Seven years ago, I sat in a church service in California and watched a presentation put on by Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program that was commemorating their one-year anniversary at our church.
Participants carried cardboard signs across the stage with piercing messages written in permanent marker. Each message conveyed a negative belief that fed their addiction. One message in particular struck me: I HATE MYSELF.
There’s a sense of knowing that you feel in your gut, a little twist on the inside that happens when you feel a thing intuitively, even if your brain has never acknowledged it. That’s the kind of knowing that happened to me that Sunday. As much as I hated to admit it, I felt that this message of self-loathing was connected to many of my struggles. A few weeks later, I signed up to do a 12-step study for my struggle with codependency.
Both sides of my husband’s and my family have been ravaged by the disease of addiction, and consequently, the disease of codependency. People are drugs, too, and codependents are addicted to the addicts in their lives, just as addicts are addicted to substances. Codependents are shape-shifters who can become whatever is required keep the peace and receive the love they crave. In the process, their self-worth becomes deeply attached to others’ wavering perceptions. It is a coping mechanism that works for a lot of people…until it doesn’t.
In between the lines of living, I subconsciously believed I had two choices: Loathe myself and be loved by others, or embrace myself and be abandoned by others. It’s terrible to name this out loud, but this psychological trap has driven most of my compulsions. Most people would be surprised to know how much self-loathing lurked under my polished exterior, because I worked so hard at molding myself into a likeable character! It’s like a tragic comedy.
It finally dawned on me that no one was going to magically appear and tell me who I am, how I’m doing, or how to live my life. Welcome to adulthood! I realized that I was the one who needed to make these decisions. This truth came with an overwhelming sense of freedom, and an equally phenomenal sense of terror, because it required that I take full responsibility for myself. I knew I couldn’t live a meaningful life unless I learned to love myself and be myself, regardless of how other people responded.
The word beloved is popular amongst Christians. It’s one of those words that I’ve internally rolled my eyes at. I thought that beloved was a word losers needed to convince themselves of their value because they couldn’t hack it in the real world. I realized my attitude towards this word was equivalent to the amount of love I had for myself, and consequently, the amount of love I felt from God.
This realization raised some ground-breaking questions for me: Why did I feel that my desire to love and be loved qualified me as a loser? And, what if being God’s beloved child is the ONLY thing that matters? Because, it turns out that God loves losers! It’s the losers in life that flock to Jesus in droves.
Ironically, my desperate need to receive God’s love is the quality that makes me a winner in God’s story.
Experiencing God’s love in my most raw places has required me to get really quiet and really still. Therapy sessions and self-help books have helped in my journey, but these tools have only substantially taken root in the solitude of my own home, in remote silence, lying flat on the floor, feeling the ground against my skin, exhausted to the bone, praying the kinds of prayers that don’t have words. It’s like Henri Nouwen writes in his book The Way of The Heart:
Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter—the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.
God loves a good paradox, doesn’t He? Ultimately, my codependent self-loathing propelled me on a journey to find God’s substantial love as the only secure thing to anchor my life and worth upon. Only in my willingness to feel radically insignificant, have I come to accept my true beloved status.
Today I encourage you to dig deeper into your own afflictions. Get on the ground and wrestle with your compulsions. Allow yourself to feel like a loser and let God love you there. This is where you’ll discover His great love as the substance of your new, true self.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.