shame (SHām) noun
a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
Probably the number one topic that comes up when I'm talking with my recovery friends is shame.
We all know what shame feels like; I feel it physically, in my gut, like a stone in my belly.
I carried that stone with me for years, both while I was drinking and after. Even years into my recovery journey, I feel its weight sometimes, dragging me down.
Who do you think you are, is the most common theme shame whispers to me, now.
I looked up synonyms for shame, and this is what I found: abashment, dishonor, self-disgust, disrepute, self-reproach.
It's easy, when I think about my drinking self, to feel these emotions. How could you, I ask myself when my disease is speaking to me.
In early recovery I learned that I needed to reconcile the things that made me feel shame in order to heal. Memories, feelings, actions, behaviors that made me feel shameful led me right back to a drink as I struggled to get sober. Lean into them, I was taught. Feelings aren't facts.
I learned about the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is feeling badly about something you did, shame is feeling badly about who you are. I did a bad thing versus I am a bad person.
The antonyms to shame are these: esteem, honor, respect, pride.
That last one hits me hard. Isn't pride bad? Doesn't it smack of ego?
Back to Google, The Oracle of all Things, and it tells me these are synonyms for pride: self-confidence, self-respect, dignity, delight, joy, satisfaction.
I feel all of those things today, and I felt exactly none of them when I was drinking.
For years I wrote in excruciating detail about my addiction; I painted a colorful picture of what it felt like to be an active alcoholic. But I didn't write much about what it is like to be a recovering person, because that felt prideful, and I assumed that was inherently bad.
Lately I have felt frozen when it comes to writing about addiction, and it took me a while to figure out why.... and the answer makes me twitch a little. I don't want to write about alcoholism anymore. I want to write about recovery. It makes me twitch because I am afraid of pride. I was taught pride = ego, and ego will lead me back to a drink.
I have learned that pride and ego are not synonymous, and feeling proud of my recovery is a better antidote to wanting to drink than anything else I have found.
My life today surpasses my wildest dreams, but I don't know how to write about that.
So let me show you a picture instead:
This is me, with my best friend of 35 years, Amanda. Drinking was all fun and games back then, but seeing this picture makes me want to scream at them to STOP. But we didn't stop. We kept right on going until alcohol brought us both to our knees, twenty plus years later.
I found this picture recently, as I was clearing out my digital photo file. Immediately, I felt that stone in my belly. Oh God, I thought. We could have avoided so much pain, if only we knew then what we know now.
But, of course, life doesn't work that way. We rarely learn the hard life lessons the easy way. Every moment - every shameful moment, every regrettable decision, every bit of denial and secrecy, led me to where I am today.
I stared at this picture and told those girls that I loved them. My shame voice lost confidence, and another voice took its place: who would have thought, it said, that you are looking at women who would grow up to be sober women of dignity and honor (both synonyms for pride). Who would have thought we'd run a non-profit together, and make it our life's mission to break the stigma of addiction and celebrate recovery from the rooftops.
I am proud of my recovery. Not in the I'm-better-than-you sense, but in the I-overcame sense. I don't feel shame about being in recovery from cancer. And I don't feel shame for being in recovery from alcoholism, either.
For years, when I said I was an alcoholic in recovery, the subtitles in my head thought: I'm admitting to a weakness, I'm revealing that I used to drink a shameful amount. But recovery is all about moving forward. Now, when I say I'm in recovery, there are no subtitles. There is no shame.
Here we are today; this picture was taken at Amanda's three year recovery anniversary:
The antidote to shame is pride. It is action, involvement in your recovery. We found honor, self-confidence, joy and delight in being women in recovery.
And we aren't going to keep it to ourselves.
Shining Strong is proud to announce the opening of our new Shopify store! Amanda and I have both been wearing our "I Am Not An Anonymous Person" T-shirts, and have been asked again and again, "how can I get one?" We are so proud to be part of recovery advocacy with The Anonymous People and are excited to offer the official Anonymous People T-shirt in our new store! All proceeds go to help Shining Strong and our advocacy and outreach in the recovery community, including our websites The Bubble Hour and Crying Out Now. If you want to join us in breaking down the stigma of recovery and proudly wear one of these T-shirts, head on over and purchase one for $15! Click HERE to go directly to the listing in our shop.
You can find other Shining Strong goodies there, too - a tote bag and coffee mug for starters (more to come), and you can purchase a copy of my book Let Me Get This Straight there, too. Again, all proceeds go directly to Shining Strong.
We appreciate your help, your advocacy and your support. Thank you.