SHAME – how it traps you in addiction

There has been a lot of talk this week in my sober meetings about guilt and shame. I have written about it before, but I think that the subject is pretty huge. Especially for me as a woman. I think we are raised on shame and guilt.

Hereditary shame

Sadly, a lot of the shame is passed from female to female from generation to generation. Women can be very quick to judge other females, from simple things such as having a dirty house to life-changing decisions, such as leaving a marriage. Sometimes I think we are designed to be in competition and shame mode. It’s instilled in us. Who does this help? It certainly doesn’t help women. We don’t just shame other women though do we? we also shame ourselves. It’s a destructive cycle that we need to break.

Is it any wonder then, that for those of us that drank too much are consumed by guilt and shame. We somehow feel that we failed ourselves and we failed our family because we ‘went too far’. What we need to understand is that we aren’t to blame. Alcohol is an addictive substance, an addictive substance that we are encouraged to partake in, often starting in our teenage years. The very people that we fear will judge us for our alcohol issues are most likely the very people who encouraged us to drink in the first place.

Attitudes to Male and Female drinking

Are women who have become addicted judged more harshly than men? I think possibly we are. Alcohol used to be seen as quite a masculine trait. In films and books, men were seen as deserving of a drink. It was a great way to socialise. Or they’d had a hard day at work and therefore deserved a drink. How many old films have you seen where the man comes home from work and the woman immediately pours him a whisky, the women only seemed to be offered the whisky if she’d had a shock and needed to calm down. Quite often when a woman did drink in the old films, she was seen as a bitter drunk. Messy and tearful, she wasn’t enjoying the alcohol, she was overindulging in it.

I do think that although it is much more acceptable for a woman to drink alcohol now. The attitudes still haven’t changed too much. As women, we are often depicted as the carers and as the nurturers . We are the Mothers, the ones whose role it is to look after others. If a women, especially a Mother is seen as intoxicated then the feeling quite often will be that she is irresponsible, she is a bad mother. The woman will possibly feel this way about herself also. However, in the same situation, a Male in that situation would be laughed at. Would his role as a Father be quite as important?

I am not for one moment detracting from the fact that men also face stigma and isolation when they become addicted to alcohol. However, I can only write from a female perspective so any input from men and their experiences would be welcomed.

The destructiveness of shame

Shaming someone for drinking too much alcohol often has the opposite effect to what the perpetrator planned. It drives the person underground, it substantiates their belief that they are the problem. Confirms the fact that being addicted to alcohol is their fault. I believe this puts a block on many asking for help.

When I was drinking I was so ashamed of myself. I felt like a failure, other people could have one or two and stop at that, yet I couldn’t. I was ashamed that as a Mother I had let alcohol become such a part of my life, that I was struggling to control my consumption. I was so ashamed that I didn’t want anyone to know. Because if they knew, then they too would think that I was this terrible failure, this awful human being.

Going it alone

The shame, of course, led to me not telling anyone I was worried about my drinking. Which then led to me drinking more. I would try to cut down or stop, but all by myself. I wouldn’t dare admit to anyone that could have helped me that I was worried. So I went it alone, for years and years. Shame did that to me. Imagine if I had been able to get over that worry and fear that somehow I was a defective person, a shameful person and received help years ago? What a terrible loss not receiving the help earlier has been to me.

Alcohol is addictive

Alcohol (ethyl alcohol) is a simple chemical that can cause significant changes in the complex functions of the human brain and body. Because it causes these changes, alcohol is a highly addictive substance. 

Kyra Wilians -

Imagine as a child that you saw your parents partake in eating a sandwich that they knew could be poisoned. The sandwich was harmful to their bodies, to their mental health, it caused some of those parents to be violent. It caused some of them to sometimes vomit or pass out. It made some of them so ill that sometimes they couldn’t get out of bed. The sandwich sometimes made your parents happy. It made them forget the trauma that the sandwich has caused, so they carried on eating it. Then imagine that for your 18th birthday, you were expected to also eat the sandwich. But not just one, two of them. Because, it’s your 18th and if the sandwich made you ill, then that is okay, it’s a rite of passage.

It’s obvious I am not talking about a sandwich, I am talking about alcohol, but by changing it to a sandwich it sounds ridiculous. But this is what we are fed from an early age. That it is a rite of passage and just something we will participate in. What isn’t conveyed to us quite so forcefully is that it is also an extremely addictive substance. Its very core is addictive. We all take a huge risk by even taking that first sip. We might be lucky and millions are. They can drink alcohol and take it or leave it. But some of us aren’t lucky. We become addicted, there are lots of reasons why this happens to some and not others. But how do we know which one we will be?

And if we don’t know which one we will be, why should we feel ashamed that something that has been rammed down our throats our entire life as part of normal life, that is known to cause addiction has led to us being addicted! It’s Russian roulette and some of us sadly got the bullet.

Killing the shame of our drinking

The shame that we feel about past behaviours will never entirely go away. If we want to stay sober then it mustn’t. We must remember our past because that will stop us from recreating that behaviour in our future. Shame thrives when it is hidden. It grows and grows and becomes all-encompassing and stops us from moving on or asking for help.

We don’t need to talk about every shameful thing we ever did, but we do need to talk about our shame and our relationship to alcohol. When we talk about alcohol to like-minded individuals, we find that other people also fell into the trap that is addiction, then our shame can start to dissipate. We must never forget the place we were, but we are no longer there and we must forgive the person we were then to move on.

Big alcohol must take responsibility too

I want to end here by placing some shame on those that provide and profit from this addictive substance. Alcohol companies have created wonderful brands, their packaging is impeccable and I believe that they must employ some of the best and most creative marketeers in the industry. We are warned to ‘drink responsibly’ therefore absolving them of any shame or blame if we become addicted. It must be that we didn’t drink responsibly, yes? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to place a warning similar to what we have on addictive medication? That alcohol may cause addiction? I feel that could go some way to removing some of the shame that we feel around becoming addicted to alcohol.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Much love,

B xxx

4 thoughts on “SHAME – how it traps you in addiction

  1. So much hidden shame around alcohol addiction….and society is led to believe that it’s somehow the addicts fault, not the addictive substance, highly promoted, encouraged and legal!!! I could go on. I wrote something around it for the magazine. It makes me mad really!!

    Liked by 1 person

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