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3 min read

Forgiveness Breaks the Shame Cycle

“I’m getting older, and I didn’t want to be that old lady that’s out on the street, looking to get high.”

Before coming to UGM, Kerri was staying at American Behavioral Health Systems for short-term rehab. She expressed an interest in UGM Recovery, but knowing her 20-year history of addiction, criminality and multiple attempts at sobriety, the staff wasn’t sure she was ready for the rigor of UGM’s program. Her sobriety up to this point had never lasted long.Kerri 1Kerri explained her frequent relapses: “When you’re in jail, especially for a lengthy period of time, you have some stability. You know where you’re going to sleep, you know where your meals are going to come from. When you get back out on the street, you don’t really have anywhere to go, so you’d be right back to it.

“It’s almost like as soon as you hit the street, you’re ready to… like your heart would be racing. You were ready to get right back to it.”

But Kerri wanted this time to be different. “Definitely, every other time, I never had a component with Christ in it at all. Like, I’d heard of Jesus, and I read the Bible when I was incarcerated, but…” She didn’t know him, and she didn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit.

Complete forgiveness seemed too good to be true.

“I just had a lot of doubt, like whether my salvation would cover it all. It was just unbelievable to me that it covered it all.”

Kerri’s childhood (single-parent home, alcoholic father, drinking at a young age), followed by addiction and criminal behavior, led to a deep sense of shame (not just “I’ve done bad things” but “I am bad”) and the shame took her in one of two directions: “Depending on the situation, it would either make me feel like a bad person or it would make me feel justified ‘cause you can get stuck in that anger, that yuck, that’s who you think you are. You have to be that mean or that nasty, and if you hang onto the anger and the hate, then you don’t have to let people in, and if you’re kind of mean and on guard and sinning toward people that way, people either don’t want to be around you or, if they are around you, it’s for specific reasons, so you don’t have to let people in, and so you feel lonely. Either way, you feel lonely.
alleyway“You feel bad about yourself or you feel angry.” The drugs helped her escape those bad feelings, but they also led to more shame, and the momentum of street life conspired to keep her stuck in shame and anger.

“The devil, he’s a liar. He’ll tell you all kinds of stuff to keep you angry because then you’re not going to be in relationship with people, especially good people. So, if you’re angry and you’re not in relationship with people, then you don’t reach out for help, you don’t help others; you’re definitely not talking to God and trying to build a relationship there because you’re too busy, self-absorbed and stuck in this mean bubble.”

The only thing powerful enough to pierce that mean bubble was the truth of God’s forgiveness.

“Forgiveness means that your sins are not going to be held against you.”

Kerri is not defined by her past. She does not have to live in shame. The devil, the streets, her past – do not get the final word. “Being forgiven makes me realize that I’m just as worthy as everybody else, and what I say matters, just like everybody else.”

“When I went to First Steps, I started developing a hunger. I used to pray all the time to help my unbelief, so that would make me want to be in the Word more and more.”

She described the initial process like bumpers on a bowling alley.

“He doesn’t condemn you, but he’s like, ‘No, we’re not doing that. We’re doing this now.’ And it slowly changes. You go from whoops, whoops, whoops, and then it’s like ‘Oh, okay, we’re not doing that anymore.’”

Today, Kerri says, she even carries herself differently. “I didn’t have much love for myself before.” She’s holding her own head a little higher and lifting others up along the way. Kerri did her business practicum at the Crisis Shelter and cherished the opportunity to work with women caught in that shame cycle.

Kerri 3“I always remember whose I am. What everybody else thinks of me doesn’t really matter; that’s not my business. God says I am worthy, that I’m his child, and if you’ve got the Big Guy on your side, you’re something special.”

She now describes herself like this: “I am Kerri Roberts, a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. I have RESURRECTION power!”

Amen to that.


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