Shame. Such a powerful feeling; closely tied to guilt.
We feel shame when we do something that we know we ought not do. Painful, humiliating, dishonorable, shame robs us of our self esteem. The actions that lead to shame might be simple foolishness or out right immoral. Regardless of the severity of the action, shame can be traced to self-awareness and the recognition that a mistake was made.
During my active alcoholism, when I was drinking daily, I harbored a great fear of seeking help because I didn’t want to be ashamed. I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem because I was afraid of being ashamed of being an alcoholic. I was afraid of being ashamed to say that I go to AA.
That’s the stigma that our society puts on addiction. Our society, sees addiction as a moral failing. Society tells us that only losers become addicts and only people who can’t make good decisions become alcoholics. And so, addicts and alcoholics often don’t seek help because we are afraid of the shame that will come with the label.
In addition to the stigma, our addiction tells us that we should be ashamed to seek the help we need — that admitting we have a problem is shameful. At the same time, we feel guilt and shame about the problem but don’t recognize these feelings for what they are. And so, we find ways to cover those feelings of guilt and shame — many of us turn those feelings into anger with others.
I didn’t recognize the shame.
This year my son is in second grade at a private school. He attended this school last year and was warmly welcomed by the students and the teachers. His entire perspective changed as a result of going to this school and at the end of the summer, he actually told me that he wanted to go back to school. This was a major victory since he’d spent the entire year of kindergarten telling us that he didn’t want to go to school every morning.
We take him to school and pick him up because there is no bus service. Last year, I dropped him off in the carpool line most days, even though I knew that he didn’t like it. For reasons that I don’t understand and he can’t vocalize, he wants me to walk him into school every day. And not just to the door, but into his classroom. Fortunately, this completely acceptable at this school.
At the beginning of this school year, I dreaded this. I tried not to do it. I was angry with my son because he wanted me to come into his school.
I was barely able function enough to make coffee and drive (my son) to school in the morning. I did not want to face people who might notice that something wasn’t right with me. I was afraid that someone would find out my secret.
I was ashamed — but I didn’t recognize the shame. I was just irritated that my son didn’t have the courage to walk into school on his own. I actually thought I was angry with my son, an innocent boy, for wanting me to walk into school with him.
Pure. Insanity. In reality, I was angry with myself.
After I got sober and started regularly attending meetings, I realized that I no longer have to be ashamed of my addiction — because I’m doing the right thing and getting the help I need.
I realized that I was actually ashamed of my drinking — I have no shame about quitting drinking or admitting my problem.
Over the past few months, I’ve started to enjoy walking into school with my son. Nearly every day, I talk with his teacher and see his classmates. I get daily updates from his teacher on his progress. Some days, I see other parents and we have short conversations.
My son’s classmates tell me what’s going on in their worlds, show me their most recent projects, and ask me when I’m going to have them over for pulled pork again. The boys in the class line up to give me the “secret-high five.” (Full disclosure: the “secret high-five” is when you hold out your hand and a kid head-butts your palm. I do it low-five style but they call it the secret high five, and giggle about it.)
Pure. Awesome Sauce.
Today, I’m no longer ashamed and so I’m no longer afraid.