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The Seventh Step to Radical Self-Care from a Trauma-Informed Thriver

TW: self-harm, trauma, and suicidal ideation


I love my life.


I know that seems like a given – all people should love their lives, right? Otherwise, why do we push on and through the hard times.


I grew up barely hanging onto hope in a difficult and often angry home.


At fifteen, and nineteen, and twenty-six, I tried to end my life. I felt such deep shame at who I was and the mistakes I had made that not living anymore seemed the best option.


I pushed on, but at some point, decided that happiness was not part of my future. I saw therapists who helped but never healed, and too many pastors who harmed more than healed.


But I persisted.


In all of that, my shame grew and festered deep inside me. I could not be authentic and who the Divine Beloved was calling me to become because I was so ashamed of who I had been and who I was. Looking back, I often heard a litany of reminders of the “bad” decisions in my life. It was my parents’ voices, over and over, telling me how I had shamed them and reminding me - always be ashamed. Even after I learned to stop listening, I continued to carry the shame.


This all led me to becoming the yes-person. I never interjected to say no. Nearly every ask brought a yes response from me, because when you grow up in shame you learn to try and earn love and acceptance. You never learn to say no. Step Five of Radical Self-Care was to silence the voices and impact of other people who criticize and shame us, but that does not address the legacy of harm left when that has happened. After we silence the voices, how do we eradicate the shame that they planted in us?


The Seventh Step to Radical Self-Care from a Trauma-Informed Thriver is to let go of the shame and mine it out of your heart and brain.


That does not mean it is easy. It means digging deep into your body and ripping out the parts of you that are still feeling that shame. Think of this step as emotional weed killing. Gardeners know that any plant growing where it is not wanted is a weed because it is competing with the other plants for water, sunlight, and nutrition. Shame is a garden of weeds planted in our hearts and when we have stopped the seeds from entering the garden anymore, we still need to rip each one up and destroy it or it will keep coming back.


One of the first ways to do that is to share your shame with someone you trust. Brene Brown says that; “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” (Daring Greatly) Shame is a funny thing. Once we share it, it often seems to dissipate. When someone else responds with empathy and says they have been there, we begin to see that the shame we are nurturing is not fully reflective of our lived truths. Because being human is hard. We all goof and mess up. Shame keeps us rooted in the goof, and we must rip the roots of it out or we will never thrive.


Shame keeps us thinking we do not deserve wholeness and is one of the legacies of trauma. One of the people I respect most in our world is Pastor Danny Givens, Jr. He grew up in the Rondo area of St. Paul, a historic Black community that was destroyed by the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960’s. When he was 19, he shot (and was shot by) an off-duty deputy during a bar robbery.

After both recovered from their stomach injuries, the man Givens shot, Sergeant Art Blakey, began to speak out asking for leniency for the young man who almost ended his life. Givens later recalled that it was Blakey’s testimony that changed the trajectory of Givens life. “’He should be given a second chance, I don’t think we should throw away the key on this young man,” Danny recalls Art telling the judge. “The way he told the story, it was like a grandfather talking about something that happened to one of his grandchildren,” Danny said. “The judge started crying during his testimony.” [1]


Instead of the sixty years prosecutors wanted, Givens only spent twelve years in prison. Blakey’s love, compassion, and grace motivated Givens to begin ripping the weeds of shame out of heart and becoming a changed man. Instead of spending his life in prison, Givens has dedicated his life to sharing the love Blakey shared with him with others who need it. He is a husband, father, pastor, and justice activist. (https://www.dannygivens.com/)


His story is one we can all use as a model to eradicate the shame that has rooted inside of us.


Brene Brown reminds that once we have identified the shame we carry, shared it with empathetic people in our lives, there is a final step to removing it. We must learn that we are not the only one who has ever done whatever we are most ashamed of in our lives. We are but one person in a long history of people, and there is nothing that is truly new in human behaviors.


“The biggest potential for helping us overcome shame is this: We are “those people.” The truth is…we are the others. Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being “those people”–the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones we don’t let our kids play with, the ones bad things happen to, the ones we don’t want living next door.” [2]


It is not healthy to remain tied to the mistakes we have made. In fact, when confronted we often find that the moments of our biggest shame are not a big deal to anyone but ourselves. When we let them go (forgive ourselves), we learn to thrive. When the weeds of shame are rooted out, we learn to love ourselves, and when we learn to love ourselves, we learn how to love others.


To repeat – I LOVE my life. It is messy and complicated, but it is mine and I refuse to be ashamed of it.


[1] https://www.kare11.com/article/news/local/breaking-the-news/st-paul-man-who-shot-officer-shares-story-on-steve-harvey/89-c0ec1382-48da-4e80-9f6b-414b1135b059 [2] I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough"

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