There is no life experience that disconnects us faster from our personal brilliance than shame. During the course of life, we all struggle with shame. It doesn’t matter if you are poor, wealthy, famous, or infamous. Shame stalks everybody at some point in life.
Shame can be buried in many places. It can be uncovered in anger, blame, denial, workaholism, perfectionism, drinking, and anything else you repeatedly employ to make yourself feel better. Somehow, if an addict could practice vulnerability and embrace the pain of shame, he/she would discover that there is no place left for shame to hide. It would disappear in that moment of time.
You must learn that you cannot beat yourself up to a better place. Addicts confess to me when they have relapsed and feel dominated by shame, that they can’t believe they have made the same mistake again. They suffer despair and hopelessness. Some addicts have even committed suicide because they cannot stop berating and beating themselves up. Death seemed better than this continual beating up of self. Instead of verbally berating themselves, addicts must practice forgiving themselves. They must commit to practicing walking “as if” they are the person their destiny calls them to be—an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. Addicts who suffer chronic relapse have not mastered this critical recovery tool. Beating yourself up only exacerbates relapse potential and probability.
Six Simple Steps
People can relate to addressing shame through the use of metaphor. I like to use the metaphor of shame likened to a lion who hunts and stalks her prey. I suggest there are six simple steps to stalking the lion. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Each step will require ongoing conditioning and practice.
Step 1 – Recognize the nature of shame: Shame is like battery acid. When the acid is contained in the battery it is useful to start your car. Put the acid on your body and it will burn. When the energy of shame is directed to hurtful behavior it can be transformed into compassion. When it is directed to your sense of self, like acid, it will scar and mar. Shame is an energy that requires an addict to direct it away from self and to hurtful behavior. Only then can it be transformed into compassion and empathy.
Step 2 – Identify the presence of shame: Shame often appears in camouflage and is covertly operative. It can be concealed within the context of other feelings/behaviors, such as approval seeking and even show up as pain in your body. Recognition often requires journaling, meditation, and sharing your feelings with others. Shame can be carried from generation to generation through secrecy.
Step 3 – Identify shame’s message about you: The message of shame can become lost or garbled in your reactive response which can include defensiveness. Yet, the reactivity is triggered by an essential message about yourself that is provoked. This message is derogatory to your sense of self. Things that I tell myself in the moment that are destructive, “I’m not enough”, “I deserve to be abandoned”, or “I’m not worthy of love” are examples of shame messages.
Step 4 – Identify the Voice: Most often we track the voice as our own destructive messages. However, the message of shame is historic and can often be traced to primary-care givers. In order to redirect the shame you must recognize whose voice it is that is speaking the hurtful message down deep inside.
Step 5 – Redirect the energy of shame to its original source: Frequently, the message of shame comes from a source that is not even present in the here and now. The message and voice must be recognized if you are going to be able to marshal the direction of shame away from you and back to its original provider. Shame is nothing more than an energy source housed inside a personalized thought. Your assignment in this step is to direct the shame away from your sense of self and to its original source and the hurtful behavior. This can be done through emotion-focused letter writing, empty chair conversation, anger expressive work, and many other alternatives.
Step 6 – Conditioned listening and visualized action response: After I give back the shame to its originator, the negative voice of shame continues to stalk. Every addict must practice conditioning their inner ear to ignore the voice and to tune into the positive affirmative truth within that motivates a powerful response toward realizing a positive destiny in behavior. Stalking the shame demands a conditioned response established through ongoing practice.
The dynamic of shame is powerful in all of our lives. Addiction living kindles the flames of shame as much as any human condition. As an addict, I have found it important to reflect on the impact of shame throughout my experience in recovery. I give you these reflections in the form of poetry.
STALKING THE LION KING
There’s a lion and when he roars he’s telling me I ain’t no good—
It’s not just what I could but he’s bitching what I should.
Every day I look at the struggle I experience in every way—
the shame of the game that drives me insane
the sin—the stain—the emotional pain
a place where the guile and the denial of addiction flow like the river Nile.
I try to find the strength to say what I think—
to admit where I have been and say it straight—
there’s nothing left about me—
that once you know—
your only response is going to be hate.
Simba stalks me and reminds I can never measure up
Seems useless to try, do program, be true blue—I just want to give up—
My mind dances ‘cross the horizon of thought,
A.D.D. races on and on and drives me to absolute distraught.
I look into your eyes and see the hurt—
the disgust of betrayal
that incredulous sense—
that what was just told can’t possibly be real.
Innocent trust is gone—an irretrievable loss
Safety—warm embrace—are gone like clouds in my coffee
Triggered by double cross.
Shame and blame seem to be my one constant friend.
Agony, torture, gut-wrenching torment—
you’d think I’d never do it again.
Intrigue is a drunken dreamland—with bewitching charm—
It fades connection—
pushes peace so far away—
Ecstasy eats at reality—
Undaunted enchantment numbs with empty possibility
Playing charades all over again—
drags me back to where I started my day.
Like a hard-nosed hound, the lion never ends its chase
It lures me to the dance, as I look to hide my face
The monkey’s talkin’ trash in his deep clear voice
He talks about a paralyzed paradise–I quickly lose my choice.
I scream in remorse with self-condemnation
It seems to matter little
the junkie inside rules, craving total resignation.
I do it again and again, proving I’m dead inside.
I look at your red-rimmed eyes and wonder why I haven’t cried
But, the lion is roaring, though every time he’s lied.
Shame’s a game that gets played in your head
The chatterbox of blame, in the end, wishes you were dead
It’s acid that bleaches out what should be instead.
People wanna say you’re a Miracle of God
With scoff and scorn, the lion barks—you’ve always been flawed
The Monkey is master—powerfully Jones will always prod
He’s the shame that beats you down—
belittles and prompts that you’re the clown.
In darkness, the lion is prowling.