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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Healing Guilt, Shame, and Self-Hatred

I just saw two weeks ago Brene Brown talking with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday about shame and guilt, and I wrote the piece below some time ago, but it just felt right to share it now.  On the show, Brene Brown talked about how shame is lethal and deadly, and the less you talk about it, the more you got it.  Shame, as Brown describes it, is an "intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging."  Shame destroys your life.  Shame is the lowest energy of the universe and it drags you to the very bottom of the abyss.  That's why you've got to speak your shame, because shame can't survive empathy.  However, she warns to be careful who you share your shame with.  You want to find a person who will love you for your shame, for your weaknesses, frailties, and the darkness you hold within.  You only share your story with people who've earned the right to hear your story, who understand the pain, and who look beyond to see the beauty that is inherently you.

I share this piece that I wrote because I felt it was the right time to share my own shadow, the things that I was guilty of, ashamed, and which filled me with such self-loathing.  This self-evaluation is part of the work that I ask clients to do in part II of my 12 session program, and it is the very same process I used to unlock myself from the past.  Friends, I'm not asking you to do anything that I haven't already done.  I've gone down there, I dug deep, and I unearthed all that had troubled me and my mind for all my life, and brought the light to the darkness.  We often wonder what that work is really like.  Well, this piece will show you what it was like for me, what it really entailed.  Sometimes it's messy.  Sometimes it's ugly and painful.  And sometimes, it's uncomfortable, because I was going into some extremely vulnerable territory.  And yet, we are only as liberated as the secrets we tell.  I'm going to tell you many of my secrets and past sufferings.  I hope it inspires you to be able to look within at your own shadow, confront it with compassion and love, and learn one of the steps as to how one is able to overcome their past.  You must learn how to make peace with your past, so that it doesn't destroy your present and future happiness.  What will happen is, as you do this work, the past let's go of you.

One last thing.  This blog is being read by people from all over the world.  Here's a list of the countries: United States; Germany; United Kingdom; Russia; India; France; Belgium; Czech Republic; Ireland; Ukraine; South Korea; Pakistan; Poland; Israel; Canada; and Australia.  I am so blessed and honored by all those many people who've read my words.  It also brings me a greater awareness of the problem with PTSD.  This is not an "American" problem; this is a world problem.  PTSD has no religion, no creed, no allegiances to countries.  It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and I sincerely hope to all those who've read this blog, that in some way my writings have helped you.  As I get my program out to the world, it is my deepest desire that it will heal you from the effects of PTSD no matter where you live or how you got it.  As you read the piece below, remember, my spiritual foundation for the program is grounded in the principles of Gandhi (non-violence) and A Course in Miracles.  I re-built my belief system based on the text and workbook of ACIM.  For those of you around the world who do not follow this particular spiritual practice, the program still works for you.  Truth has no religion.  Thus, when one hears the truth, no matter where it came from, our souls know it.  It bridges cultural divides, customs, traditions, and all religious doctrines.  There are many roads to the truth, and this is the path that resonated with me.  This is the baseline of the program.  It will never fall below this line of universal spiritual truth.  That said, it may not resonate with you.  That's fine.  If you decide to work with me or take the program when it becomes online, we will fashion something that is workable for the spiritual traditions you come from.  It's about your healing, not mine.  I've healed this, and this program came about from my years long work.  As long as the spiritual principles with which you re-build your own belief system are rooted and based in love, forgiveness, non-violence, and peace, universal spiritual truths found in all the major religious doctrines around the world throughout time, this program will work for you.

