Before I came to know Christ, my life was filled with fear, with social fears being the strongest. As far back as I can remember I was uncomfortable around people. I grew up in a small house with my parents and four sisters but most of my memories were of being alone or feeling alone. Relationships were painful, superficial and disappointing. Growing up I felt unlovable, ugly, stupid and insignificant.
Picture Archie and Edith Bunker of All in the Family then you can see my parents. My father was physically abusive with my mom and oldest sister several times and verbally abusive with me on a regular basis. There weren’t any rules or discipline, just a lot of yelling. Every day dad found something to yell about. He would yell if there was a hair in the bathtub, if there was lint on the carpet after vacuuming or a dirty glass in a clean sink.
You couldn’t have a difference of opinion without being ridiculed. It was very rare to get a compliment. Things I said or did to be helpful weren’t good enough so I learned to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way to avoid getting hit. One day in particular I was watching a Loretta Young movie where she played a nun. She said and did all the right things. I thought to myself “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be perfect? I’m trying to be perfect”.
Dad would always ask “why can’t things be perfect…why can’t people get along”. We weren’t taught how to get along with people. My dad had one sibling he only saw at family gatherings and mom had a twin sister along with other siblings she hadn’t seen or heard from in decades. Mom yelled a number of times at dad in front of us kids “I wish you were dead” and dad would tell us how crazy mom was. Dad said it was mom’s fault he couldn’t get close to us which to me was a pretty sad excuse why he couldn’t ever give us a hug or a compliment.
It was very rare to do things as a family. It was also rare for my parents to socialize with friends and dad didn’t like us to have our friends over. There were a lot of large gatherings at my paternal grandparents’ house but my memories were of sitting on the couch waiting to go home. My sisters and I have few memories of interaction with our relatives, even the grandparents. Affection from anybody was non-existent.
It was because of dad that I decided never to have children. We all get traits from our parents whether we like it or not and I didn’t want to do to my child what I felt my dad did to me…to grow up thinking that there was no good thing about me. I couldn’t do anything right in his eyes. When I became a Red Cross volunteer to help me get over my fears and to give back to the world, he told me loud and clear “they could really afford to pay people, they just wanted to find fools who’ll do it for nothing”.
Whenever I bought him a gift there was always something wrong with it. One time when he was in the hospital, I drove up from Georgia to Ohio to see him. I came walking in his room with a little gift for him and he sat there on his bed shaking his head saying, “boy it burns me up to see people waste money”. I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t seen me for a year and that was the first thing he could think of to say to me?! And this comment coming from a guy who couldn’t keep a dime in his pocket.
When I wanted to try something, new dad would give me a verbal list of all the things that could go wrong. At first, I would be mad that he didn’t encourage me but then I thought well those things could happen, so I became afraid to try new things. Dad has caused me more pain than anybody in my life. I felt if I didn’t get away from him, I would literally go insane.
Another big source of grief besides my dad were my two older sisters. With the oldest around, many of my things disappeared. One specific time I had a wallet stolen even thought it was hidden away. The wallet was a birthday gift that had some special pictures in it along with the money I saved up to buy Christmas gifts. When I told dad he yelled at me and said it was my fault but when she stole from him, he disowned her. And when the other sister started driving, we had to go to school together.
Every day there was very little conversation if any. There were a couple of times when I was walking up to the car after school that she drove off without me. She had told another sister that she hated me from day one which was very easy to believe. To this day it’s obvious they have no desire to include me in their lives.
With social fears, school was a torture. I had been in Catholic schools since third grade and the nuns or priests weren’t any more encouraging than anybody else in my life. Our monsignor would yell at the kids in the confessional so we were afraid of him. One teacher told the whole class I was an “extremely poor reader” but never offered me any help to improve. With Polish jokes being popular it felt like my classmates were always laughing at me.
And oral reports were traumatic. If they told us in September we would have to give a report in January, every day until then I would be agonizing over it. One year in particular in high school I was hoping for a car wreck or something serious to get me out of it. I literally would rather die than have to go through that. After the embarrassment and humiliation of giving the report where I was obviously falling apart, I can remember only one time when a classmate tried to give me some words of encouragement. It felt like nobody ever saw someone like me before and didn’t know how to react.
