Friday, January 3, 2014

Sober Day #66- the Burden of Shame

So many new to or considering sobriety talk about shame:  the shame of misusing alcohol, the shame of relationship or job problems caused by over-use of alcohol, the shame of alcohol-fueled obnoxious or illegal behaviour.

And shame feels so bad, so soul-destroying, that we will do almost anything to avoid it.  For most of us, the easiest most familiar escape is the anesthesia of alcohol.  Bottoms up! Pour another glass!

This becomes a very vicious self-replicating circle.  Feel shame, feel bad, escape with alcohol, feel more shame about drinking, more alcohol to escape....  

Shame is a powerful negative, unwarranted and useless emotion.  Useless? you say??.   Unwarranted?  Yes.  Shame involves feeling defective, feeling powerless, feeling as though one doesn't deserve happiness, doesn't deserve sobriety, doesn't even deserve a life.  Shame is poisonous and destructive.  Shame serves no useful purpose, and is a huge de-motivator for sobriety.  (Randles, Tracy 2013- see full reference below)

Guilt can be useful- it may feel bad, but it can also motivate appropriate reparation.  Embarrassment also feels bad, but can motivate avoidance of repeating the situations causing the embarrassment.  But shame?  It just cuts you off at the knees.  It makes you feel useless, defective, unworthy.  And none of us should feel shamed.

It is part of our birthright as human beings that we are inherently worthy people.  We have made mistakes and bad choices, have done things we are sorry about-  but we are still worthy people:  People who deserve to escape the trap of alcohol, people who deserve friends and support, people who deserve to pursue sobriety and happiness.

Let go of shame.  I deserve better, and so do you!

Randles D, Tracy JL.  Nonverbal Displays of Shame Predict Relapse and Declining Health in Recovering Alcoholics.  Clinical Psychological Science, April 2013; vol. 1, 2: pp. 149-155., epub February 4, 2013 


  1. Fantastic Carrie! Research that supports what we intuitively know :)

    1. Lol! I find that about half of the things I "intuitively know" are true- and the other half are wildly off-base. So finding objective data that corroborates what I "know" is always useful- although I keep an open mind even about that. But what I do know for sure: Shame is hurtful and useless!!

  2. I read this post yesterday and it really struck me hard. It helped me understand a bit more about why I drank the way I did, and some of the emotional pain I've been dealing with now I'm sober. I grew up in an environment where it was perfectly normal to be shamed. Constantly. I think my Catholic parents thought shaming was a way to instill morals in children, or some such nonsense! But shame sticks with you, and you're right, it's totally useless and destructive. It tells you you're wrong and broken and not good enough -- no wonder we reached for the bottle to shut that pain down! And it's great to recognise an opportunity to practice self-compassion and self-care. Thanks so much for writing about this. I am really enjoying reading your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts.

    1. Sue, I think somehow our culture decided that shame is a teaching emotion. Remember from grade school history the colonial miscreants in 'stocks', for the other citizens to mock and shame? And in those same grade schools, many teachers used shaming (the dunce cap?). But shame is never helpful, never teaches- it annihilates, destroys, makes people feel sub-human. And given that many in our culture still see the overuse of alcohol as a moral deficit, a shameful choice- it is easy to see the hurtful trap that many of us ended up in!

      And we are now finding a way out of that trap- Hurray for us!!!


I'd love to hear about your journey, and hear your take on my journey. Comments are very welcome!!