Here's the piece I wrote (22 Jun 2012):

Judgement, Guilt, and the Belief in Sin

Am I a judgmental person?  I have been, although, if you would have asked me this question a few weeks ago, I might have avoided the self-honesty required to examine this process within me.  I probably would have blamed outside factors and influences that caused me to judge someone or some occurrence the way I did, but that, had those things not occurred, I would have remained neutral or at peace.  Perhaps I would have even denied I am judgmental, that I look on all things equally and without judgment, seeing things only as they are in reality.  Perhaps this is how I want to see myself, this is my ideal, and yet, with closer inspection, deeply embedded within me is a harsh critic who has been merciless to me, exploited my perceived 'failures', and held me down at the mercy of the world.  This essay is intended to understand why this is true; where did it originate within me; what effects has it produced in my life; and most importantly, why I no longer see it as true and the value system I will use to replace the old one.

Last week, I looked at the statement that irritated me.  It was as follows: 'Someone who has lots of money and doesn't use some of it to help those in need.'  In this statement I've made two judgments:  1. People who have money should spend some of it to help those in need.  If they don't, I look at them harshly - as selfish, uncaring people who could do more to help but chose not to, and this I look down upon.  By doing this, I have made me superior and these 'others' inferior.  If I had money, I would do this, and therefore, I am superior to them, in my mind.  I have judged them as 'less' than me.  But, there is a second judgment in there directed towards me and that is:  2. I judge against myself because they have something that I want (money, wealth, and abundance) and because I don't have it, I'm angry, and therefore, must find fault with those who do in order to make myself feel better and look better in my eyes.  Their success and wealth upsets me because my life does not reflect that, and thus, my judgment is a mask over the anger I feel towards myself, the wound I have for not having met with success and wealth in my life through my endeavors.

In A Course in Miracles (ACIM) (Chapter 3, Section VIII  Judgment and the Authority Problem) it states: "When the Bible says "Judge not that ye be not judged." it merely means that if you judge the reality of others at all, you will be unable to avoid judging your own.  The choice to judge rather than to know was the cause of the loss of peace.  Judgment is the process on which perception, but not cognition, rests."  When I have judged others, I am really judging against myself, and I have found myself wanting.  ACIM goes on to say, "Judgment always involves rejection...what has been perceived and rejected - or judged and found wanting - remains in the unconscious because it has been perceived.  One of the illusions from which man suffers is the belief that what he judged against has no effect.  This cannot be true unless he also believes that what he judged against does not exist.  He evidently does not believe this, or he would not have judged against it."  In essence, I have rejected the parts of me I have found wanting - because I presently do not have the wealth and prosperity in my life I desire, I project my lack or failure onto others who do, and condemn it in some way or form, and thus, I prevent it, block, the very thing I want from entering my life.  It keeps it at bay, and thus, I get to hold onto my illusion that I am a failure in life.  And why am I a failure?  Because I must have done something so horribly wrong in my past that God, the Universe, has judged against me, I am guilty of sin, and therefore, deserving of punishment.  And this is my punishment: to watch others have what I want, while I must serve my sentence until God's grace grants me a reprieve from the things I had done.  Until then, suffer I must.

Allen Watson, who works for the Circle of Atonement, wrote a beautiful article titled 'Why Do We Judge People?'  In it, he states, "Judgment is innately, and fairly obviously, an act of playing God.  When we don our robe, take up our gavel, and sit in the judgment seat, we have taken God's place.  Reality is now up to us."  By judging so harshly against myself, I have usurped God's authority, and made myself the author of my life.  When I judge others, for whatever reason, I end up feeling guilty, and then, I turn my outward rage and indignation upon myself, and I have been unmerciful towards me and my 'sins'.  In my position as author of my life, I have overvalued and overestimated my failures and undervalued and underestimated my successes as my identity.  Why did I do this?  I judged by keeping me focused on my failures and my guilt, this would keep me humble and penitent, while a focus on my successes could lead to arrogance, pride, and an over-inflated ego.  God, Life, would punish me for my pride, and I did not want to offend Him.  But, what I ended up doing while seated there in the Seat of Judgment was make guilt, shame, and sin idols that my ego secretly worshiped.  My guilt was excessive and debilitating, paralyzed me from moving forward, and kept me in a constant state of regret and remorse.  It was really a disguised form of egotism, the very thing I was so afraid of becoming by over-inflating my successes.  David Hawkins describes this form of guilt very well in his book Transcending the Levels of Consciousness.  He writes, "Excessive guilt and remorse are a disguised form of egotism in which the self becomes blown up, exaggerated, and the hero of the tragedy, the negativity of which feeds the ego.  Therefore, release from guilt requires surrender of this basic egotism because the ego re-energizes itself through the negativity." (p.52).  I was a guilt-ridden sinner who was addicted to guilt and sin, and my ego was strengthened and fortified in its position of authority by this idea.

