• David Sales

Breaking the Chains of Shame

"Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame the self feels wounded from within." - Gershen Kaufman

I am admittedly slow in the mornings. It's one of things I have changed in recent months and I make sure I have that time, every day. It has become my time to sit quietly with myself, my coffee, my thoughts of yesterday and my plans for the day ahead.

This morning, my first back from a week-long trip to my hometown, found me with much to reflect on. Despite the sadness in the trip's circumstance, I became more aware of my own growth, my sense of peace, and the importance of friends and family.

My isolation of the past few years has kept me locked in solitude, deep loneliness, and cut-off from love and human connection.

At the root of it all? Shame.

I know, through heartfelt conversations with other friends in recovery, that shame can be an anchor that keeps us from breaking free, rising to the surface, and swimming away from our addiction. Shame has this devouring way of eating away at my hope, and it forces me to hide from all the support required to get better. I need love but don't feel worthy of it. I crave connection but can't stand the thought of being around people. I need help and guidance but can't ask for it. Shame, for me, is debilitating.

For someone with addiction and dependence on substances, relapse was one of the most devastatingly intense sources of shame. I know I am not alone in the shame in relapse.

In my time in the recovery community, I long ago lost count of those who are no longer with us, their lives and hope swallowed up by shame. It almost happened to me. It seemed hopeless as I struggled for enough sobriety to identify and heal from the underlying trauma that fuelled it all. Every relapse I experienced seemed only to solidify my belief that I was just too weak, too stupid, too crazy, and too defective for the world and too toxic for those I loved.

The more I tried, the more I felt I failed. With each failure, my shame grew and that anchor of humiliation and self hate got heavier. I looked upon relapse as complete failure, an absolute end to all the progress I had made.

A shift came when Jennifer was helping me work through shame and how perhaps changing how I looked at relapse would be more helpful. Maybe I was just desperate enough to try something new. Had I not made the commitment to listen and learn new things?

It took some time, but I tried hard to look for the positive. Perhaps relapse wasn't an absolute failure, and I wasn't having to start all over again. Maybe all the things I had learned was the progress. Maybe this was just a lapse in time. Perhaps it was another lesson along the way, an opportunity to learn from it and strengthen my recovery.

I had to accept that relapse was part of my recovery story. I could relapse, but I could also restart.

Replacing the shame of failure with the enlightenment of the lesson, empowered me to resume my journey... stronger, wiser, and kinder - especially to myself. I had allowed myself to give up with near fatal consequences. Giving up was something I had never done.

Just never give up. Keep trying. Get back to work. I told myself these things over and over.

Not only has this change in perspective allowed me to move forward again, it has given me hope for dear friends who find themselves once again trying. I wish I could just hug the shame out of them, but I can't. I can, however, be a friend and assure them that there is no shame in relapse, or at least that there is no use for shame in recovery.

As my morning ritual ended today, it filled me with gratitude that I could reconnect with so many friends and members of my family. It had been so long since I had held my head up and felt comfortable in my skin.

I look forward to the day when that anchor of shame to which I have been shackled, is just a light reminder to me I can do better, be better, and be the person I've always longed to be.


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