Hey, my name is Kyle, I am a new creation in Christ, and I’m recovering from shame, shading the truth, and counterdependency.
Counterdependency probably isn’t a term you’ve heard often. It is part of the matrix of dependency that independence, interdependence, codependence, and counterdependence form. It is basically the opposite of what you probably think of as codependent. And is a thread that runs through most aspects of my life, touching almost all of my other struggles in some way.
I came to regen disappointed in my life, easily triggered, and hoping to rediscover a passion for the things of God. I was raised in a conservative, traditional, Christian home. I was also raised in a liberal, transgender, and quite lenient home. I feel like both sets of parents loved me as best as they were able, love meaning different things to each of my parents.
I was made in the late ’80s. When I was two, my parents got divorced. My dad is a conservative, Christian man… my mom wanted to also be a man. She got her sex-change operation in 1998, shortly before marrying a bi-sexual woman.
In my dad’s house, I got a lot of sound biblical teaching, but didn’t have great relationships. I often felt inadequate and like a failure, unable to live up to the standards that were set before me academically, socially, and religiously. That household was pretty strict, and I was grounded often (more-and-more the older I got). I don’t want to paint a picture that things were always terrible though; I also had good times.
Whereas, at my mom’s house, we irregularly attended open and affirming churches, I had very few rules, and for my 15th Christmas was given a sex-ed book that included such chapters as “How to Masturbate.”. Unfortunately, I’d already figured out the basics by then on my own. Suffice to say, my mom’s house was a little less normal…
I wasn’t super popular growing up, but not a social pariah either, and always had at least one good friend, even if it was my dog. I read a lot, enjoyed music, and was pretty handy with a lightsaber. I have always been content with a small social circle, identifying most people I interact with as acquaintances, not friends. Well, not quite always, there were a couple of years when I thought having more friends would be a good idea; but by eighth grade I had decided that the majority of humans were not worth my time and energy, to the point that I skipped the eighth grade dance and hung out in the computer lab instead. This is that counterdependency I was talking about.
Before this next part, I’d like to make a quick distinction between guilt and shame:
Guilt is: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame is: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled program…
I started dating this one girl at the end of high school, and due to some poor decision-making on her part, we have now been married to each other for eleven years. She’s given birth to all three of my daughters, the third of which we lost to a late term miscarriage. My wife and I dealt with the sadness of the event differently. I had a lot of guilt. See, when Karah told me she was pregnant, I was not happy. I wished that she wasn’t. I prayed that she wasn’t. But she was. And I was angry. Now, for anyone unaware of how getting pregnant happens – I was involved in the process. For more details than that, my mom can recommend a book for you. That fact didn’t stop me from being angry though. And just after I stopped being angry, like, literally two days later, we found out that there was a greater than 99% chance that our daughter wouldn’t survive the pregnancy. I was convinced that this was punishment for the vile, hateful, and evil thoughts, feelings, and words I’d had the weeks prior. I knew verses like John 9:2&3, that show us that sometimes things happen for the purpose of displaying God’s work in us; in-fact, I can’t listen to a single testimony here at Regen without wondering “Did this person speaking, go through what they did, because God knew that a specific person in the crowd tonight would hear their story years later and benefit from it in a unique and life-altering way?”. But that thought was far from my mind, and those verses were not comforting as I watched my wife hold our stillborn child. It would be a couple of years before I didn’t feel like I caused our daughter’s death. Those feelings did not subside by having Bible verses said at me, but rather by me studying God’s word and getting to know Him better, not just know things about Him. We were presented the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy early. We did not – Karah and I were both firm that abortion wasn’t an option for us and Jaxlee. There has been a marked difference in our lives since leaving the hospital without our daughter. It has weighed on our marriage, and can still evoke sadness, confusion, and resentment. There are times when feelings of guilt still catch me. But now I am better prepared for them and have plans in place to respond to those feelings.
I grew up valuing “not getting in trouble” over doing what is right. There were quite a few times that “doing right” was just too inconvenient for me to be bothered with – so I’d resort to deception to avoid consequences. The problem with that strategy is that I’m a terrible liar, just ask my wife, parents, or siblings. So I usually got caught; which is part of why I was grounded so much. You’d think I’d at least pick a sin I was good at. Like apathy, I’m pretty good at apathy. For example, in middle-school I didn’t want to do an English project, so I didn’t. At school, I would eat lunch, go to PE, and then have English class. So I complained every day to my coach or the nurse about not feeling well at the end of PE and delayed going to English long enough that all the homework assignments had been turned in and they were into the day’s lesson, then after class I’d be the first one out the door – providing no opportunity for the teacher to ask about my project. After a couple of weeks, the nurse suspected something was amiss and told me to either throw up right then or go to class. I went to class. I got an F. I got grounded. I got good at convincing myself I was fine with that outcome.
That’s not just a story from my past though, I still struggle with honesty, especially when it means looking bad to someone or being inconvenienced by something. Just a few weeks ago my wife fell asleep while we were watching TV together, not an uncommon occurrence. But since we were really close to the end of the show I gently woke her up and we finished it, and as she got up from the couch to go to bed I asked, “Were you awake for the end?”. She answered in the affirmative. The next day, she did not remember how the show ended (also not uncommon). I told her, “you fell asleep and I woke you up”, which was the truth. She was unconvinced, I continued, “We talked about it.”, which was an exaggeration. She was still fuzzy about it. “I made you stand up to stay awake.” That was a lie – motivated by my desire to not rewatch that last 10 minutes of the show. My wife immediately called me out on it. Like I said, I’m not good at lying. I didn’t admit it and changed the subject by telling her how the show ended. I admitted to it about a week later, and actually apologized and made amends another week or so after that. A ridiculously long time to hold myself accountable for my actions. I didn’t want to think about it though, so I tried not to. Ironically, actively trying not to think about something requires thinking about it. This is a small deal, right? A little white lie… That’s rationalizing. I’ve never had to rationalize my actions when I acted rightly. She didn’t seem upset; that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve an apology. And it doesn’t mean it was okay for me to do. In a world where trust is a valued commodity, I was undercutting my relationship and not being a living demonstration of how Christ loves the church.