Where did this idea originate?  Why would I adopt a value system that over time would judge me so harshly and cruelly that I felt I was unworthy, unlovable, and undeserving of the joys of this world, much less salvation?  That my actions and behaviors were unforgivable, irredeemable, and beyond hope?  Well, it began very innocently.  I was brought up Catholic, and guilt is a binding principle that guides many of the Church's doctrines.  I'm not going to blame the Church though.  A healthy form of guilt can be used as a learning tool to teach someone how to live a better life when looked at as an error, so as not to repeat the same mistake again.  I am responsible for my excessive attraction to guilt and sin, not the Church.  Nonetheless, I learned that man was guilty of 'original sin' and that the only way he could be redeemed was through God's Grace and living a good life and doing good works.  All very noble, but not practical, in the sense that we are human beings, and because of our imperfect nature, chances are, through the course of one's life, one was apt to make mistakes, which of course I did.  However, instead of using my mistakes as lessons to be learned, I (because I so wanted to be perfect and unsullied - I had actually asked the priest one time during confession how I could become a saint, and even wanted to become the 1st American Pope), started to wallow in my guilt and never let it go.  It became habitual, unconscious, and self-indulgent.  And the more failures I had in my life only increased in direct proportion my self-indulgence in guilt and shame.  As I look back on my life, a pattern shows itself in which I've been self-indulgent by wallowing in excessive guilt.  Guilt, like chocolate, has been my spiritual indulgence.

Where has this indulgence been reflected in my life?  There are two areas where I have judged myself a failure in life - my failure with women (which represents love) and my failure to achieve success (which represents power in this world).  In regards to women, I was considered the 'nice' guy, I felt very uncomfortable around them, couldn't talk to them, and because of my insecurities within myself, I didn't have much success in having relationships with women.  I felt like I was unattractive and undesirable to women because I was too nice, so, to change my luck, I went 'bad', became the party guy, had wild parties, did lots of drugs, because I wanted the girls other guys had, and I convinced myself that I had to change who I was in order to attract them.  It worked for awhile, but I was so filled with guilt for what I'd done and become, and I still didn't have the woman I wanted, and the results were the same - now the girls didn't want to be with me because I was the party guy.  I was so desperate to feel love from a woman that I turned to prostitutes to get any kind of physical contact and affection, but this only made matters worse because I was filled with so much self-hatred, guilt, and shame for what I'd done to myself.  Then, I'd look back at the girls I did pass up who liked me but at the time I wouldn't give the time of day to because I was looking for these wild women, which only made me feel more guilty because now I could see that I had passed up on what was more substantive than what I'd been chasing after.  'You could've had _______!' my judge would say, and yet it was this same judge, my ego, who got me into this mess in the first place.  When I met Angela (her name is changed) for the first time, I was in a place where my past didn't exist and I could be and act like I wanted to be and act, and for the first time, I felt real love.  And yet, I felt God wanted to punish me for my licentious behavior of my past by preventing the two of us from having children, and thus, I judged myself harshly once again.  There's no reason to go over the relationship I had with her (I wrote a separate essay on the experience of my relationship), but when she left abruptly, there's no question I felt I had failed at love.  I judged me a failure.  So much second guessing and what if's, my mind was a living hell and tormented me relentlessly with memories and images from our past.

