I don’t think it is a big secret that most addicts/alcoholics suffer from terrible guilt and shame. I heard someone say in a meeting the other day, that guilt is when I think I made a mistake, shame is when I think I AM a mistake. That’s powerful.
These things that we do when we are not in our right-mind are baffling. I felt guilt for the things I did every single day. And there was a period of time that I felt shameful. Not because of anything I did to anyone else, but for what I was doing to myself. I could rationalize mistakes that I made, or bad choices that I made, because I was drunk. I knew that I would never do those things if I was sober and had the capacity to make a choice. When I got sober, I knew that behavior would end. Some of it took some time to change, I had to be taught a different way, and I couldn’t just be told the new way, I had to have someone remind me of the new way all the time until it stuck.
But shame is different. Shame is the thing I felt when the pain was so bad that the only thing I could do was drink. When I knew that every wrong thing in my life was attributed to alcohol, but I still raised the bottle to my mouth. When I was so sick, just out of the hospital for swallowing pills, drinking charcoal to save my life, ripping IV’s out of my arm, and all I knew to do was drink. When I felt like I was trapped in my own mind, like a prison, because I was dying, but I still had to drink.
There is no worse feeling than feeling like a lost cause. That’s shame. That’s how I felt every day of my life when I was drinking.
It seemed like there was some secret key to living a good life that noone would give me. Like when I was born everybody was put in one circle, the good people, and I was put aside in a different circle, all by myself. I felt like I was on some outer edge of the world, looking in on all the people living well, knowing that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know the secret password to be normal.
When I got sober I didn’t all of a sudden feel like I was a good person, but I knew I had a chance. And I knew that as long as I was drinking, I had no chance. The first step to me feeling good about myself was making a conscious choice to not kill myself everyday. That’s what I was doing with alcohol. I was killing myself in the slowest, most painful way possible. I made a choice everyday, to do something different, to not drink. And just a tiny bit, each day, I began to feel like that person who used to chug liquor straight from the bottle, who used to steal other people’s beer and hide it so I wouldn’t run out, that person that drank to unconsciousness, no longer existed. Each day, there were fewer reasons to feel shameful, and less reasons to feel guilty.