Sunday, October 9, 2016

Escaping the Shame Storm

In the last post, I promised I'd share the high ropes story. So while the memory is still fresh, here we go . . .

Last month, my college classmates and I (sixteen of us in total, plus our two teachers) went to camp for two days to solidify our team and get hands-on experience in working towards goals and taking leadership. This took the form of a blind follow-the-leader activity, trust falls (eeek!), and getting the entire team through a "spiderweb" of rope without touching the web.

That was just the first morning.

During the first afternoon, we took turns climbing the climbing wall and going ziplining, which I mentioned in my last Subplots and Storylines post. Climbing up the fifty-foot ziplining pole was a little freaky, but sitting up on the platform while the facilitator clipped my harness to the zipline was worse. I was sitting on the edge, legs dangling over empty space, and the tops of the trees looked too close.

one of my classmates, the first to go up
I took a deep breath and tried to push off, but froze. I tried again--same thing. "Can you push me off?" I asked the facilitator.

"Do you want me to?" His voice sounded mildly amused. "I think you can do it."

I guess being reminded that I was capable was what I needed, because I took another deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut, and launched off, an unbidden scream bursting out of me. Half a second later, my eyes were open and I was zooming down the line, having the time of my life. The end came too soon.

After ziplining, I conquered the climbing wall. Like I mentioned in the S&S post, I managed to get halfway up the difficult side--after slipping off and dangling by my harness a couple of times--but by then my arms were sore and I was ready to come down.

But I didn't want to give up, so I then successfully climbed the easier side, though I did slip once more on the way up. Thank goodness for the person belaying me.

So you can imagine I was feeling pumped and proud of myself and ready to take on the world!

That night, my room's heater was blasting way too high, leading to a less-than-restful sleep. The morning before camp, I had woken up early, so all in all, I entered day two of camp with low energy levels.

After breakfast, we all headed to the high ropes course. There were different challenges, such as the Giant's Ladder, a series of wooden beams with each one spaced further apart than the one before. I helped belay for a team of four taking on that particular challenge. There is no way I'm going up there, I thought to myself, content to hold the rope, keep an eye on my climber, and ensure her safety.

An hour later, after the team had reached the top and come back down, everyone who hadn't had a chance to participate in a challenge course yet was rounded up, including myself. A facilitator told me to join the Giant's Ladder team, but I said no, if I had to do any of them, I'd rather do Team All Aboard: a pole with a small, square platform on top, where three or four people had to stand, link arms, and lean backwards all together.

So I harness up and started climbing the pole. Some of my teammates, having seen my reluctance, shouted encouragement from below. My belayer instructed me to climb around the pole once I got partway up, in order to keep my line from tangling with those of the two girls already up there.

So I climbed up the ladder. Onto the first few staple footholds of the pole. I looked up at the platform above my head. I adjusted my grip. I closed my eyes. Suddenly the thought of reaching the top was overwhelming. I could barely think of taking the next step. It's just like climbing up to the zipline, Tracey. This shouldn't be hard.

I've climbed a high ropes course before, about three years ago. It was terrifying and a lot harder than what I was currently embarking on, but I'd made it. Logically, this one shouldn't be a problem.

"Is it okay if just two people go up instead of three?" I called. "Can I come down?"

The facilitator looked up at me. "Why do you want to come down, Tracey?" he asked.

I fought back irrational tears. "I'm just tired. No motivation."

"It's okay. You did well."

And so I climbed back down. Taking my helmet off with trembling hands, I avoided gazes and nodded when classmates told me I had done a good job, I had stepped out of my comfort zone, way to go.

As I walked away, one of my teachers approached. "Hey, no one's disappointed in you."

"Yeah, except for me," I said, and started crying.

My other teacher joined us. "Tracey, what is excellence?"

I wiped tears away and tried to tamp down another wave. "Doing the best you can with what you have, I know."

