Shame. It was one of the most impacting and crippling emotions that resided with me throughout my addiction. However, it really exuded its power, influence and destructive nature when I finally started to get real and make changes with my relationship with alcohol. I mean, arriving at that determination is a mammoth achievement on its own, right? Well, it's almost like shame was waiting around the corner until this time, only to then jump out, saying “Nah mate, it isn’t going to be that easy...”
In fact, the shame I experienced could be likened to acid, in that it would immediately and effectively erode any potential excitement or motivation toward progression or investing in myself. I was finally in the position of acknowledging the need to change my relationship with alcohol (and genuinely wanting to do so), but then shame was added to the mix, coming in then almost like an independent contractor brought in to contribute toward my demise and ‘keep me where I belonged’.
That is a confronting outlook, don’t you think? It is downright scary when you cannot find a single meaningful reason why you would even entertain the idea to motivate or help yourself.
I am convinced that this is the case for many, many people. The impact of shame can very successfully block any sense of even starting to consider the idea of change, positivity or seeking help. It stops all of this before anything has even begun. Such was its’ strength, that I almost felt like my own imposter. Why would I bother? I didn’t deserve it. What good would that do? I was a broken, lost cause anyway. And even if you do manage to find glimmers of hope through the shame, it is in its element when it can bring you crashing right back down again.
I hated myself. I hated who I had become. I hated my hatred. I was disgusted that my addiction was overwhelmingly powerful and that I succumbed to its influence on me as a person, my life, focus and direction. Most relevantly, I felt such intense shame when I had realisations about who I had become, the 'conversations' I stumbled through, the numerous embarrassing moments, the anger, and my relationships and flawed interactions with friends and family...all of it. I was a shadow of who I wanted to be and what I could be. So, if I felt this way and I possessed such disgust and shame in myself, why would anyone else think any differently? Why would those close to me even care about whether I make changes or not? Moreover, why on earth would I consider ever trying to change or invest in myself? My perception of friends and family around me led me to truly believe that they too wouldn’t want that for me either. Of course, I was wrong about that – but I never realised at the time. I couldn’t. My addiction flooded my entire being with false realities and a very insular, destructive sense of loneliness. The shame certainly solidified and compounded this.
I know for a fact that I possessed ZERO self-respect when I was drinking. It had generated a sense of self-loathing, from which shame flourished and dominated. So, it goes without saying that my self-esteem, drive and love for myself certainly didn’t magically and immediately materialise as soon as I dare to start thinking differently about my addiction. Far from it. I would predict that, for many people experiencing addiction, shame is a significant factor in not only precluding a desire to change, but also in sustaining the destructive, isolating and damaging cycle that is in full swing. In many ways, you need to explore ways of managing the shame first, just to establish foundations at ground zero. Then the next challenge is scraping up just enough self-worth to contemplate starting a new journey.
My addiction was the consummate narcissist, gaslighting me by creating unwavering insecurity, chaotic dominance, uncertainty and control. It coerced me into truly believing that it was the one and only thing I needed. It ensured I lost every sense of self-respect. It hungrily eroded my self-esteem. It selfishly removed any capacity to express who I truly was; to express genuine care and attention to those I loved. It removed any desire or motivation to envelope myself in doing the things I love. It created a sense of despair and urgency and channelled everything I have into nurturing it over anything and everything else. My addiction was guised as my new best friend – the only friend I will ever need. One who continuously threw me under the bus, making me pay an ultimate price for embracing its’ toxic friendship. Above all, the priority of addiction was to ensure that I remained where it wanted me. It made sure that it kept me in this cycle, flooding me with shame and coercing me into truly believing that it was the only way. One of many issues with this is, that the perceived remedy is also the catalyst for misery.
I didn’t like me at all. My friends and family weren’t too impressed with this version of me either. My addiction was the catalyst for uncharacteristic belligerence, confrontational outbursts, lack of reasoning, lack of empathy and eliminating any ability to be present and engaged in the moment. The intense demands of maintenance absorbed all time, presence, inherent joy and energy.
So how do you manage, or learn to work through the shame, especially at the very beginning when even contemplating change? And how do you find strength and self-efficacy to mitigate the impact and loud voice of shame as you start to make changes and progress?
Shame eliminates positivity, potential and opportunity. It thrives on self-loathing and self-destruction, ensuring that you never have enough drive or leverage to dream of change. It’s a long, intricate and hard road, but perhaps one way to start this journey is trying to introduce the following to your thoughts, feelings and mindset:
· You are unique, wholesome, complex and important;
· Addiction is not who you truly are;
· Addiction does not define you as a person;
· Addiction is an insidious and overpowering symptom, often stemming from other issues;
· Your past actions, behaviours and mindset do NOT define who you are now or who you can become;
· You are worthy and you are worth it;
· You deserve to be heard with understanding and empathy;
· You deserve the chance to look ahead and not be dragged back to, or identified by the past;
· You deserve to make changes and start investing in yourself;
· You can free yourself from being a prisoner to your shame;
· You have the ability and opportunity to flip shame on its head; to reduce its impact and dominance;
· You can rediscover happiness, fulfilment, pride and direction once you truly believe you are worth doing so;
· Shame can be significantly reduced (or even eliminated) by growing and nurturing your sense of self, your esteem, your value, pride and worth.
Read these truths daily, saying them out loud to yourself. Do so as often as you need to, until you feel that you may actually start to believe them over the influence of shame that emanates from your addiction.
Then, if you are starting to feel a little better equipped and a tad more ready, reach out to someone who knows exactly what you are going through. Someone who will listen and will work with you to rediscover your strengths, inner-resources, motivations and passions, all whilst mitigating the relentlessness of shame.