Shame and Addiction


Shame is a powerful emotion. Many addicts carry shame. I know I did and so did Devin. Shame is quite different than guilt. With guilt, you have the ability to process, evaluate, learn, and make changes without beating yourself up over and over again. Shame, well that’s a whole different beast. Shame makes you feel less than. It’s that voice inside our head that says, “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m not worthy enough” and “I’ll never get better so why bother trying.” It has a way of shining a bright light on our flaws, whether they are real or imagined.

Picture what life was like in our home? Two addicts. And at one time neither one of us was in any kind of a great recovery. For me, I had two things I held a great deal of shame over: being abused as a child and not knowing I was married to sex and love addict. Well, let me clarify that…putting up with all that encompassed: I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the extent of my husband’s issues, I was ashamed at some of my behaviors during the height of his addiction, I was mortified by what I tolerated from him (angry outbursts, lying, gaslighting, etc.), and I was actually embarrassed that I couldn’t handle the symptoms of the trauma. That was of course before I understood that those symptoms were normal.

I was also ashamed to use my voice to speak about my childhood abuse. Even in my first book, I glossed over it so quickly, you barely know I’m a survivor of not just one person abusing me, but a few. Why? I was bounded by that shame. The little girl inside me wanted to protect the guilty rather than say, “Hey, what you did was wrong. You hurt me!” While I’ve had time to heal and forgive since my book was published, I have also come away knowing that shame hindered my recovery for a very long time.

For Devin, he was ashamed about his struggle with pornography and how out of control it had gotten. He was carrying the shame of what his addiction led him to do and he felt completely worthless. Even as he entered into recovery, the shame remained. Much like me, he had those inner voices chirping in his ear telling him that wasn’t enough. If a slip happened, the feelings of failure and rejection were right there to remind him it’s better to isolate and console himself with more pornography than it is to face his wife and her look of disappointment.

As my counselor likes to say, “What is the good?” The good here is that shame can be overcome. Yeah, it takes work but that work pays off. For me, it took forgiveness. I had to forgive myself for putting up with what I did while Devin was active in his disease. I also started seeing a counselor to help me beginning healing and I surrounded myself with healthy people who had gone through similar things I had. I also began the critical step of retraining my brain. I needed to remind myself each and every day how worthy I am, how beautiful I am inside and out and how much I matter; to me and others.

In time, our home had not two addicts, but two recovering addicts who are no longer filled with shame.

Are you familiar with feelings of shame or guilt? Do you know someone who is and are you able to help them through it?