To give you another idea how bad my social fears were, one day mom sent me to the store for some milk. In this little store the milk was behind the counter, and I had to ask for it. The clerk asked if she could help me but I shook my head no. My heart was pounding so heavy I needed time to work up the courage to talk to her. After a few minutes of still shaking in my shoes I realized I couldn’t be there all day and couldn’t go home empty-handed, so I forced myself to go up to the counter. The clerk didn’t hear me and I had to repeat myself. I just wanted to die. I thought I would grow out of the social fears but even in my early twenties it was hard for me to order in a restaurant or even at a drive thru.
Once I got old enough to drive to school, I started skipping because I was just a bundle of nerves everyday worrying that I would be called on in class. Needless to say, I was soon expelled in my senior year. I then graduated from a business school and through the school was offered an office position with a local company but was too scared to take it feeling that I would be totally incompetent and would embarrass myself.
And I was too scared to look for work elsewhere…who would want me…they weren’t going to hire me for my brains, they weren’t going to hire me for my looks or my personality. I had nothing to offer. Eventually though I got my first job at 23. For the first several years when I received great reviews, I would get tears in my eyes…OMG, I can do something right, somebody appreciated me!
The first time I ever heard “I love you” was from my first boyfriend, Ed, when I was 15. I immediately got very uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say or do. He was hurt because I didn’t say it back but I didn’t know if I loved him. I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. Eventually, though, because of Ed, I learned how to say “I love you”. We dated exclusively for five years and planned on getting married after high school but by the time we were out of school things weren’t going so well. We eventually broke up and it was the most traumatic experience of my life. I had love and lost it. I was unloved and unlovable again. It was devastating. Would anybody ever love me again?
Dating was extremely uncomfortable, and I hated it. I was afraid to express my own opinion, afraid the guy would think I was stupid if I didn’t agree with him. I was afraid to be myself. So there weren’t many dates. Being single had its perks but lying in bed at night I would have anxieties thinking I was going to be alone for the rest of my life.
Then on a part-time job I met Terry. We dated a couple of years, lived together, bought a house then got married. It wasn’t a great relationship but thought no one would ever propose to me again and felt marriage to him would be better than being alone. Three months into the marriage I thought “what was I thinking?!” But I believed marriage was forever and was going to make the best of it.
Pride kept me from sharing our problems with people that I knew, and Terry wouldn’t go to counseling. I believed things would get better with time, but they just kept going downhill and five years later after finding explicit pictures of a female “friend” of his I told him I couldn’t take it anymore…I wanted out. It was actually a wonderful day because that was the day I started to stand up for myself.
It was at this point I realized there was some big lesson about life that I hadn’t learned yet, that something huge was missing. I didn’t know what it was or where to look for it but I didn’t want to go through life making the same mistakes over and over. My younger sister Carole had been happy in her marriage, and she had been going to church.
Well, I hadn’t been to church in decades and never thought I would go back again but there had to be some serious changes and I was willing to look anywhere. I tried to get Terry to go but he wouldn’t and after we split, I thought no more putting it off. On my first visit to a non-denominational church the pastor talked about having a hole in your heart. “A hole in my heart, that’s what I have, a hole in my heart“. And he said only Jesus could fill it.
Somehow, I knew that was right, but it took me a year to make a commitment to Jesus. I was afraid God would zap me for everything I did wrong, afraid of what he would ask of me and I couldn’t afford to tithe. I needed every dime and more. It wasn’t going to be a pick and choose kind of relationship…it was going to be all or nothing.
After a year of literally being pulled back and forth, I realized if I had made the right decision there would be a peace in my heart. So, I stopped analyzing and worrying about what was the right decision and at the age of 41 said yes to Jesus. While tearfully saying the sinner’s prayer, it was the first time I ever felt a Father’s unconditional love.
After I came to know Christ there was a huge improvement concerning my fears. Beforehand in my own strength I tried different things to help myself like reading books, listening to self-help tapes and even joined a phobia support group but nothing made a difference until becoming a Christian. Changes came through reading and following God’s Word, prayer, attending a Bible-teaching church, and being involved in Christian fellowship. Memorizing verses was a huge help…verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control”.
There were so many more incredible verses Jesus gave me to carry in my heart another one being Joshua 1:9 ESV
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
The list goes on.