Later on--after a hug and some encouraging words--everyone gathered for a debrief to share what we'd learned and accomplished. As classmates talked about conquering fears and depending on each other, another wave of guilt washed over me. You could've pushed past it. You could've taken one more step, and then one more, and one more, and made it to the top. Why didn't you?

When it came to my turn, and I forced out a few brief words that did a poor job of veiling my guilt, the female facilitator debriefing with us had something powerful to say.

When things don't go as planned or we fail to accomplish the goal we've set out for ourselves, it's easy to give into a "shame storm," to beat ourselves up about it. But we can't do that. It's damaging. It's not true.

I tried to quell the storm raging inside of me, but my teacher (the first one) saw the look on my face as we headed back to the main lodge.

"You heard what she said?" he asked me. "Don't give in. Don't give in to the shame."

The whole experience stuck with me long after we left camp. I do tend to be hard on myself, to replay my failures, to beat myself up for making a mistake . . . or even just for doing less than I expected of myself.

But it's time to stop thinking that way. Those thoughts are whip lashes, they're chains. Destructive, imprisoning. It's time to stop giving in to the shame, time to realize I did the best I can, and that's all I can do, and that's okay. I can learn from those experiences, yes, but then I need to leave it there and walk away. I don't have to carry it with me.

I'm sharing this story because I'm pretty certain you have your own storm of shame, thundering in your ears and lashing you from the inside. Others may not see that you're bleeding, but you know it. You suffer that barrage of thoughts saying, "Why didn't you make it? What's wrong with you? You could have, should have--didn't. You failed, therefore you are a failure."

You know what I say to that? Yes, I failed, but that means I'm a tryer.

I'm still trying to believe that I did not actually fail at the high ropes course, that I really did do the best I could with what I had. What I had was not much, but I strapped my harness on. I climbed the ladder. I started up the pole. So I didn't reach the top and complete the challenge. I still challenged myself. It's not about completion.

Listen to me, friend. Whether it was a true failure or you simply did the best you could with what you had, and it wasn't enough--it does not define you. Accept that, learn from it, and move on. It's the moving on part that's really hard, but please try.

As I slowly worked through the tangle of thoughts and feelings after the ropes course, and I began to let go of the guilt, I was surprised to feel lighter. Surprised that I was still having fun and enjoying my day, when hours ago I'd been crying. And I started to feel guilty for not feeling more guilty. But I shut that voice up. Not perfectly--some whispers got through--but I will always look back on that day as my battle against the shame storm.

I hope that one day I can say truthfully that the storm comes less often. That when it does, I can let it go and see the waves calm. I want to walk on those waters a conqueror, with my identity anchored not in my successes or failures, but in the One who loves me through them both.


  1. Thank you for this beautiful post, Tracey. I... don't know if I really have words to say about it because I have this whole tangle of thoughts about it, but I want to say thanks. I struggle with this myself and I've never tried to fight against it because... I didn't know you... could? So I don't know if this will end up helping me or not, but reading it gives me a perspective I hadn't thought of. I can try, and I guess that's all you can do -- try. :) And literally as I'm writing this, part of me wants to add "and I know I'll probably fail and feel bad"... which shows just how deep this feeling goes. O_O Which is kind of disturbing. Anyways it's a great post and I just want to say thanks for sharing! *hugs* My dose of Tracey wisdom for the day. <3 (And for all your lovely comments today, which made my day! ^_^)

    1. Now would be the time I'd give you a giant hug in real life! I struggle with this all. the. time. So I know how easily those "and I know I'll probably fail and feel bad" thoughts pop up. Something that really shook me awake about a year ago was the concept that, if I were to actually SAY those thoughts out loud to someone, it would be completely cruel. So why am I being so awful to MYSELF?

      I want you to know, dear friend, that you CAN fight this. You can fight the shame storm and win. I know you can. We both can. Not on our own (God knows it never works for long by myself), but when I start remembering who He says I am, the storm dies down.

      You are an incredible, precious, valued young woman, Deborah. <3 Sending you lots more hugs! (And I had so much fun catching up on your blog!!)

