It seems that the longer I go down this journey of uncovering, discovering (and hopefully discarding and/or applying), the less I seem to know. The more I understand, the less I truly understand. The more questions I seem to answer only creates even more questions, like bunny rabbits left unchecked with Barry White music left on in the background. Hubba hubba.
When I first got sober, I had a lot of answers. I plowed through books on spirituality and recovery like one would make their way through a popcorn and Twizzler combo at the movie theater. I absorbed everything I could in my still toxin-releasing pores. I listened to countless speakers discuss sobriety, self-awareness and even, gulp, feelings. I was a walking know-it-all who knew nothing. Sure I had some cool pat answers I cribbed from others, but many times it was all an intellectual exercise. I was memorizing for a test that was never going to be administered.
Now, I say this with tongue partially planted in cheek. I am grateful to learn from others, and I still do today. I sit at the feet of fellow travelers and spiritual gurus (for lack of a better word) and see what I can gleam from their wisdom and experience. Whether it’s someone who has 30 days sobriety living on the street or someone with 30 years sitting on a mountain top in Tibet, I will always get something from others. It’s all about the human condition. External circumstances are window dressing to the soul. We all carry water from the well, but in different pails.
I mention all this because it seems that in this whack-a-mole thing of self-awareness and picking at the lint of my soul, something else seems to crop up just when I think I have the table set just right–salad fork on the left, steak knife on the right, and oops, now the cat’s thrown up on the centrepiece. And for me these days, it’s something that has been simmering for some time, but now is staring me right in the face, ready for a mano a mano battle royale.
Someone mentioned shame to me a few years ago when I was discussing some issues I was having at the time. I dismissed shame being the culprit. My immediate (and defensive) reaction to that person was “Hey! I am not ashamed of myself! I have done a lot of work on myself and I am honest and open and don’t feel at all bad about anything in my past!” I was almost insulted by the idea that I was seeping with shame. But since that conversation, it’s been something that has tugged at me at the back of my mind. It has stuck with me, and I could never understand why. And what I know from experience is that when something hangs on to you like a burr, there is usually something it wants to reveal.
I need to claim that in no way am I ashamed in being an alcoholic in recovery. Not at all. I am clear on that. It is something that I am blessed to be where I am. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my sobriety. But what I carry is deeper than a sense of being ashamed of something. Being ashamed or feeling guilt and shame are different beasts. Brene Brown, who has a few wonderful TED talks (and books) about shame and vulnerability, describes guilt as “I did something bad”, where shame is “I am bad.” And that is where so many of us are stuck. I know I am.
My shame manifests itself in feelings of low self-worth and in comparing myself to others. I am grateful to have what I have, but sometimes I feel unworthy in having it. I sometimes feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall. I wonder when Ashton Kusher is going to leap out of the bushes and tell me that I’ve been Punk’d. That feeling comes and goes. It’s not daily. But it does crop up.
Low self-worth also comes up in many ways—playing small, perfectionism, seeking validation from the external and being very hard on myself. I know this because I get many people tell me to put the whip down. Even last week I had someone direct me to speak kinder to myself. My wife tells me this regularly. I would never talk to someone else the way I flog myself. It would be inhumane, and yet I do it daily.
Comparing myself to others has been my go-to cat-o-nine-tails in terms of giving myself a beat down. Yes, I know comparison is the thief of joy. I know all the inspirational quotes and plaques on this, but often the longest journey is from the head to the heart, and that is where I need to inject that like an old school adrenaline needle to the chest. And this is where it’s savagery to the self—comparing who I am to someone else in a way which cuts myself off at the knees. And this feeds into the shame which tells me “See? You don’t have value.” The interesting thing is that I only compare myself in some areas of my life, not all. So it’s not a day-long Marquis de Sade festival. But it’s still a good lashing.
I’ve been reading Melody Beattie’s “Codependent No More” and it is showing itself to be very helpful. It’s a challenge to counteract every negative thought with a second, more compassionate one (Jim at Fit Recovery talks about second thoughts on his great post here). It’s a challenge to try and convince myself that I am worthy of the abundance out there. It’s a challenge to feel “appropriate” for this life, a term which she uses and I love. But it’s a practice that I will have to tackle if I want to turn the corner on this.
My alcoholism has nothing to do with my shame, but certainly my shame has a lot to do with my alcoholism. The two are meant to be, and Brene Brown’s studies have linked shame to addiction and other self-destructive behaviours. It’s an easy correlation to make, I believe, especially if you have gone down the dark path of addiction.
This is what my first sponsor would say is a “core issue”. This is something beyond 12 steps and sobriety. This is about rooting out some deep underlying causes and conditions. It’s old thinking and habits buried deep. This is foundation material, and that is why I choose to take this path of wellness and recovery. It’s not about booze, but about living a life meant to be. It’s about being happy. It’s about being authentic. It’s about not wasting time in dancing with the things which want to bring us down and keep us covered in dirt. We are meant to flourish, not flounder.
I am learning to accept that where I am is where I am meant to be at. This is no different. I am being tossed this hot tamale for a reason. I know in my heart that when I start to make movement on this, things will shift. I just know it. How things will shift, I have no clue, but things will move. The universe will conspire to do so. I have experienced large changes occur and watched in amazement as things have come into flow, in line with a greater purpose in good.
There is no shame in dealing with shame.