Irene Rollins: Sobriety without Judgement
We hear it all the time: Substance misuse doesn’t discriminate. Each year, individuals from all walks of life—regardless of educational background, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or occupation—meet the criteria for a substance use or alcohol use disorder. In fact, in 2021, 16.5% of Americans aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder. That’s 46.3 million people, who walk amongst us, many of them keeping their addiction secret. But sobriety is within reach.
Stigmas and the shame that surround addiction are prevalent and individuals, who struggle with addiction, worry about how they will be received—by their families, their peers, their communities, and society—if they admit that they have an addiction.
Introducing a Humble Pastor
Joy Sutton, host of American Addiction Centers’ talk show, Addiction Talk, interviewed Irene Rollins, a pastor, author, and public speaker, who is also 7 years sober.
She shares her inspiring story in “Reframing Shame: A Pastor Heals from Addiction.”
Alcohol Misuse, Shame & Sobriety
Irene Rollins, who wrote Reframe Your Shame: Experience Freedom from What Holds You Back, a book that came out in August 2022, knows a thing or two about feeling shame. “Shame is an emotion that we are supposed to experience to indicate we should go into survival mode,” she says. “So we change our behavior for the betterment of ourselves or others. Shame is the most powerful emotion of all the emotions. And when it triggers us, our limbic system goes into fight, flight, or freeze, which is what I did and what other people do when they experience toxic shame.”
Irene is very transparent about her experience with her shame, her drinking, and how she handled it all as a wife, mother, and leader of a church.
She was 10 when she took her first drink, started misusing alcohol, and this continued throughout her teen years. But when she took the position of pastor to lead a church, Irene put a pause on her alcohol consumption. Then she and her husband had children, life happened, and she reintroduced drinking into her life.
“When you have abused alcohol to the degree that I had abused it, I picked up where I left off,” Irene admits. “And with the pressures of life that were unaddressed, I didn’t have a proper coping mechanism, the emotional intelligence, or awareness.”
So what happens when people don’t have the necessary tools under these circumstances?
“I was so embarrassed, so humiliated, so ashamed that anyone would find out that I drank to drunkenness… and I know what the Bible says,” she explains. “I know you’re not supposed to get drunk with wine—especially as a leader. But shame attacks inward. It’s the deadliest thing to our self-esteem.”
Judgmental people and the stigmas surrounding addiction can be challenging barriers to work through—even feel completely overwhelming—but with the right support and help, recovery is possible.
To learn more about Irene’s story, watch this episode of Addiction Talk. If you find yourself battling an alcohol use disorder, you’re not alone. There are resources to help you achieve long-term sobriety. Please reach out for the help that you need today.
*Some of the wording from the interview was edited for clarity.