  2. Ahh. Well... this is beautiful and I'm not exactly sure what to say? I struggle with those hard thoughts on myself too, so this was lovely to hear. You're amazing. <3

    1. One of the biggest encouragements to me is realizing that it's not just me struggling with this--so thank you! <3 YOU are amazing, and I know you can beat the storm.

  3. Tracey, you are brave. I have never been ziplining and - while it sounds amazingly fun - it also sounds amazingly frightening to climb up there. I have suffered with the shame storm, but it's more the things I actually do wrong than the things I don't do right. :P

    1. Haha, sometimes--but I'm usually scared while I'm being brave. XD Ziplining is SUCH a blast, once you get over the fact you're rather high off the ground.

      That's probably another post right there. Because the storm hits even harder when I do something wrong, too. (Ever get into an endless loop of replaying that bad moment over and over?) But you can beat that storm too, when you realize your mistakes are covered by grace. It blows my mind to think that God would love me *just as much* if I were behaving like a terrible person. That it truly wouldn't change how much I matter to him.

      Sending you a hug, Isi! ^_^

    2. Oh Tracey, you're sweet. And I return the hug! :D

  4. I definitely needed to hear that. Thank you! Very well written too. I love this.

    Although, I do admit, I'm a little jealous about your going to a high ropes course because I like heights (apparently, I'm weird like that XD).

    But I think you did awesome! If I were afraid of heights, a high ropes course would be terrifying! I think you did awesome just for going. (I mean, I would've said I couldn't come this week, sorry folks.) So I think you're very brave for trying something that would regularly scare you. Your comfort zone is not the same as other people's comfort zones. So your success will not look their successes. You challenged your comfort zone and that's what counts. You did hard things and you lived! ;)

    So basically, you rock!

    1. Thank YOU. I'm glad it came at a good time! ^_^

      You like heights? YOU ARE AMAZING. I hope I reach a point where I can honestly say I like them too... or at least be able to say they don't scare me. XD

      Haha, backing out was a tempting thought, that's for sure! I love what you said: "Your comfort zone is not the same as other people's comfort zones. So your success will not look like their successes." So very true! A friend of mine said something very similar to me yesterday.

      Awwgsh. *hugs*

  5. I'm not lying when I say this post almost made me cry. This rung with me to such a deep level. I...I don't even know what to say right now.

    This is one of my biggest struggles. Almost every single day I beat myself up mentally. I call myself a failure, worthless, a useless potato, a waste of space. I wonder what am I DOING with my life? Am I just wasting it? God put me on this earth for a reason, shouldn't I be out doing things?

    But then God reminds me, time and time and time again. I'm exactly where He wants me. He loves me. He WANTS me. That thought is so powerful my mind can't even always comprehend it.

    You are so, so right. We shouldn't shame ourselves. TRYING is what counts. It's about the journey, not the destination. Why do we make ourselves feel guilty when we don't succeed at every little thing? Trying IS succeeding because it's moving forward, doing the best we can, growing. And that's what God wants.

    This post just...THANK YOU for writing this! These were words I desperately needed to hear.

    Also, I think you are so brave doing all those challenges. I mean, wow, they sound so taxing. You guys are awesome!

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing all this!!! <333

    1. Christine, your comment makes me want to just give you a big ol' hug!

      This is honestly one of my biggest struggles too. And the worst part is that most of the time, my brain doesn't even admit that it is--I don't even *realize* sometimes what terrible things I tell myself.

      You ARE exactly where God wants you. He put you in this time and this place for a REASON. You are so loved, so treasured, so precious. Keep listening to the song He sings over you!

      You're so right. (I actually have a bracelet that says "enjoy the journey" as a personal reminder for when I get too caught up in the destination.) It's like a parent watching their little toddler learn to walk. They don't criticize the child for stumbling or falling down. They help their little one get back on their feet, cheering all the way. And that's how God is with us. Amazing thought!

      Heh, brave doesn't mean unafraid! It did feel good to accomplish those challenges. After the "failed" one, it even felt good to win the mental battle against the shame storm.

