sucked the life right on out of me, almost consuming me completely as I never intended to live to adulthood. Instead I had dreams of ending my own life many times because shame kept making its appearance. Mother Kate Moorehead, an Episcopal priest, says in her book about my patron saint (more about that later on), St. Mary Magdalene: “when a person feels shame, it separates that person from the essence of who they were created to be…Shame separates us from God, from each other, and from our true selves. When we feel ashamed, we run from God and we hide our true selves.” (Moorehead, 22).

The priest told me, over and over again, that God loved me. My friend showed me, over and over again, that God loved me.

References:

Clements, Susannah. The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero. 2011: Brazos Press.

Moorehead, Kate. Healed: How Mary Magdalene was Made Well. 2018: Church Publishing.

Pollard, Tom. Loving Vampires: Our Undead Obsession. 2016: McFarland and Company.