The other area where I have judged and condemned myself is in my failure to achieve success and power in the world.  I started off fine, graduated from a prestigious university, the US Air Force Academy, and was well on my way to achieving success.  However, because I was dissatisfied with my life, (I felt like I was wasting my life away, and my life had lost all meaning and hope), I turned to drugs as a coping mechanism to escape the dullness of my life, and the lack of love.  The guilt I felt for doing so, though, compelled me to confess my 'sins' to the authorities (Air Force OSI - Office of Special Investigations).  As an unintended consequence, although I was finally getting the help I needed, they sought to prosecute me for conduct unbecoming of an officer, and had they been able to corroborate the confession I made with witness accounts or physical evidence during their investigation, there's a good chance I'd have gone to Leavenworth.  Instead, I was dismissed from the Air Force with a misconduct charge, and an Under Other Than Honorable Conditions discharge.  I had brought about my own fall from grace.  I had brought disgrace and shame to my family's name, and I could no longer pursue employment with companies associated with the Air Force.  I remember being offered a part-time job for $60,000 when I first got out and started studying acting at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting, but they wouldn't hire me because of what happened.  I had systematically and deliberately destroyed every opportunity available to me then outside of the Air Force, and I had no idea where to turn to next to support myself.  My disgraced dismissal from the Air Force led to the greatest traumatic event in my family's life, the night when my parents found out.  That night changed my life, and my family's life forever.  We even labeled it as "The Event".  It was the night my family was destroyed.  It took ten years for it to complete its course, but that night changed everything, and I was the cause, I was responsible for the pain, the irreparable damage done, and I never fully recovered from that night.  The guilt I felt was so deep and profound as the horrors of that night reverberated in my mind constantly.  This night affected every choice I made, every decision I made, both consciously and unconsciously, for the next 12 years.  The 12 year odyssey to find my way back home through PTSD began.

I refused to go back to Denver because I couldn't face the shame and disgrace I'd brought to my family, and so, my father, coming to the rescue, helped support me while I chartered a new path in the arts.  I had failed my family, but more painfully, I'd failed myself.  For several years, I engaged in many drug-induced activities to numb the pain of the guilt and shame I felt.  I was a drug addict.  It was the only way at that time for me to feel good.  It was difficult to find sustainable employment during these 12 years as well, the cloud of the past hanging over me with every resume I'd send out.  Not being able to support oneself in life is a terrible feeling, and I felt like an exile.  My dependency grew as I trudged along, hoping acting would break through for me and I could live a better life, but any hopes I had were constantly met with disappointment.  I felt powerless and helpless to the world around me and at its mercy.  My inability to support myself and create any wealth complicated and put a strain on my former relationship, and I felt such shame because I couldn't or didn't know how to do more to improve our situation without drastically changing our circumstances, for instance, moving to Colorado and using my family connections to get a job.  As I watched others start to accumulate wealth and achievement in their lives, I was riddled with guilt for the things I'd done, and judged myself a horrible failure as a man.  I'd imprisoned myself in the mad house of sin, guilt, and shame - I, who wanted to be a saint as a child, was now evil, impure, and corrupted.  I felt like a speck of dust, left to fend for myself, cut off from the source of life, cut off from love, cut off from my joy and happiness.  My life reflected the judgments I'd made upon myself which I projected on to God and hated Him for abandoning me, and not giving me any hope for redemption. Angela, for awhile, offered that redemption, but when it fell apart, it brought me to my lowest point, and that's when I turned to God for help on bend-ed knee.