      Love you, girl! <33333

    2. ROSE.
      "Your life holds so much worth," he said.
      (Burning Thorns, ch. 31)

    3. Great comparison, Sophia! Rose dealt with a lot of shame.

    4. Oh, that analogy of a parent teaching a toddler to walk struck such a deep chord. YES. You are SO right! God does not scold us for not being perfect, He just wants us to always grow, and He's there to help us through it all.

      Awww, Sophia! I'm honored this made you think of Rose. I think many of my feelings of worthlessness came out through Rose's story.

  6. Thank you, Tracey!
    This post coincided with something I was tangling with, actually.
    Shame and failure, and the fear that comes with it, are things I really struggle with. I've recently been shown how carrying these things around can have repercussions.

    Happy Thanksgiving!
    I'm thankful for the way God uses so many people and mediums to teach me.

    1. I'm so thankful that God put the right people into that situation to build me up. Without them, I couldn't be sharing this post. ^_^

      Those are things I battle with all the time myself. Isn't it crazy how long we can shoulder the shame before realizing how destructive it is? And it's so freeing to truly realize we don't have to carry it.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Blue! I'm thankful for you and your thoughtful friendship. <3

  7. Oh, Tracey! This was so beautiful and touching! Thank you so much for being vulnerable! I too fight a ferocious fear of heights that haunts me at camp. You are so amazing for making the progress you did! That's so awesome! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Amy! I'm glad this was relevant for you. LOL, camp offers SO many ways to step out of one's comfort zone, that's for sure. Hugs! <3

  8. Thanks for sharing that. I tend to be that way with the guilt-tripping-dwelling on my own failures as well, so this was definitely very nice encouragement. I'm terrified of heights, myself. Stair railings terrify me, as well.

    Beautiful post, beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    1. It was something really on my heart to share, so I'm glad it meant something to you. ^_^ Heights...yeah, not my best friend either. Stair railings aren't as bad as super high balconies for me. XD

      Thank you, darling! You're precious! <3

  9. As I read Tracey's post and the responses, my heart goes out to each one of you. Waking up and feeling like you are a failure brings back memories of my past. As long as I looked at myself and saw all my faults, and I "listened" to the enemy's lies that only condemned me, I lived in defeat.

    But there is hope for each of you. Jesus is that hope. He wants to give you a revelation (a new picture) of how much He loves you--just the way you are. Isaiah 49:16 says that He has tattooed a picture of you on the palm of each of His hands. (That's where we write things down that we don't want to forget.) Jesus remembers you every time He looks at His hands. Zephaniah 3:17 (the Voice translation) says, "He will joyfully celebrate over you; He will rest in His love for you, He will joyfully sing because of you like a new husband." As we read the Bible, we see many more verses that talk about how much we are loved. We need to ask Holy Spirit to remind us of these verses every day.

    I have found that when these "failure thoughts" want to raise their ugly head, I need to exchange those thoughts for God thoughts about me. The more I tried on my own to stop thinking those thoughts, the more I found myself thinking them.

    So when those negative thoughts come, say, "No, I am a child of the King! He loves me! He will never leave me! He says I am special! Jesus says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. He says, 'Perfect (nothing lacking) love casts out all fear.' I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind."

    The more you say this, the fewer times those thoughts will come. Those "failure thoughts" will lose their power over you!

    I told Tracey that if I could, I would love to hug each one of you and hold you and whisper in your ear, telling you that you are precious and Jesus loves you so much. I'm sure we would shed some tears, as Jesus would love on you through me.

    I encourage you to start right now and each time you look at yourself in the mirror, say "Jesus loves ME, this I KNOW."

    Blessings to each of you,
    Tracey's mom

    P.S. Listen to "No Longer Slaves" and "You Make Me Brave" by Bethel Music; and "Hello, My Name Is" by Matthew West.

