Almost all people who identify themselves as an addict or problem user experience shame. While society may subscribe to the notion that
addiction is a disease there is also a belief that addicts/problem users are fundamentally
weak and therefore lacking the wherewithal to “pull themselves up by the
bootstraps.” The knowledge that the world around them views addiction as an
inferior state of being builds on underlying shame.
This isn't who I really am at the core.
People who experience shame on a regular basis are at high
risk for a multitude of other problems such as anxiety and depression. As shame builds, so does the addiction.
For the addict this can feel like a never ending and hopeless cycle. Shame more
then any other dis-empowered state can diminish the sense that life can ever
get better. Secretive behavior and isolation is common.
I know I can do better but I can't seem to find the answers to a better life, no matter how hard I try.
The addict/problem users sense of self can be closely tied to past incidents
of shame. A historic orientation of self builds the shame and interferes with
the ability to create a better future. The addiction may be alcohol, drugs,
food, sex or gambling. Regardless of the chosen “tool” the individual will have
a very personalized sense of shame around incidents of use and consequences of
that use. Ultimately there is a sense of not being in control of one`s self.
I have no control over events or my reaction to them, but I can control feeling better, for a short period of time, by using. Right now, the ensuing shame can wait.
Each use builds the identity of
being a shameful person. The effects may be personal and often spread out to
other important systems including family, work and friends. The larger the
spread, the more damaging the spread, the more likely the addict/problem user is to, at some
point, begin to isolate. The danger in isolation is often a lost of potential
support and a loss of important relationship and communication skills, thus
furthering the shamed identity.
We are born without shame. Shame is a learned response.
Terri Lee Cooper MSc. RSW