Shame: The Addict’s Enemy

Shame: The Addict’s EnemyGuilt is really the reverse side of the coin of pride. Guilt aims at self-destruction, and pride aims at the destruction of others.” (Grapevine, June 1961)

There is a saying in the 12-step rooms: “You are only as sick as your secrets.” As addicts we carried many secrets. We shuddered to think of what would happen if the world saw us as we truly were. We could barely stand to look at ourselves. To avoid the weight of our conscience and that painful look in the mirror, we drank. In doing so, we further expanded the dark areas we hoped no one would ever see.

Overcome by our shame and guilt, we drank more. We had to ease our conscience, we had to quiet the voice that accused us, and we had to smooth over the needling sensation that we were most certainly not right with God. We couldn’t live with ourselves.

For those of us who have lived under the burden of guilt and shame for so long, freedom seems an impossible proposition. But we have no choice. Shame does three things:

  • It blocks us off from the love of God. How can we believe that God loves us or that He will help us find sobriety if we live in fear of Him? We have been hiding from God and hoping He has not seen our sins, yet knowing He sees all. If we are to recover, we must be right with God. In thinking we are hiding from His wrath, we are running from His love and mercy.
  • It separates us from others. We cannot look people in the eye because we believe they would certainly reject us if they knew the truth about us. As a result, we are unable to build relationships of trust because we can’t be authentic. We are forever concealing, hiding, and trying to be what we think others want us to be.
  • It keeps us in addiction. If we are unwilling to probe our darkest corners, we will continue to live in shame and we will continue to drink over it.

There is only one solution and it requires great courage; you must come clean. The place to begin is with prayer. Start by talking to God and asking His forgiveness. God forgives all who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. The punishment that you believe God has for you was already visited upon His Son at the cross. This grace and mercy is there for the asking. Go to God and tell Him your heart.

And then get to work. The Fourth Step inventory is the process by which you will closely examine your life, your conduct, your relationships, and your resentments. It is scary to hold up the mirror this closely to your life, but it is shame-busting in every way. Through this process you will see all of yourself—the good and the bad.

The moral inventory is a cool examination of the damages that occurred to us during life and a sincere effort to look at them in a true perspective. This has the effect of taking the ground glass out of us, the emotional substance that still cuts and inhibits.” (Bill W., Letter, 1957)

Upon completion of the Step Four inventory, we go on to Step Five, in which we share our inventory with another person, usually our sponsor, clergyperson, or other spiritual adviser. For most, the thought of letting another person into the depths of our conscience is paralyzing. Surely we will be rejected or condemned or cast out of the group! These are natural fears but they are unfounded. The freedom that comes when we have shared these burdens of shame with another cannot be measured. For perhaps the first time in our lives, we have been truly honest with another person and we have been accepted. This is the first step in learning how to live in right and authentic relationships with other people. It is the first step in learning to accept the past and move on.

A.A. experience has taught us we cannot live alone with our pressing problems and that character defects which cause or aggravate them. If Step Four has revealed in stark relief those experiences we’d rather not remember, then the need to quit living by ourselves with those tormenting ghosts of yesterday gets more urgent than ever. We have to talk to somebody about them.” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 55)