    1. Thank you for those kind words, Mrs. Dyck.
      I know how crippling fear and shame can be; but I've also seen wonders as love counteracted those lies.
      That's why I'm so grateful for people who take the time to speak truth, affirmation, and love in place of lies, shame, and fear.
      Thanks again!
      (And to add to the list of 'tools'-Romans 8: 31-39)

    2. Oh, Mrs. Dyck, what beautiful and healing words!

      "I need to exchange those thoughts for God thoughts about me." YES. I want to live by this. So often I get tangled up in my own negative thoughts, but if I replace them with scripture, with God's thoughts, I know healing will come.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to encourage us all. Your family is just a blessing to this world.

    3. To both of you: my mom and I say thank you for your kind words. And she sends extra hugs your way! ;)

  10. This is such a timely post for me, Tracey. Thank you.

    1. I'm really glad to hear that! Thanks, Tori. *hugs*

  11. This post really hit home. Thanks for sharing it!

    1. I'm glad to know it did! There's always the niggling thought that these kinds of posts are really just for me because maybe nobody else has these thoughts. The shared experience I discover is amazing. <3

  12. I love this. I had an identical experience, in fact, in the summer -- same challenge, four of us, though where I was it was called The Pizza Box because the wooden platform was, apparently, the size of a pizza box (for four people to stand on, HAHAHAA NOT COMFORTING). I did it two summers ago with friends, it was horrible but I did it, so this time I thought it would be ok. It was not. The other three got up but, though I reached the top of the pole, I couldn't see my way to climbing up. We four were the group leaders of a group of eight 14-16y/o girls, who were on the ground below. Perhaps if I'd had more time I could have done it, but not all the campers had been up and so we leaders had limited time. So down I came, kinda wanting to cry due to a mixture of height-fear and general disappointment.

    Afterwards I was chatting to the Team Leader (a woman of about 35), I think she asked me if I'd done any of the ropes stuff and I said lol no I didn't manage it, and she said a surprising thing. "The campers need to know," she said, "that it's ok to be different and not everyone is good at everything." I hadn't thought of that, but looking back I saw that my failure had helped some of my girls to see they didn't have to beat themselves up about not doing it.

    I think the other thing to remember, always always always, is that our failures seem a lot worse to ourselves than to others, most of the time. If I had a friend who didn't make it up a high ropes course, would I be thinking STEPHANIE IS THE WORST PERSON EVER HOW PATHETIC HAHAHAA WHAT A FOOL or would I be thinking, well, I see that Stephanie too has weaknesses, that actually makes me feel closer to her, now I wonder what's for dinner?

    Of course I'm thinking the latter! But it's hard to apply that to myself, to know that other people aren't judging me. I mean, I know that my friends are still going to LIKE me if I fail -- it's not like I'm worried they're all CAST ME BRUTALLY ASIDE -- but I guess I'm worried they'll think I'm weak. We don't want to show our weaknesses to others. But vulnerability produces love, in my experience, anyway. We don't have to be strong all the time. Jesus is strong for us.

    1. So cool you've had the same experience! That's actually quite encouraging/comforting. (But a platform the size of a pizza box would definitely NOT be comforting. o.o) I can empathize with that blend of "height-fear and general disappointment," that's for sure.

      Hmmm, wise words from your team leader. I know that some of the most meaningful things I ever got out of youth group as a teen were the moments of vulnerability from my leaders--when they would be honest about their own struggles and weaknesses.

      Very true--we're our own worst critics, and others are usually not thinking so harshly about us. Love how you put that, especially the "what's for dinner" bit! XD

      I think for myself, yes there is the fear of what other people will think of me for failing, but more overpowering is my own judgment of myself. I sometimes hold myself to ridiculous standards. :P Good points on vulnerability and love! Jesus really is strong in our weakness. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Em!

  13. Encouraging post, Tracey. Many times I beat myself up, and I have to step back and ask myself why, and if it's right for me to be so hard on myself when Jesus is not.

    1. I'm glad it encouraged you! I LOVE how you put that: Is it right for me to be so hard on myself when Jesus is not? So true.