And somewhere along the line God changed my heart towards my dad. Before I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him. I hated him and wanted him to go to hell. I prayed for everyone’s salvation except for his. But when I found out hate and unforgiveness would affect my prayer life I started to pray for him, too. I remember saying “God, I know you know I don’t mean this but I’m going to do it because you want me to”.
Sometime later down the road it dawned on me I actually had compassion for dad. I still didn’t like him or want to be around him but I wasn’t so eager for him to go to hell. I too would be going to hell if it weren’t for the grace of God. I also realized that his upbringing, which I knew little about, helped shaped who he was just like mine did.
Another thing that definitely changed was that I didn’t have the fear of being alone the rest of my life. I left it up to Jesus if I would ever marry again. He knew what I needed better than I did. I still hated the thought of dating but was only going to date Christian men.
In a book I read it talked about a guy who would pray on his dates. Some women were uncomfortable with it, some didn’t like it at all, and some thought it was weird. I thought what Christian woman wouldn’t love that! I would love to find a man like that! Never in a million years would I find someone like that.
Well, seven years after my divorce some casual friends from church set me up on a blind date with David. I didn’t think he liked me, and I wasn’t sure about him but as long as he asked me out, I would say yes. He seemed like a good guy, different from other guys in my past. Well, on our third date he asked if we could pray together!!! Oh my gosh, God sent me this man. Only God knew deep down in my heart I wanted a man who would pray on dates. It wasn’t ever shared with anyone.
And knowing David was hand-picked by God for me, it was the first time I was ever myself dating. It was a little embarrassing having to tell David about my social fears, but he was very understanding and even dealt with some himself. We connected in so many ways it was astounding. I had never experienced this kind of love, understanding and commitment before.
Almost two years later we were married, and I felt my life was like a sad movie with a happy ending. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! David is the best friend I ever had. He’s not only someone I can trust and respect but he’s also the spiritual leader of our home, a man after God’s own heart.
A few years later Celebrate Recovery, a Christian approach to dealing with hurts, habits, and hang-ups, was coming to our church. I couldn’t wait… this is exactly what I needed. Like I said earlier, there was a lot of progress overcoming fears since becoming a Christian, but I still had a long way to go. I was stuck in the automatic mode of running from anything uncomfortable, stuck in feeling inferior to everybody, afraid to be me with most people. I was so tired of hiding. It was going to be embarrassing having to open up and expose the real me but soon learned that CR was a safe place. This is where I found the support and encouragement from others that I wanted and needed all of my life. It was where I learned everybody had their painful secrets and was in need of some kind of help; even those you thought had it all. Celebrate Recovery is where I met real people.
After completing a CR step group, I felt emotionally stronger. I learned about healthy boundaries. I learned I’m not so bizarre after all. I felt the freedom to be me. After making a mistake, I didn’t feel the need to crawl under a rock anymore. It’s okay…I’m not stupid…I’m human. I’m not saying there aren’t any more struggles but that I can depend on the love, wisdom and grace from Jesus to help me every step of the way. I still get nervous reading out loud. I still feel uncomfortable and inadequate making conversation. But 2 Chronicles 16:9 NLT says,
“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”…
For years I was hoping to meet someone who struggled with social fears as strong as mine to get encouragement from them but didn’t seem to find anybody quite like me. People like me just want to hide. Fifteen million Americans suffer with social disorders. God can use me to help give encouragement to them. He’s taken this scared little girl who was afraid of her own shadow and is using me to help others. I’m proof there is healing powers in the name of Jesus!
Jesus has turned my life around so much that when I look back it’s hard to believe that was my life. I no longer feel useless and lonely in a world of billions of people. My life is now filled with hope and purpose. It’s amazing how patient and gentle Jesus was with me all those years while guiding me in the direction he wanted me to go. He knew how fragile I was, he knew my story and what it would take to get me to change. Psalm 103:14 NLT says,
“For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.”
Only a big and powerful God could transform me like that. One of the awesome things about Jesus is that he’ll do that for anybody if they let him! Tell others what Jesus has done for you. Tell them how wide, long, high and deep is the love of Jesus to help encourage others to trust him for their healing so that they too, will be set free.
I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite verses Numbers 6:24-26 NLT,
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you
May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.