Winning the Shame Game

I write another blog on the HealthyPlace.com website called Trauma! A PTSD Blog about my experiences with posttraumatic stress disorder (please check it out). My latest post there is about dealing with the shame that comes from being a victim of trauma. That got me to thinking about the shame that accompanies alcoholism, and I thought that it was worth writing about.

I have lived most of my 44 years with a deep sense of shame. Part of it came from the household that I was raised in, I’m sure. Another part of it came from abuse that I suffered later. And still more came from my active drinking days. Now I know that the shame I felt because of things that happened to me was unwarranted – I didn’t ask for any of that. I’ve worked through a lot of that in therapy and with my sponsor. But the alcoholic junk? That’s harder to let go. I caused all of that myself, so shouldn’t I be ashamed?

The answer to that is no. Should I have felt guilt over those things? Yes, definitely. Guilt and shame usually go hand-in-hand, but they are two shame2very different emotions. When I feel guilty about something it’s because I have done something wrong, or even bad. When I feel shame about something it’s because I am getting stuck in the belief that I am wrong or bad – inherently. It’s a feeling of being defective and worthless. While feeling guilty can be useful (unless we stay there too long), causing us to make amends and right wrongs, shame really serves no useful purpose. All it does is break us down and make us feel helpless.

It’s easy to see why shame and alcoholism go together. They feed off of one another and create a vicious cycle of self-destruction. When I was drinking, part of the reason was to shut down the feelings of shame that I had, to escape them. And it worked…briefly. What happened though, was that my alcoholism caused me to create huge amount of wreckage in my life, which gave me more to feel shame over. So then I had to drink more, and then I had more to feel ashamed about, so then I had to drink more…and so it went for a long time.

I know now, intellectually at least, that even with all of the bad choices I made, and the bad behavior I displayed, I am not inherently bad. I am a person who has struggled with many things, has had many regrets, and has had plenty of reasons to feel guilt, but I am not worthless or irredeemable or broken beyond repair. The thing about shame though, is that it still sneaks up on me. The other day I was going over some step work with my sponsor, reading my responses to some questions, and she stopped me. She looked at me and said, “But Jami, you are enough, you know that, right?” I didn’t even realize that the answer I had read was full of shame, until it was pointed out to me.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say that shame is sneaky. I have to be mindful of what I am telling myself about me, and when I slip into that shameful thinking, I have to remember that I am enough…just as I am, right now…and no matter what you have gone through, or are currently going through, you are enough too. Don’t let shame tell you otherwise. 🙂

 

 

 

Surrender to Win

There is a paradox in Alcoholics Anonymous that tells us that we must “surrender to win.” When I first entered AA, I thought that it seemed kind of crazy that I would have to surrender, or give up, in order to get better. Wasn’t that was I was already doingSurrender? I sure felt like I had given up. Everything. That was where drinking had gotten me to. Like lots of things in AA though, surrendering to win started to make sense once I started to practice it.

It was when I was working my first step, looking back on all of the things that I had said and done while drinking, the things that showed (rather obviously) that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable, that I caught my first glimpses of what surrender might look like for me. I finally was able to see that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I had to find another way to do things, or I was likely going to die. I had to throw in the towel, or it was going to be thrown in for me. I had to surrender. I had to stop fighting, hiding, and resisting because I knew that I could not win or succeed doing it my way.

I had to surrender to the fact that I was an alcoholic. I could no longer hang onto the idea that maybe there was something I could do to manage my drinking, or that maybe, if I just quit for a while, that I could go back to being a normal drinker one day. I had to surrender to the fact that I was different from normies, and that I would never be able to be one.

I had to surrender to the fact that I couldn’t stay sober alone. I had tried so many times, yet I always failed. Sure, I could make it a day or two without drinking…maybe even three. But anything could and did send me right back to the bottle and I picked up right where I left off. Even when I didn’t want to! That’s the craziness of alcoholism, I didn’t want to drink anymore, but I couldn’t stop. I had to surrender to the idea that I needed help to get sober, and that I would find that help in God and in other alcoholics.

I had to surrender to the program. I know that there are people who get sober without a 12 step program, but AA is what saved my life. So I had to stop resisting working the steps, and stop resisting taking suggestions, and stop resisting living the principles of AA to change my life. This was big for me because I wanted to think that I was different from others in the program – clearly, none of those people had the problems and traumas that I had. Ha! It’s actually funny to think about now…because every alcoholic that I meet thought that way at one time.

I had to surrender to the idea that there was hope for me. Before I got into the rooms, I had thoughts that the way my life was (a great big effing mess), was just the way it was going to be until I died. I was stuck. My life was hopeless and I was irredeemable. In order for me to surrender to all of those other things, I had to believe that there was hope. For me. For my future. Thank God I saw hope in the faces of my fellow alcoholics at every meeting I went to. That hope is what encouraged me to grasp hold of my recovery and hang on.

So, “surrender to win?” Yeah, I get it now. And I am thankful for it every day.

 

 

 

 

Alcohol Awareness Month

It’s April and that means it’s Alcohol Awareness Month. Every year the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence sponsors this month to increase public awareness, NCADD_Alcohol_Awareness_Month_Logoreduce stigma, and encourage people to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. And each year for the last three, I have spoken about alcoholism awareness at the college where I worked. Since I no longer work there, I thought I would blog about it instead.

This year’s theme is “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.” The goal is to get parents talking to their kids about alcohol use and open the lines of communication about alcoholism and its consequences. The bigger picture is aimed at everyone – those of us who are alcoholics, anyone who has been affected by alcoholism, and even those who have not and who know nothing about it – so that we can reduce the stigma attached to alcoholism.

