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Let Go of Shame

Let Go of Shame

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”  ~ Brené Brown

Do you feel shame because of your addiction?

The thing is, there is plenty of shame to go around when it comes to addiction.

Family members, especially parents, feel it as well. I felt anxious when I realized that someone in my family could not manage their life. I felt responsible and yet shame and fear stopped me from asking for help.

Addiction and shame go hand in hand. It is hard to understand where one starts and the  other ends. Addiction leaves us feeling powerless, isolated and unworthy whether we are the addicted person or the family member. There is a strong sense of secrecy and silence about addiction. It feels like something that is easier to hide and just not talk about.

What I have since learned is that there is a distinction between guilt and shame.

People that are more prone to feel shame, rather than guilt have a higher risk for addiction. Most feel shame about their addiction. It is a vicious cycle, and one that is tough to change, but not impossible.

Guilt is about action and behavior, while shame is about identity and self.

“Guilt involves a violation of an external rule or standard that can be redressed by restitution or an apology. Shame, however, slices uninvited through the ego boundary to inflict a deep wound on the self that is experienced as an ‘inner torment’ or a sickness of the soul. Shame patrols the boundary between our public and private lives.” ~ Garrett O’Connor, M.D.- Betty Ford Institute

Shame is about our inner self. The addicted person reinforces their feelings of shame through their behavior.

Because of their shame, parents often cover up for their child so others won’t find out about the addiction. We enable in our desperate efforts to help, so hopefully the problem will end quickly. We hide our family’s addiction from the outside world to protect ourselves from feeling shame and because we are uncomfortable with the problem.

Children of alcoholics may grow up feeling less than or flawed, and struggle with negative feelings about themselves for years. When our child is the addict, we may question our total worth as a parent or even as a person.

“When most people use the word shame, they usually mean to describe an experience that comes up because of outside influences — our parents’ disapproval or the opinion of society-at-large, for example.  If I do poorly on a test or my business fails, I might not want anyone else to know because I’m afraid they’ll think less of me.  Shame also arises when we violate our own internal values, but we’ve usually absorbed them from our families and the world around us.”  ~ Joseph Burgo, Ph.D.

When I realized addiction was part of my life, it felt difficult to tell my friends and family. I finally did and the reactions were interesting. Offers to help, some advice, but mainly support and concern came my way. I know that many others have had negative reactions, from family or friends or have had to listen to much advice giving from those that have not experienced the disease.

The support and concern felt like a relief, but there was the underlying message of, “Watch who you tell this to.” Casual acquaintances were not people who I would share my family’s situation with. You realize quickly that even though you have support, you also have a stigma, a stigma of a disease that is often not talked about.

The reality is that addiction can affect a large range of families, from wealthy, to the poor.  Happily married parents as well as divorced parents can have a child with an addiction issue.  Some children with alcoholic parents are never affected with the disease and others become addicts or alcoholics themselves.

I spent a lot of time regretting decisions I made in the past, believing that if I had made a different choice, the outcome may have been different and my child would not have their struggles. I have since learned to let go of my regrets.

You can breathe a little easier when you educate yourself about addiction so that you can make good choices. Being supportive can gently guide someone toward recovery, but in the end, they need to make the final choice.

It is important to let go of shame and here are some ways to do that:

  • Forgive yourself. You may feel like you have made mistakes that have harmed yourself or others. You can make amends for any harm you have done and strive to do better in the future.
  • Open Up and Trust. Sharing your secrets of addiction is a good place to start, as you cannot make progress toward healing when you are in isolation. Taking a risk and trusting others will bring you closer to finding the peace and serenity that you desire. Realize that you are not alone and that sharing is the key to healing shame.
  • Consider Your Mistakes as a Lesson Learned. As I look back on when I felt the most shame, I can realize that even my most embarrassing moments have taught me a lesson in life and led me in a more positive direction.  Learn from each past mistake and let it guide you in the future.
  • Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Be bold and let go of your shame.  Allow yourself to open up all the possibilities in life.  Allow love of yourself and love of others to enter your being.
  • Create a New Behavior and Attitude. Take small steps to get over the fear of enjoying your life.  Know that you are perfect just the way you are, including all of your flaws. You are only human.  Look forward to each day with curiosity, humor, joy and wonder.

Original Article re-printed here with permission from

Red Rock Recovery Center is a Colorado state licensed substance abuse extended care treatment program designed to help you or your loved one recover from the struggles associated with alcoholism and drug addiction. Located in Denver, Colorado we offer a safe haven for those afflicted by the ravages of untreated addiction. Our program is based on a compassionate 12-step model that applies behavioral as well as life skill therapies, which will enable our clients to heal and recover.

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