“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” Many of us grow up hearing those words. I know I did. In fact, the first specific incident I remember is as clear to me today as it was when it happened.
I was three years old, and I had a beautiful red and white tricycle that was my pride and joy. Our driveway was being re-tarred, and my mother allowed me to pedal my tricycle up and down the sidewalk with strict orders to stay off the driveway.
So I did, for what seemed like a long while. Eventually, the workmen left, and it looked so nice and smooth. I could imagine my wheels just gliding over the surface. I waited a little longer and decided it had to be dry by then.
You can guess what happened next.
The Shame Game
Many parents play it. Often times they don’t seem to realize the damage it can cause, how important it is when correcting their children that they separate the child from the transgression. Somewhere along the line, some of us become the transgression.
For those of you whose parents who didn’t make bad behavior belong to bad children, you probably grew up with a healthy sense of guilt. Guilt doesn’t become personal. It simply motivates you to do better.
Shame, on the other hand, causes us to become so preoccupied with what other people think of us that we lose ourselves in the process. We feel like there is something wrong with us. I remember feeling like a fraud whenever someone complimented me on any accomplishment. I thought I had just gotten lucky, and any day, people would see that I really didn’t know what I was doing.
The Greater The Shame, The Higher The Risk
Feeling like a loser is a rough road to travel through life. It makes you want to escape, and substance abuse looks pretty exciting, because it allows you to take a trip outside of your own mind for a little while.
Everything gets turned upside down pretty quickly after we find our escape of choice. That escape becomes the only good part of our lives. The rest is something we have to endure, to get through, and getting high is our reward.
In the beginning, I simply liked it, and staying in it felt like a choice. But as soon as my new lifestyle began interfering with my responsibilities and negatively affecting my relationships, I felt even more shame. My respite became a prison.
That’s the cycle of addiction.
We weren’t born with shame. Shame is learned behavior. Then that shame turns to fear, and we get stuck. Once I understood that my shame wasn’t a natural part of me, I realized I could unlearn it.
Four things helped me release my shame:
- Courage – I had to be brave enough to face my fear and talk to someone who understood the journey. By taking that first big step, I connected with someone who didn’t judge me, and it made it a little bit easier to stop judging myself.
- Connection – I began attending NA meetings. Sharing my story with a group of people who all get it was incredibly empowering.
- Listening – Once I felt connected, I was able to listen to the stories of other’s journeys, and I developed compassion.
- Empathy – Developing compassion for myself and others led me to relate, to empathize, with others. Giving and receiving empathy is the key to releasing shame.
By the time you reach empathy, you’re home free, because you have already forgiven yourself.
If you or your loved one needs help and would like to make a full recovery, please call us today at (877)-447-4977 and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors about the treatment options that best suits your needs.