Instead of learning my lesson from these and other things, I learned to avoid situations that might not go my way. I also internalized every mistake I made – examining it and analyzing it to the nth degree, part of the process that I thought was self-discipline, which had been explained to me as a child as “punishing yourself”. Spoiler alert, that’s not what “self discipline” means. When punishing myself became overwhelming and I could only identify failures in my life, I turned to apathy, because feeling nothing is a very attractive alternative to pain – and seemingly so much easier to attain than joy.
I came to Regen ashamed, sad, and knowing that I was distant from God. I’ve actually gone through the program twice now. If I think about my life as a building, such as a house, then the first time through Regen was putting out fires, and bailing out flood water – emergency work that needed to be done to stabilize the situation. I needed to reach a point where I could think straight and was seeing the world with Christ in it, not the despairing version I’d been living in where I felt He had abdicated any involvement. The second time through was a closer inspection that included repairing damage I hadn’t seen the first time, or hadn’t fully dealt with, and preventative maintenance.
I had to stop letting my past failures dictate my present and future. I needed to be honest and stop living in a “spin zone” where I used half-truths, generalities, and outright lies to obscure the truth; I needed to be able to call “shading the truth” what it is, “lying”.
The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians four verses twenty-two through twenty-four writes “then, so far as your former way of life is concerned, you must strip off your old nature, because your old nature is thoroughly rotted by its deceptive desires; and you must let your spirits and minds keep being renewed, and clothe yourselves with the new nature created to be godly, which expresses itself in the righteousness and holiness that flow from the truth.”
He then charges us to react to specific sins, starting with two of my big ones, “Therefore, stripping off falsehood, let everyone speak truth with his neighbor, because we are intimately related to each other as parts of a body. Be angry, but don’t sin…” and so on, in verse thirty we are admonished “Don’t cause grief to God’s Holy Spirit, for He has stamped you as His property until the day of final redemption.” I love that last bit especially. I needed to live in the truth that, as a Christian, my identity wasn’t in my actions, good or bad, but in His work in my life. This is why our intro is so important to me. And I needed to pursue God with abandon. I believed that every bad thing I did added to the failure of who I was as a person, and I knew I couldn’t do enough good actions to counter that weight on my soul, but also didn’t know how I could release that burden to Jesus.
Story time! This is the story of a man named “Christian” from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. “He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and little below in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death. Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the Cross should thus ease him of his Burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.” By this point in the story Christian had already been saved, but it wasn’t until he looked to the cross for relief (not just salvation) that the weight of guilt and shame for his sinful actions was released – not by the sinner, but by Christ and the work that was done at Calvary. Likewise, I learned that through Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness, that I was able to have my burdens lifted too!
In the Regen process there are a few parts that are particularly meaningful to me.
The “Twenty-four Hours Sober” lesson in Groundwork is great at focusing us on “right now”. Not even the whole day, but individual moments that provide opportunity for sin.
The first three steps are really foundational to the Regen process. I’ve always had trouble bridging the gap between knowing something and believing it. It is really easy for me to know something intellectually and not have any faith in it. Genesis 15:6 states “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” It wasn’t simply belief that God existed, but Abraham trusting God that was necessary.
In step six I made repentance plans (flowcharts, am I right?!). Repentance plans help me refocus, not just away from my sin, but towards God. When I start getting angry or am tempted to give up, I am better equipped to recognize it and avoid the pitfalls I’ve so often willingly walked into. When I do mess up (and recognize it), instead of a shame spiral fueled by guilt that results in a “failures only” mindset, I am quicker to confess, repent, make amends, and do “the next right thing”.
Step 11 is Intimacy. Intimacy with God… that’s weird, right? Like, that’s a weird thing to think about. I think that is at least in part due to how “intimate” was often code for “sex” while I was growing up. But that is what God designed us for, intimacy with Him. Humanity had an intimate relationship with God in the beginning, but sin has caused such a separation between us and Him that the Bible says we are spiritually dead until the moment of salvation. Ephesians two verses four and five tells us “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” By God’s grace I have been saved and the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in me, and that’s about as intimate a proximity in a relationship as I can think of! The Gospel is pretty straight-forward, though don’t let that phrasing minimize its wonders; man is sinful and God made a way for “anyone who will believe” to be saved from the punishment for sins that God’s justice demands. That “way” is Jesus. Acts 16:31 answers the question of “What must I do to be saved?” directly with “Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved….”. That’s it. Which I did as a child, but as an adult I all-too-often think “I got this” for things “I don’t got”, can’t get, and shouldn’t even try getting. Now, I daily pursue intimacy with God through prayer, studying the Bible, doing my Regen work, and filling my “passive” space and time with as much truth as possible. Podcasts have been an asset for me to ingest truth throughout my day, while working, driving, doing laundry, etc. It is better for my life for me to listen to truth than useless entertainment.
Having gone through the steps doesn’t mean I’m done with my struggles, that’s the point of step 10. I’m not always happy, but I do have joy in my life. If you ask me how my day is going, rarely will you get “Great!” as a response; but I’m not hopeless about it anymore. Hope is such an awesome concept in the Bible. Hope isn’t about wishful thinking, but about waiting with one-hundred percent certainty that something will happen. Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.”
My name is Kyle, I am a new life in Christ, and I am hopeful about my recovery and yours.