Shame pops up to say hello for many reasons. It can be due to trauma, low-self worth, feeling rejected, weak, unsuccessful or because of being in a toxic relationship. For me, shame was caused by alcohol. They were joined together like the evil twins from The Shining. Staring me down after each heavy session.
Shame kept me drinking. I was stuck in a cycle. Drink, shame, repeat. A routine that I accepted, just like brushing my teeth, cooking dinner, or tripping over the same curb on my way to work every morning. Everyday shame was nearby, lurking, hiding in the shadows. Ever present. After binge drinking, shame caught up with me and like that curb, it tripped me up. But it was such a habitual emotion, that I got used to it, I got back up, dusted myself off and carried on.
Until the next bout stuck it’s leg out.....
and I fell flat on my face in another big puddle of shame.
When I looked online to find words to explain shame, I found these.
Feeling Dishonourable. Immoral. Improper.
They’re rather severe words, aren’t they? Yet, these words are descriptions of how I behaved when under the influence.
They represent ‘drunk me’ very well.
I was dishonourable when I was arrested for drink driving. I was immoral when I lied to my boss about not coming in after the Christmas party. I was improper when I was caught doing a wee behind a lamppost on Kensington high street by an unimpressed security guard. I was those words.
During my hedonistic 26 years of boozing, dishonourable, immoral, and improper, sat just below the surface of my skin. just inside the cringes, regrets, and blushes. Just far away enough for the seriousness not to penetrate my fun. I either swallowed a pill to dissolve any party opposing lexicon or I got drunk enough to drown them out.
But, over time, the words grouped together, joined up like a pack of wolves, making them in to a single, violent force. The words culminated each Sunday morning forming one overall feeling.
Shame attacked me from every direction when I was hungover. A feeling of embarrassment and humiliation arose as my eyelids became unstuck, the perception of having done something wrong shrouded my body in darkness and shame enveloped me.
A heavy shame sphere sat upon my chest. The weight of the world pushing down. It was so close, so common to me, that I accepted shame, like it was part of my personality or a normal side effect of how I lived, a consequence to calamity.
I got used to feeling like I’d pissed people off, I accepted that I was unliked. Acknowledged that every time I drank I made a tit out of myself. I was so locked in a circle of shame that I could not escape. I drank to reduce it, which created more of it. A steep and tiring ladder to anxiety.
Step by step,
The foolish comments I’d made the night before,
The awful dancing.
The falling over.
the argument at the taxi rank.
They all flashed up like a pinboard of everything I hated, out of the darkness, each half forgotten memory stinging my heart.
Why did I say that?
Did I offend someone?
As the realisation that I may have been vulgar, rude or even slightly distasteful to someone tapped on nerves, a wave of shame crashed over my body. It didn’t matter if it was a stranger or a friend, a bouncer or the girl I was sniffing coke next to in the pub toilet. The thought that I was ill-mannered, and someone perhaps didn’t like me as much as they had at the start of the night, filled me with utter dread. The not knowing how much I had said, or what their reaction was; doubled the blow.
So - the shame was unsolvable.
There were no answers available.
I couldn’t phone up a bouncer and asked why he threw me out or send him a letter in the post apologising for my poor behaviour, I couldn’t say sorry for things I wasn’t sure had even happened.
Blackouts meant shame deepened.
It sank in to me until it was comfortable, like a parasite, stored away in every pore of my body. Shame was part of my drinking habit, an annoying pest, a consequence of my lifestyle choice and if I wanted to carry on having ‘fun’, shame was an annoying byproduct I was prepared to allow.
I accepted shame as part of me.
And that makes me sad.
Now… 4 years alcohol free, I realise the panic attacks I suffered when hungover were triggered by shame. Shame about what I could remember and shame about what I could not. Shame about how much I was drinking and shame that I was failing. I was so humiliated by myself, so overwhelmed by shame, that, of course, I reacted by opening another bottle.
I tried to drink myself out of shame.
Drinking masks so many aspects of our lives. It tricks us into believing what we are doing is normal, that falling over in our own vomit is ‘a good night out’, that not caring about ourselves is ok and abandoning our body and minds each weekend is ‘deserved’
It hides our feelings under a big layer of pretence, and we just keep on drinking.
Drinking away the shame.
When I stopped, as the bright lights of sobriety lit up my life, I understood I’d spent half my life living under a vail of embarrassment. Creeping around within my own shame hoping to be exonerated by my next glass of wine.
That’s what alcohol offered me – forgiveness from shame.
It was a way out, an exit from the big pile of fuckups that were passed out in my wake.
I lived a life drenched in shame, sodden in my own destruction.
But getting sober means shame goes.
When I wake up on a Sunday morning, as the rising sun seeps in through the curtain, shame is gone. There is nothing there to feel humiliated by. No monsters pacing in the background for me to spend the day fighting off. And my God, it is a relief.
I’m liberated from shame.
I know I behaved, there are no blackouts, no strange escapades to worry about, no weird men, or forgotten indiscretions. I was tucked up in bed with a good book at 9pm. There were no undignified interactions or bad robot dancing. I was home. Which means I am safe, I’m free to live.
Get on with my life.
When getting sober, shame is a big wall we have to break down and deconstruct; like it did us. we have to take our revenge on shame by not allowing it in and getting help to demolish it. therapy means we get to understand why we felt it and why it was a present force for so long.
Surprisingly, the shame I had for all those years had purpose for me.
I didn’t know it... but it was a warning.
It was there to tell me something, tell me what I was doing was not ok and although I ignored it for many years, tried to drink it away, it stayed, sitting there, reminding me.
Eventually, it dug so deep into my bones that the only way it could talk to me was to shout -through panic attacks. Shame made its move, it tapped me on the shoulder until I had no choice but to turn around and face the fucker.
Facing shame, getting help for my anxiety, meant I got better.
It was a red flag after all.
In today’s culture we wash our shame away with another round of shots, another beer or by cracking open that second bottle of wine. We live in a world where everyone is sinking underneath shame and it’s making us all silently break from the inside.