Before I move on, let me surmise some things that I am now aware of.  I had judged myself as if God had already judged me.  I passed the sentence of guilt before God could pass sentence on me.  I usurped God's position, placed my ego as authority over myself, gave sentence, found myself guilty on multiple accounts over the years, and condemned myself to the just punishment God would have proclaimed on me if He had judged.  I peremptorily made the decision before God could, thus showing God I knew I'd sinned, I wasn't running from them, and I was punishing myself accordingly.  Perhaps I thought God would show mercy upon me when He finally did judge me for my sins because He witnessed how much I suffered and punished myself for the sins I committed.  I was exacting the justice I thought I deserved for my unforgivable sins.

Why is this no longer true?  I have come to learn through my studies of ACIM and other spiritual books that mind is the cause: the world of perception is the effect.  By placing my ego as the Judge in my life, rather than God, I condemned myself for the 'sins' I made, which were really errors that needed to be corrected.  Sin is actually an archery term which means 'you missed the mark.'  By judging myself so harshly, my ego condemned me to hell, and then, tyrannized over me as I plodded through the suffering.  My ego's goal was to strip me from my joy, and send me to my death.  And, of course, I believed it's condemnations and recriminations, and guilt, shame, and self-hatred lorded over me.  Well, I no longer believe I should live in hell while others get to experience bliss in their lives.  ACIM says, "If guilt is hell, what is it's opposite?"  Well, it's opposite must be the Son of God (we're all sons and daughters of God) is guiltless and in Heaven, which is where I want to be.  I've suffered enough for my 'sins'(errors), whatever penance I thought I needed to pay, if it needed to be paid, has been, and then some.  I will no longer allow myself to be secretly ruled by a tyrant who strengthens its hold upon me, and gets pleasure from, me wallowing in guilt, shame, and self-hatred for past mistakes.  I have re-contextualized my errors to learn and grow from them, no longer to be unmercifully punished by them.  I deserve to be happy, free, and in love with all things and all life.  I recognize that some degree of remorse and regret over the past is inevitable, even healthy, as one can learn from one's mistakes in order to do better, and that human error is to be expected as I evolve, and others too.  And I also recognize the world is better served and benefits from the wisdom I have gained through my experiences and not from the guilt, self-hatred, and shame I've used in the past to crucify myself to the cross. I'm off the cross now, resurrected, and better than ever before.  I have grow in compassion and love for myself for choosing the path I did because I thought I lacked love and power.  Underneath, was just someone who wanted to feel loved, appreciated, of value, and powerful.  Because I saw those things outside of myself, I made choices and decisions based on this information (the information I had at the time), how I was feeling about myself, and how I perceived the world.  Many of the decisions I made regarding drugs and women was because I saw love and happiness outside of me.  I thought by changing my self-image, I would attract to me what I thought I lacked.  That didn't quite happen the way I thought it would, and today, I have such love and compassion for this man who was just trying to find something he already had.  Now, today, I feel very comfortable around women, I'm not intimidated, I have overcome the mother-destroyer principle with my gentle heart, and I am at ease and myself in their presence.  Most importantly, I realize and know love is not outside of me, but who I am, and that knowledge allows me to come from a place of wholeness, instead of lack.

As far as success in this world is concerned, my power is now rooted in God, my Source, where it should always have been.  I am not the author of my life, God is, and I gladly relinquish my ego's authority and give it back to Him.  I will let God judge my life, not me, and let Him lead the way.  It's amazing to me how much I was able to succeed in recent years in spite of the Judge/Critic in me who, like a scavenger dog, searched out all my 'sins' (errors), exploited them, and then punished me unmercifully.  With God now in charge, all things are possible, and whatever problems I may have had in the past in regards to my career, money, wealth, and abundance, God will show me the way.

I am willing my salvation and redemption from the hell I made.  I made it with my thoughts, and then I passed judgment on others who had what I wanted, and then, turned it around and condemned myself as unworthy and undeserving of these experiences because of my sins and subsequent guilt, shame, and self-hatred.  The past is over, it can touch me not.  The game of sin, guilt, shame, and self-hatred is over.  At my core, the very core of my being, I know I am innocent and worthy of all the joys of this life and of Heaven.