Often times we focus so intently on one thing so that we can completely ignore other things. Recently, my friend Megan stepped into surrender and let go of that one thing in order to acknowledge all the rest. Her bravery, her belief that Jesus will continue to be as good to her in the future as he has been in the past has changed me.
Ed Welch defines shame as “The deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.” For over a decade my biggest source of shame has been my hair. Over the past year and a half I have come to realize I am called to find my identity in Christ. Due to the power of shame I have spent years identifying myself by my hair. Every time I would leave my house, I would worry what people would think. For so long my identity was defined by what others saw and what I thought they saw. I have allowed myself to simply be “the girl with the bad hairstyle” or “the girl who wears headbands all the time”. I let this define me and eat away at all the other parts God has made me to be. With this new sense of purpose, I can’t help but share the work God has done in my life.
I grew up in a home with an alcoholic, abusive father. He was in and out of my life throughout my early childhood. During the last few years that my dad lived with us, my parents noticed my hair thinning on the sides of my head. We realized that I had started pulling my hair out. After meeting with counselors and our family doctor, we learned that this was a habitual form of OCD that people use to self comfort when stressed, anxious, or worried. This subconscious habit quickly transformed from something that comforted me in my suffering into a cause of suffering. By sixth grade I was having to wear headbands every day to cover the bald spots.
Eventually my dad moved out of state and my parents divorced. Although my dad was no longer in my home he left me with scars from years of hurt and shame. My mom, the biggest gift of my life, always made sure my brother and I were involved in church. God used my church as a tool for His work in my life. From an early age I knew God loved me and was present in my struggle. However, my dad’s hurtful words, actions and interactions left me searching for ways to deal with my shame. To relieve the stress and find relief, I continued the obsessive habit of pulling my hair out.
When I was a junior in high school, my dad passed away from a heart attack leaving me with an unexpected sense of loss. He had not been present in my life, but his death brought an assurance that there would never be reconciliation this side of Heaven. Again, this pain brought a desire for comfort, and I continued to pull my hair. While I thought that I was leaning on Christ, I continued to seek comfort in hair pulling rather than turning to Jesus and resting in the promises of the cross. Looking back now, I can see that a way to know I was using worldly ways to comfort rather than Christ was that my source of comfort always led to more pain and embarrassment. There was no peace or hope in what I was doing.
I went off to college hoping to be accepted and loved. I went to a small Christian college in Georgia where God gave me the greatest gift. He put me on a hall filled with girls who were crazy, fun, and welcoming. I quickly made friends who are still impacting my life. By the grace of God I had found a college where I was wanted and accepted and could thrive. I can see God laying the groundwork for me to be able to confide in several of my friends about my hair in the years to come. I never felt comfortable talking about my hair to friends in high school, so the idea of confiding in girls my age about this habit I felt was shameful and weird was horrifying to me. Beginning of my sophomore year, I confided in my three roommates. Their response to my confession changed my world and gave me hope. They didn’t see me any differently and loved me even better now that they knew my struggle. They made it clear that they hated my pain but my hair pulling was bigger in my eyes than in reality. Because of their unconditional love, I began feeling more comfortable sharing with those close to me. Each time I opened up about my struggle, I felt as though one of the chains of shame that were enslaving me fell off. These women saw me at my most vulnerable and loved me and walked through the hard times resulting an a beautiful picture of true friendship.
College was transforming for me in many ways. It gave me an assurance that I would always have friends that would love me, regardless of my hair. However, I did not do much to stop the hair pulling. After graduating, I seemed to have just accepted that this would be my life and I would be the headband girl. Although I had gained so much hope in other aspects of this struggle, I was no closer to overcoming the actual hair-pulling.
A few months after graduation, my mom sent me the name of a Biblical counselor in my area. Brenda kicked my butt the first few months of counseling (in the best sort of way)! She opened my eyes to so many things about Scripture and helped me understand there were two ways to view my hair pulling. Sometimes I did not realize I was pulling, so that was a habit I needed to try and break. Other times it was something I did consciously. This conscious alternative to comfort was what I chose rather than looking to Jesus, my only source of True Comfort. I started to recognize heart issues that ignited the impulse to pull. In my eyes, the hair pulling was my biggest issue. What I learned was that I have a heart filled with desires to please man over pleasing God. These desires lead to anxiety, worry, and so many other sinful areas that had gone unnoticed.
I had spent my life thinking I was a good person who just had a hair pulling problem. Now I was able to see redemption in my suffering. While we worked on these heart issues, Brenda also encouraged me to begin an accountability group. This group would be there for me when I was tempted to pull or when I did pull. I asked two women who have been such amazing counselors to me over the past few years to walk beside me in this fight. They agreed to hold me accountable, pray with and for me, and ask me the hard questions. Through vulnerability and sharing the deepest and darkest parts of my heart, these women began to feel comfortable sharing their own. The past year and a half has been filled with ups and downs. I have gone longer periods without pulling than ever before and I have also experienced some of the lowest points of shame. During all of it, I have seen God use these three women, along with so many other amazing women, to carry me when I am weak and make me feel the love He has for me.
After a year and a half of fighting, I recently said goodbye to my headbands and am able to walk around with my hair down. My new hairstyle represents ALL the work God has done in me. This hair represents the change in my heart to where I feel I am able to voice my struggle to the world and praise the Lord in it. I now recognize my need to keep Christ in His rightful spot of worship in my life. I need to have Christ as my identity and to put my hair back where it belongs— a small part of the whole person God has made me to be.
My desire is to shed light on a struggle that many deal with and let those people know they are not alone. There is hope. Developing a community of people to walk with you can and will make a world of difference. God is at work in the midst of our struggle. The struggle I am sharing with you has been my struggle for 14 years and will probably continue for the rest of my life. Throughout all of it, even at the awful beginning, I can see God at work. He chose not to heal me the moment I asked for it, but rather fulfilled His promise to sanctify me for His kingdom through my struggle. He has walked me through years of struggle in order to reveal, teach and heal so that I can be used for His kingdom work. Because of my brokenness He can use me to share His goodness and faithfulness and to declare His glory.
Remember, we are more than our struggle. We all deal with temptations and forms of self comfort in one way or another. No matter your struggle, it is only one percent of the whole person you are. Take your shame to the foot of the cross and allow yourself to feel the grace that God lavishes on you daily.
“When you believe what God has said rather than lies, you are doing valuable work. When you choose hope over despair, your choice has lasting significance. When you get out of bed and persevere in ordinary obedience because you are representing the King, your labor is noticed even by heavenly beings (Ephesians 3:10). When you pursue holiness because you are holy, you find honor that lasts.”
Edward T. Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection