No More Shame

Dec 02, 2022

This is my last post for 2022 and one that covers a topic I struggled with for years. Guilt and shame kept me stuck in a cycle of on/off drinking because I believed I 'should' be able to control it.  I thought I was the problem.


This is one of the greatest obstacles for those who want to change their drinking. The belief that they are somehow a ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ person. Add to this the fear of breaking up with the trusty go-to solution for uncomfortable feelings and it’s not surprising how long it can take for people to finally make the decision and commitment to change. 

When people feel bad about themselves it is VERY hard to change.


In my experience, the root of this shame often comes down to unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Expectations that are based on false ideas of how we ‘should’ be, and that we ‘should’ be better, stronger, and more resilient. 


But every day I meet strong, resilient, intelligent people who have fallen into the trap of becoming dependent on alcohol. Be it to deal with the daily stresses of their lives or as a tool to socialise, or network. Almost all of these people have taken on messages that serve to make them feel bad about themselves.  They struggle with shame, believing they are fundamentally flawed. And when the shame takes over, the habit of numbing uncomfortable feelings is hard to break. 


It seems so hard for us to believe the truth. That there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a fallible human who, for a multitude of contributing factors, becomes dependent on a highly toxic and addictive substance that is readily available, glamourized, and makes them feel immediately better on consumption.  Why do we believe this to be our fault?   


The most important and factual messages are the ones that aren't advertised or promoted.  We are all flawed and vulnerable and others will prey on those vulnerabilities in order to sell us stuff. Addictive stuff.

We are sold a lie, a solution to all our problems, and we end up believing that if we can't 'handle' this solution then it's our fault.  When the bar is set unrealistically high by the messages we are bombarded with like 'drink responsibly' (eye roll) it reinforces the idea that something is really wrong with us.  Enter shame.


It is highly likely that most people over a certain age in the western world have succumbed to some level of addiction, be that to alcohol, drugs, food, work, shopping, power, or exercise.  So isn’t it reasonable to suggest that addiction is simply part of the human condition, and what we become addicted to is not so much a choice but in fact the result of a multitude of factors and circumstances?  If you were raised in a country where alcohol was forbidden you would struggle to become addicted to it.


I suggest that addictive behaviour is not the exception, it is the norm.  What varies is the substance and/or behaviour and the level to which one becomes addicted to it. And this is dependent on a multitude of variables.  Your unique biochemistry, your experiences, your genes, your environment, what happens to you, how you think, your peer group, childhood trauma/Trauma, how you were taught to see the world, the list goes on and on.  So how can we package all of this up under a banner of ‘bad’ or ‘weak’? 


There is so much we don’t know about the brain & about human beings. But it seems it is simpler and more natural for us to rely on the unreliable, on how we ‘should’ be, and to compare ourselves to perfect others, all the while finding out all the ways we are not up to standard. 


We ask ourselves 'Why am I struggling?,  What is wrong with me? Why can’t I change? Which all leads to the assumption that there is something wrong with us as an individual. That we are somehow unique in our ‘badness’ or ‘weakness’ And we live into our assumptions, in the same way, a child who is told they are ‘naughty’ will so often live into that label. 


When we decide something is wrong with us we feel shame and guilt. We can become victims, helpless and isolated. And when we feel bad about ourselves we crave the one thing that got us here in the first place. 


The people I know who are successful at quitting alcohol, myself included, learn to refuse to allow shame into the mix. They learn not to strive for perfection, or to judge themselves against some unrealistic benchmark. A sense of accepting that they have arrived where they are due to a multitude of factors, some of which they had no control over, leads to a realistic, kind and resolute frame of mind. 


This, paired with the willingness to take responsibility for taking the action required to change, can lead not only to freedom from alcohol but also to a greater sense of self-acceptance and empathy for oneself and others which has a huge impact on all areas of their life.


In short, they accept the challenge of the experience and commit to doing their best to overcome it, with the goal of striving to become the best version of themselves that can be. 


If you met someone who said ‘I am doing my best. I know I’m flawed, and I work every day to improve myself so I can live a life that is more aligned with my values would you say ‘Shame on you?  And yet if you are trying your best to conquer the part of yourself that has become dependent on alcohol that is exactly what you are doing.  


So when shame arises, whether you have a slip or you focus on all the things you did wrong in the past try and remember this. There is no shame in being human. 

Giving ourselves the grace to be human is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, however, it's the only place from which to create the strength and compassion we need for meaningful, lasting change.


No matter where you are in your drinking journey, If you’ve read this far you have already shown you are someone who is trying to learn and grow, and there’s certainly no shame in that.

Wishing you a shame-free holiday season,




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