May 24

Addiction:  Coping with shame

       “Shame and addiction are like Siamese twins.  One rarely exists without the other.  You cannot find an addict without shame, or a shame-based person without an addiction.  Both exist behind walls of denial, growing like cancer, sucking out life.”       

       Shame is a bottomless pit that only a fool would want to fall into.  Any intelligent human being would do anything to keep out of this dark, lonely place.  And addiction is a survival mechanism that instantly controls the mood of any shame-based person.

       Shame’s most important objective is not to be exposed.  Most shame-based people don’t know what it is because it is often disguised as what it is not:  irrational white rage, indifference, the overwhelming need to control, depression, confusion, flightiness, the obsession to ‘use,’ numbness, panic, and the need to run.

       But even though our addictions may have – in some cases – actually saved our lives by helping us through some very difficult circumstances they no longer serve that purpose.  And there comes a time when the addict must lay them down and learn to cope with shame in healthier ways.

       As shame takes hold of our lives we begin trying to be “perfect.”  The illusion of perfection begins when shame takes over; no mistakes are tolerated for with them come shame.  While yet children, our small mistakes were treated like felonies – anger over spilled milk – and the punishment was often very shaming and abusive.    

       Shame is what keeps the addict isolated and alone.  It is the nature of shame to defend itself.  You can never expect to have an addict open up about their shame.  The shame-based person will conceal their shame; admitting to their powerlessness would leave them feeling vulnerable and out of control.

       Guilt and shame are not the same.  Guilt thinks: “I didn’t do enough.”  And shame thinks: “I am not enough.”  Guilt is how we feel about what we’ve done – cheating at cards, cheating on our spouse – while shame is how we feel about who we are.  Shame is that loathsome feeling we have toward others and ourselves.  We act in inappropriate ways because we feel worthless and stupid, and project that on to others. 

       Shame doesn’t require that we do anything wrong; it’s often prompted by involuntary things.  Shame charges us with being inadequate as a person; it comes up when we feel we’ve fallen short of some imaginary mark set up to measure our worth as a person.  Worthlessness and powerlessness are two companions that the addict lives with every single day.  Addiction is the way an addict tries to take control.  It’s how we cope with shame. 

 Tomorrow’s topic – Addiction: The illusion of self