There were things that happened I still cringe about.
And in an effort for full disclosure, I combed through those years writing a book with my son about our family’s journey together as he struggled with opioid and alcohol addiction to ultimately establish long-term recovery.
The circumstances I don’t like to remember happened when our son was deep in substance use disorder and the rest of us part of this family system’s disease. Those circumstances cause me to relive the paralyzing shame that dominated my life back then.
Anyone who lives in an addiction system knows about the sinkhole of shame.
Back then the pain our family lived in as my son’s disease progressed was very often a catalyst to change. Pain pushed me out of my comfort zone to keep trying to find solutions for our family of six. Awful as it was, many of the painful circumstances were forward moving.
We were not going to give up.
In that sense, there was gain in the pain.
Not so with the feelings of shame.
Shame locked me down, destroyed my sense of self-worth, and scrambled clear thinking with lies about myself and my family.
Wikipedia describes shame as “… an unpleasant self- conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of self, withdrawal motivations, and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness.”
Yeah, that covers it.
The shame I felt over circumstances I truly had little to no control over made everything worse. At the heart of it was the feeling that somehow I was responsible for what was happening and I hadn’t done enough to prevent it.
This is familiar territory for anyone on this journey with their loved ones struggling with substance abuse. We all have a story we really would rather not remember. The choices our loved ones make take them places they would never have wanted to go. And pushed to our limits, there are times we are not the best version of ourselves as we struggle to find solutions.
The bottom line: it does absolutely no good to allow shame even the tiniest bit of room in our heads and our hearts.
We need to re-educate ourselves to understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. It is not about a lack of self- control. It is not a switch that can be simply shut off at will.
We need to fight – and fight hard – against allowing shame to distort our reality. Because in the throes of an addiction crisis our reality is difficult enough without getting mired in a mudslide of self-defeating thoughts.
We all need to reach into our own inner resources and kick shame to the curb.
There is power in sharing our curb-kicking strategies. We grow from the wisdom of the experience of others.
I once heard a man with many years of solid sobriety give this advice at a 12- Step fellowship: every day he would look at himself in the mirror and say: “You are a good man and God loves you.”
That small practice always stuck in my head as a way to establish the true north of my own being. And during those years when shame for what was happening to my son engulfed me like wild fire, I often stood before the mirror and repeated those words.
A good support network helps a lot. The company of my trusted women friends beat back the wild flames of shame. They just wouldn’t let me give in to defining my existence on shame-based lies about our family’s circumstances. Where would any of us be without friends who stand close by?
Finally, I stuck to the script of what worked in our family’s life. I leaned into things that were familiar and comforting as ways of reminding myself I wasn’t and my family wasn’t a total train wreck.
Message to self: hold your head up high and remember who you are and that not everything in your life and your family’s life is going sideways.
Curb-kicking shame was work.
But over time the work worked.
What works for you?
For information and guidance for help and resources for you or your loved one please email: email@example.com