The only way to reduce stigma is to get the information out there, and for those of us who have one, to tell our story. It isn’t always easy, there are still those people out there who think that all alcoholics are deadbeats and losers who drink cheap liquor from a bottle in a brown paper sack. I wrote once about a time that one of my supervisors cautioned me to stay quiet about my addiction. I didn’t. I told my story and I had a wonderful, positive response. But, I can’t help but think that if I had let my boss have her way, that wouldn’t have happened, and I would’ve felt ashamed and less-than for being an alcoholic. It is through the telling of our stories that we are able to help others. The stories that I  hear from other alcoholics is what helps me, and I hope that I help others by sharing mine.

If you want more information about Alcohol Awareness Month you can get it here.

If you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism and you are looking for treatment facilities you can look at ConsumerAffairs’ Drug and Alcohol Rehab Guide.

If you would like to find a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in your area you can find one here.

 

 

 

 

Promises, Promises

The 9th Step Promises of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous say:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

(The Big Book, pp. 83-84).

We read these promises at the end of every meeting of my home group, and I have always loved it when the chairperson asks me to be the one who reads them. Even in my earliest days of sobriety, it was the Promises that gave me hope. You see, I wanted those promises for me and my life, although much of the time I never thought I could be so fortunate. I could see the evidence of the Promises in other alcoholics’ lives, they were happy, emotionally and spiritually fit, they could pay their bills on time, and they had healthy relationships. It didn’t bother them to talk about their pasts, and they weren’t wallowing in them either. They spoke about their drinking days in the context of, “you have to feel the bad times, to appreciate the good ones.” That was new to me, and in those first couple of years of sobriety, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to feel that way about my past.

Guess what happened though? Somewhere along the way, as I worked the steps – struggling through the hard days, and grateful for the good ones – the Promises started coming true for me. I have found a new freedom and a new happiness. Neither of those things came easily though. Freedom from drinking as a way to cope is never easy for an alcoholic. In fact, I think it’s a miracle when any alcoholic can go any length of time without a drink. I really do. But I also think that every minute, hour, day, and year that I stay sober I am free of my old way of coping, and that freedom feels good. What I have learned about happiness is that you can have it if you choose to. I have been through some pretty rough times in sobriety, some times that were even worse than the hell I went through when I was actively drinking, but I notice now that often I am able to choose happiness even then, even in those moments that used to baffle me.

There are still things about my past that I regret. What I find though is that I no longer wish to shut the door on it. I am able to talk and think about my past without guilt and shame (at least on most days), and sharing my past might help someone else. That’s what it has become for me – a way to help others in the same way that I have been helped. How can I be ashamed of that?

Self-pity used to be where I hung out most of the time. The Promises say that it will disappear, and I will say that I can see now that it is true. I’m not saying that I never fall back into that way of thinking, I do. However, I spend a whole lot less time there, and I bounce back faster when I do start to feel it. That too, is a miracle.

“Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.” Wow, I never thought that I would experience that, but I have. I’m not saying that I don’t worry anymore about what people are going to think, or that I am suddenly financially secure. What I am saying is that I have learned that I don’t have to be afraid of either of those things. What other people think is none of my business, and I no longer feel the need to try to live up to whatever it is I think they want from me. And even though I haven’t won the lottery, and I’m not independently wealthy, when financial challenges come up, I don’t stress as much. I know that things will be okayAll things are possible. I just know.

Knowing that things will be okay comes from the realization that “God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” That’s it, plain and simple. God is at work, and I am not trying to run His show. Admittedly, there are times that I still try to take over…ok, there are still a lot of times that I try to take over, but when I am able to let go and hand it over to God, amazing things happen.

To the newcomer I say, be patient with your recovery. Believe that the Promises do come true. To the old-timers I say, thank you for helping me to believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sober, Not Perfect

ugh2

Have you ever done something that you knew would have negative consequences and then instantly regretted it? Recently, I did that. I used to do that a lot – when I was drinking. Admittedly, the regret usually came later then, not right away. This time though, I wasn’t drinking, I had my wits about me, and I still did it. What’s worse is, I did it out of anger.

Ugh.

We’re not supposed to behave that way once we get sober, right? I mean, I’ve been sober for over three years, I’ve worked the steps many times over, I have a sponsor who I talk to all the time, I do the maintenance steps (10-12) every day…I have really changed the way I live. And yet, I really screwed up and impacted other people’s lives, and I may have lost one of the closest friendships I have.

I’ve been doing a bit of wallowing about this whole thing for the last few days, self-loathing and self-pity joining me in the mire. It hasn’t really been a very good time, and I’ve been wondering what I should do. The thing is, I know what to do. It’s just hard doing it. I have to make amends, sooner rather than later. I will. It may not save the friendship that I cherish so much, but I have to clean up my side of the street.

This whole situation has taught me a few things – or maybe it’s just reminded me of a few things. One, reacting out of anger is not the way to go. Often times, my first inclination is to lash out when I’m hurt or scared. Over the years though, and through working the program, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t act on my first inclination. It’s that “first thought wrong,” thing that I’ve learned in AA. The second thing is that even though I am sober, with a good program and lots of support and wisdom from those around me, I am still going to screw up sometimes. I’m human, and that’s what humans do. Which brings me to the third thing: what I do now is what matters. Taking responsibility and trying to repair what I’ve broken is what I have to do. I could leave this whole thing alone, wait for it to fade away into the past, but the guilt I have over it wouldn’t go away, and a place of guilt is a dangerous place for me to hang out in.

So this weekend, I will put on my big girl panties and try to make things right. We’ll see what happens.