Category Archives: alcoholism

Thought for the day — 11/20/2018

“Putting one foot in a bucket of ice water and the
other in boiling water is not balanced living.”

~ Joe C. “Beyond Belief”, 11/20

Thoughts On Guilt v. Shame

I’ve heard it said that guilt is a useless emotion. I disagree.

If I stub my toe, it hurts. That brings my attention to possible damage to my body. If it’s more than superficial damage the pain hangs around, reminding me to take it easy and allow it to heal. The same is true of a headache, which could be a symptom of tension, high blood pressure, or even a brain tumor. A headache that’s severe or doesn’t go away in a relatively short time is cause for further investigation. And so forth.

I think of guilt as another form of pain. Guilt reminds me that I’ve “stubbed my toe” spiritually. By some commission or omission I have failed to live up to an obligation, duty, or my own moral and ethical standards. Just as physical pain is a warning to look to the health of my body, so is guilt a warning about my behavior: something needs to be fixed, a duty discharged, amends made. Like pain, it remains until I do something to allow it to heal.

Shame, on the other hand,  is without doubt undesirable. It’s a spiritual bruise, perhaps a scar. Rather than influencing us to right a wrong, shame tells us that we are a wrong. It causes us to behave unskillfully, as well. In a very real sense, we can say that guilt keeps us honest; shame keeps us dishonest, with ourselves and others. In attempting to make ourselves feel better, we may fail to react to the pain of guilt in useful ways. If we stuff the guilt, instead of fixing the problem, it is likely to turn into more shame.

I think it’s useful for our spiritual development and repair to keep this distinction firmly in mind. People like us addicts, who come from a place of shame, are likely to find it hard to react usefully to guilt, because we were taught to believe that guilt makes us less worthy. The reality is exactly the opposite. As we learn to admit our mistakes, wrongs, and other transgressions, we move farther from shame, collecting reasons to feel better about ourselves. In time, lesson builds on lesson, and we begin to think of ourselves as worthy, rather than “wrong.”

That’s far easier said than done, but it’s a path necessary to the self-esteem that we addicts crave.

 

Going It Alone (edited reprint)

Lonesome Road©DigitalZen 2008

Lonesome Road
© DigitalZen 2008

My wife and I picked up medallions at a meeting last week. It’s been 29 years since we got out of treatment. My anniversary was the 14th, and hers was the 29th.

I couldn’t help thinking about the incredible importance of the support we got from other people in the program over the years. There is no question in my mind but that I would have relapsed without it, because my arrogance had me convinced that I could handle recovery on my own.

My addictions taught me to go it alone. Although family, friends and others who care about us sometimes do try to support us when we are active in our addictions, that is not the only kind of support we need. Furthermore, we often draw away from them in various ways that eventually cause them to do the same. Since non-addicts rarely have any conception of where we’re coming from, many of them accept our self-imposed isolation even though they may find the rejection extremely painful.

Thus we become islands surrounded by our addictions, and because our pathology prevents us from letting others into our lives enough to be supportive, we have to try — with greater or lesser success — to deal with issues then that we couldn’t even handle when we were straight. That rarely goes well. Nonetheless, even though I felt abandoned I resisted efforts at real support from any source.  If people knew what was really going on in my life, I might have had to do something about it.

The result, when I got into recovery, was a Catch 22 sort of situation: I desperately needed support and guidance but didn’t know how to accept it and act accordingly. Because I’m a bright guy and a good mimic it wasn’t long before I was talking a good game, but I wasn’t reaching out or being completely honest. That stalled the beginnings of real recovery considerably.

It’s hard for us addicts to believe that others sincerely care about us. We have already proven that we can’t be successful on our own. That’s what brought us to the rooms of recovery, yet opening up to others and admitting to ourselves that we do need help is the first big stumbling block to getting clean and sober. (There’s a step for that.) It’s hard for us to realize the power of the group, and of a program based on hope, self-knowledge and the compassion and understanding of other folks who know where we’re coming from. We expect to be judged, and instead they offer us hugs – how weird is that?

At least that’s how it was for me. I talked the talk because I wanted to fit in, but it took me a long time and a lot of slaps upside the head from life before I became willing to open my mind, open up to others, get honest with myself, and start walking the walk. When I did that, I began to be able to look at and resolve many of the issues that kept me from true sobriety.

So I’ve got a lot of good feelings about the folks with whom I’ve traveled and am still traveling this road. They helped me get just enough through my thick head to realize that recovery does work. This is where I got my first taste of unconditional love that I recognized. (I’d had a lot from friends and family, but they didn’t really know how to express it, and I sure as hell didn’t know how to accept it!)

I’m not saying that those people kept me sober, because I didn’t start getting really sober until I became willing to look at the real causes of my addiction: issues that date back to my childhood, but they did convince me through example that recovery was posslble and that someone cared. That kept me coming back.

And coming back, over and over, saved my life.