Written by Jen Bodenmuller
Shame. It’s such a sneaky little thing. As a kid, shame began to take over with my inability to just be normal like the other kids. Nobody really knew or understood what ADHD was at the time, and my intense social anxiety came across awkward and insecure. I wouldn’t be diagnosed with ADHD until I was 17, and by then the belief that I was broken, or less than, was already so deeply rooted in me that I didn’t know any other way to think about myself. I felt the need to apologize for my very existence, as though I was taking up precious space and should just be thankful anyone let me be here.
In friendships, that translated to me being thankful another person would put up with me, it became more of a servant and master relationship, rather than two equals. I was afraid to have an opinion, and voicing it was definitely out of the question. Not surprisingly, I approached relationships with men, so thankful that they would choose me that I gave more of myself in the vain hope they wouldn’t change their minds. Those decisions led to shame of a different kind. At some point I began to spiral, hard, and it took awhile for me to pull myself out of it.
Summer of 2004 I met this guy and it was almost unnatural how drawn to each other we were. It was like a spell had taken over both of us and we couldn’t break free, though I tried more than once. After awhile it was becoming rather serious, and it was time for him to meet my parents. Though I knew he wasn’t good for me, I stayed in the relationship. He hadn’t rejected me so I ignored every inkling I had to really end this. After an idyllic morning at a local apple ranch, we were at my apartment before it was time to meet my parents. As he rifled through the refrigerator, his back towards me, I heard a clear whisper. I have more for you than this. At that time in my life I was so far away from God I didn’t think I could ever come back, but oh how I knew that voice. All at once it was commanding and reassuring, strong and full of hope. It took my breath away with it’s intensity. We broke up that day, and I felt relief. I felt free.
Though I knew there was better in store, I still couldn’t quite grasp the idea that I deserved any of it. Why would God want more for me? But I knew He was close to me, and that was enough. Not too long after the break-up, the most handsome UPS man you ever did see walked through the door at my office. Life took quite a different turn from there. He was everything my mama had prayed for, and every bit the man my daddy could have hoped. God doesn’t lie when He says he has better. Ten months after our first date we were engaged, and nine months later we were married. That first year was a doozy of figuring out this whole partnership thing, but marriage to my best friend was still everything I could have asked for. Our first son was born just before our second anniversary, and life changed yet again.
Here I was with a sweet little boy and an amazing husband. Life should have been great. Some people only hope and pray for what I had. Instead I was being eaten alive with anxiety and insecurity. At the time I was the heaviest I had ever been, and leaving the house was almost painful. Shame creeped back in. Depression was not a new feeling to me, but one day while looking at my son, I realized I wanted more for him than this. I didn’t want him to have my fears. I prayed he would never feel shame. So how did I change his example? I first needed to work on changing myself. And this time, it required more than a break-up. The focus of my heart needed some tweaking.
Books have always been my safe place, so I started by devouring So Long Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us by Beth Moore. Maybe I wasn’t so alone in this struggle. Maybe I could actually live in freedom. These new fangled thoughts took me awhile to process, and I was still struggling, but for the first time in a long time, I had hope.
One day while scrolling through Facebook, I happened upon a post for a new bible study starting at church. Without really thinking it through, I clicked ‘will attend,’ and then waited for the panic to start…only it didn’t. I was amazed at how peaceful I felt! However, that first day my peace was nowhere to be found. At the time we lived in a small town about forty five minutes away from this church, and I spent the entire drive giving myself a pep talk. You can do this. You can do this. Just go in and be normal. Apparently I’m not a good pep talk giver because by the time I parked and dropped my son off with childcare, I was shaking and absolutely terrified. A situation that should be innocuous, was to me social torture. With ADHD, the anxiety causes my mind to race, and I was thinking through every worse case scenario of rejection and judgement. There, again, was shame. During my years of perpetual shame-inducing relationships, church began to feel like a very unsafe place for me. I had perceived that people I once knew were now looking at me with their mixture of pity and judgement.
But God. That day, He delivered on His word. That class was nothing short of life giving. The subject matter was finding security in our relationship with God, and oh how I needed to hear those truths with those women. The church women. Many of whom I had admired but was afraid of. Some of whom I thought were sure to judge my intentions for being there. But here we all were, working out our own struggles with security in who we are in Jesus. I slowly began to forgive myself for all of those poor decisions, finally fully accepting the forgiveness of my Savior. This battle we fight, the war on guilt and shame and feeling less than according to the world’s normal meter, robs us. It leaves us without hope or joy or peace. It can feel overpowering. Overwhelming. I’d like to say that with the completion of that study, all of me had changed, but it didn’t. It was the beginning, but it wasn’t complete. I was still unconsciously cowering under the last original vestiges of my deeply rooted shame of feeling different. What did God have in store for me here?
Two years ago, our oldest son, almost 10 now, was diagnosed with ADHD. Though his diagnosis was difficult for me because I understood the battle ahead, I was reminded of that voice. That voice whispering to me many years ago, I have more for you than this. As I have worked tirelessly to build him up and instill the firm belief that he has value, that God has created him with a plan and a purpose, I’ve also been telling myself the same. The strings I had spent a lifetime tying up into this false belief of who I was, were unraveling. What I thought was the bad kind of different, has turned out to be good. Good qualities for friendships and motherhood and being a wife. My tendency to forget things and my inability to manage time well, often reminds me to have extra grace for others’ faults. My extreme emotions lead me towards empathy. Social anxiety has given me a heart for making others feel welcome, seen and heard. These qualities I had berated myself for and felt the eternal need to apologize for, are actually gifts.
To my son, to myself, to other readers and friends who hide in the shame of your differences, your purpose is greater. Our Savior, who makes us strong and capable and new, is better. I wish I could say that I am complete and never do I ever struggle with the mangled roots of shame, but that would just be another lie to live under. This may always be the thing I have to fight against, the weight I have to remember to shred. Starting a blog and involving myself in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Leadership, helping in the classroom and hosting friends for dinner parties, is all evidence of what God has done. Only God could have whispered His truth and prepared my heart for the work ahead of me. We may underestimate our worth or just how far his forgiveness spans, but He doesn’t bat an eye at it. He sees us so clearly, and He alone knows what we were made for. If this is you, living under the weight of shame, know that this is not where He wants you to stay. He has so much more for you, and you are worth it.