I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
I’ve lost jobs and friends. I’ve hurt people and broken promises. I’ve lied and cheated. I don’t live with regret at the forefront of my mind, but there are a few things I would absolutely go back and change, given the opportunity or keys to a time machine.
What about you?
Years ago, my friend Sue had a 1950 Plymouth, 3-on-the-column. It was army green with mohair seats. I’d give just about anything to hop in that car for a Sunday afternoon ride with Sue. One problem? Her car wouldn’t go in reverse. The gear didn’t work. Wherever Sue went, she had to make sure to find a space where she could pull forward. Other parking spaces might have been closer or more convenient, but even if my friend had to walk farther or go across the street, putting that car in reverse was not an option.
Can you imagine? How frustrating!
Recovery is a lot like the car that wouldn’t go in reverse. It can’t. It absolutely cannot go back. Healing means always moving forward.
Even after doing all the hard work these past six years, shame sometimes still has a debilitating effect on me. Yes, I’ve been through intense counseling and coaching. I’ve done my best to right my wrongs. I’ve allowed healing to do deep and transformative work in my soul and relationships. I am not the same guy I was five or ten years ago, not by a long shot. But sometimes I still feel ashamed.
There are moments when my past comes calling, demanding payment for the sins of yesterday. My inner-critic rears his ugly head and throws all of that fear, shame, and guilt in my face. When that happens, I typically shut down. I close everyone out and become reticent. I feel like everyone can read my mind or see right through me, and that is the last thing I want. In those moments of unhealth, I look in the rear-view mirror of my life, and everything seems closer and darker, like it’s chasing me down.
The truth is, shame isn’t intimidated by my beliefs about God. Fear doesn’t give a damn how about how much inner-work I’ve done to become the man of substance I strive to be today. Guilt sings an all-day solo, always slightly off-key. And the only thing that can silence the cries of fear, shame, and guilt is talking to myself with truth and love.
When I slow down and think about it, I have done a lot of hard work to become the human being I am today. I haven’t “arrived,” not by a long shot. But I remember the toxic person I used to be, and I know that I’ve made progress.
So I speak my shame aloud.
I combat my fear with the voice of inner-Love.
And I tell that overwhelming sense of guilt to go to hell.
I am not evil, even if I have done things that make me feel ashamed.
If you’ve royally screwed up in days gone by; if you have past indiscretions that would humiliate you if brought to light; if you have moved beyond the misdeeds of yesterday, but they haven’t moved beyond you, just know that I hear you. And I’m sorry. But don’t fool yourself: we’ve all got skeletons in the closet, and sometimes they stubbornly claw at the closet door, just itching to get out and parade themselves down Main Street, ass naked, airing our dirty laundry to anyone who will listen.
If you’ve blown it before, you are not alone. All you can do is change your life, apologize, heal, and move forward.
Remember, this car doesn’t go in reverse. Being able to only move forward is sometimes inconvenient and uncomfortable. It means you have to continually keep an eye on your surroundings. You must always have an exit strategy. You are not able to park in just any old place.
Keep moving forward.
Sometimes telling the truth isn’t easy or comfortable. Healing comes with a whole lot of pain. But don’t stop. The first step in recovering your life is recognizing that you are drowning. The second step is admitting it to someone else and asking for help. But all the while, you must keep moving forward. No turning back. No turning back.
When you feel ashamed, remember this 1 thing: this car won’t go in reverse.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
Podcast: When You Feel Like You Can’t Go On
Suicide Survivors: 7 Things to do the Day After You Leave the Psych Ward
Exploring Grief: A Podcast Series (with Brandon Carleton)
Pastors and Suicide: What You Need to Know
You Heal When You’re Heard
Why Are We So Bad at Grieving?
Burnout: What to Look for & How to Fight Back
Difficult People: Identify, Strategize, Implement