Overcoming Shame In Addiction
The Origin of Shame Growing up in a small town how could you be anything but a good girl? She went to church with her parents from the time she was born, she was a good student in school and she tried hard to do what she was told. Everyone in her small town thought that Sara was a good girl and that her professed faith and her upbringing would keep her straight. Now all it brought was guilt and shame.
As a dare, Sara took a drink behind a friend’s barn when she was twelve. She didn’t like the taste at first, but she was accepted by the older kids and she felt kind of grown up. These drinking sessions became more regular as the girls progressed through high school and Sara even started to sneak some into his house. If her parents found out she would be in a lot of trouble, but Sara found that a drink or two helped her wake up – made her more steady.
After high school she went to work at a restaurant that served drinks late night and her drinking continued to escalate. Eventually she was fired from that job and had several others that she was also fired from. After several years, her dad hired her and it worked out great for a couple of years, but she started drinking heavily again. Her only options were termination or a rehab program. She chose the rehab.
What is Shame?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines shame as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” It is also defined as “a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute” in the same source. But any addict knows what it means; what it feels like.
The story may not be the same as Sara’s, but it may be similar. Your parents had high hopes for you and you had dreams of doing something really big with your life. Even if you didn’t do that well in school, teachers knew you tried your best. You were meant for something better than the need, the craving you feel constantly now. Addiction was not in the plan.
How Does Shame Effect Your Addiction?
Addiction runs on a lot of cycles.
- The cycle of need: You don’t just crave the drug, you eventually actually need its effects to maintain your sanity.
- The relapse cycle: You have felt, in the past, that you were strong enough to quit self-destructing on your own, but you couldn’t.
- The cycle of shame: At first drinking or doing drugs was just and activity. Your friends did it and so did you. Then it became more. When it became more, you started losing friends, intimate relationships and your parents trust. The shame came, but you said “If I’m bad, then I’m bad.” The shame led you to drink more. It kept you isolated because you didn’t want anyone else to see how far you had fallen. The shame of using actually made you use more to help mask the pain.
But, it could have happened differently with you. Maybe you felt shame before you even stated using. Many teenagers and young adults do. Maybe:
- You weren’t doing well at school.
- Sports weren’t your thing, but you played, badly, because dad or mom wanted you to.
- The boss expects so much at work.
- Your wife, husband, significant other seems to complain that they should have a better life.
People feel shame because they feel that they are bad, they feel guilty because they have done something bad. It is the difference between emotion and action. Addicts experience both and they either try to quit or become more mired in their addiction because of these feelings.
A rehabilitation (rehab) program focuses on healing from the physical, emotional and social aspects of addiction. Thus, when you enter a rehab you go through a period of detoxification (detox) to make sure that you are physically healthy and to remove the toxin from you system. After detox, you go through a program that is meant to supply you with both emotional strength and social interaction that will heal your mind. Because the mind is intimately involved in addiction.
Within emotional healing, is overcoming the shame pattern that you have developed. At Akua, this is done through shame resilience, so one can combat the dangers of shame in recovery. The biggest way to deal with shame is to talk about it and a lot of time people don’t have a safe place to do so. During these groups, Akua staff members facilitate discussions where members can share what they are going through with other people that have gone through the same types of struggles, and experience the common humanity that they are not alone…
During the groups, Akua staff members facilitate discussions on how shame can be a leading factor in the continuing power that addiction has over you. They also allow the group to discuss their own experiences so that you know that you are not alone. No matter how isolated your addiction has made you feel, it is wrong.
The groups support by:
- Helping you experience a common humanity. This means that you will experience, through group interactions the reality of commonality. You are not the only person who feels shame.
- Building a safe environment: The group is a safe place. Everyone there, from the counselors to the other participants, want you to feel secure. If it’s said in group, it stays in group. You will also come to know that no one there judges you based on anything that you have done. Your shame has no place here.
- Experiencing self-compassion: The groups help you care about yourself again. You are not bad; you do not deserve the pain and shame that addiction has brought; you are worthy of trust and a good life.
- Growing mindful: Mindfulness is an approach to life that looks at this present moment and all the possibilities it brings. You don’t focus on the shame of the past and you don’t fear what may come in the future. You stay sober and worthy in this moment. When you string a bunch of sober moments together, they become a sober life free of shame.
You are also encouraged to journal about your experiences and share what you have learned with the group. Akua realizes that people feel a great deal of shame and that this emotion can add fuel to an addiction. Realizing what shame is and overcoming those feelings is a key to recovery.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]