I am no longer ashamed.
I understand that my behavior was destructive, hurtful, and devastating to the people who cared about me. But it was also far more powerful and invasive than I thought. During the period when I was unable to stop drinking, every moment of every day was tinged with shame. I felt like a failure, a loser, a boy who simply refused to drink like a man.
I wasn’t any of those things. I was never a bad person who refused to be better. I was a sick person who could not get well. Now that I am well and understand that what was going on was never a willful, malicious, and suicidal path chosen by a right-thinking person, I can talk about those years honestly. I can also offer those I hurt apologies without the burden of excuses.
I am sorry. But I am not ashamed.
Shame, I believe, was the root of my addiction. For reasons not yet clear to me, I lived with the shadow of guilt and shame for most of the years prior to my addiction. Maybe I was born that way, and my position in the family hierarchy put me in a position to simply be quiet, stay out of the way, and take a lot of abuse from those higher than me in the pecking order. Or maybe I’m just wired differently and prone to addictive behavior.
I do know that alcohol—and to a lesser degree opioids, cocaine, and pharmaceuticals—were used not to enhance my personality and lighten the anxiety that nearly crippled me, but rather to suppress the pain and shame that I intensified from the moment I took my first drink at age 13.
Staying away from the substances that allow me the luxury of not feeling is an ongoing battle. Sobriety has given me the upper hand as I wage the war against addiction. I’m able to win the little battles that erupt daily in large part because I no longer allow the weight of shame to slow me down. Instead, I remember that in spite of the shame that drove my addictive behavior, I am in control of my actions. I speak freely about being an alcoholic. I am not ashamed of that—but not proud of it, either. It is simply something I deal with.
The fact that I made the choice to deal with it is something that I’m proud of, and that pride has taken the place of any shame that I felt over something that I was powerless over.
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