Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shame me twice

In my Fourth Step, I've been writing about shame using the Blueprint book of Al-Anon. This is a topic that dredges up a lot of stuff from the past. I've felt a lot of shame for various things in my life.

The childhood shame didn't occur until I was old enough to know that my father drank on weekends. I was a happy kid and enjoyed playing but was always anxious when my father was home. He worked a lot so it was the days off that would cause me the most trouble. I also heard so much about how great our family was and how we were better than everyone else, that I began to feel shame because I felt worse than everyone else. I didn't feel good about myself and became withdrawn around others. I would avoid everyone as much as I could and mostly read a lot or played in the woods.

When I got to high school, I made good grades but never felt really like I was part of anything. I guess that I actually didn't want to be part of anything much because to do so would make me very vulnerable. I had friends that I hung with but it was a closed group. I remember going to some drinking parties and got slapped in the face at one of them. Acting out to get attention brought me a lot of shame.

College was where I could be anonymous. No one knew me or my family. I still took me with me to college but I could hide it a little better. I studied hard and played hard. I learned there that I could be in an entire room of people and still be alone. It bothered me some but I just figured that was what my life would be. Because I excelled at my classes, I didn't feel so much shame. I was good at something and knew it.

The years of graduate school were also okay. I did well, published a bunch of papers, got my career going and got married. I learned that the marriage was rocky right from the start. I have felt a lot of shame from things that happened in social situations in which my spouse would act out after drinking. I couldn't relax in social situations and never knew when the demon created by alcohol would arise. Suffice to say, there was a lot of anger in me, and I was ashamed of how I tried to control and manipulate an insane situation.

I also have felt ashamed at how I felt betrayed by my mother's mental illness. She suffered severe depression later in life and had to have hundreds of ECT treatments. She was a wonderful person but was always in a state of denial. Being the only child, I had to care for her by getting her admitted to hospitals, taking her for outpatient therapy, moving her after my father died, and a host of other things that sucked my time and energy. I knew that she had a disease, but I just wanted it to stop and for her to be well again. My frustration at her was inexcusable and something that I have felt ashamed over.

The shame that I carry from the past that affects my feelings today is that I didn't do something sooner. I wished that I had gotten help long ago. I still think about the embarrassing episodes that occurred at parties. I am ashamed that I was so lost. I felt so much anger that it was hard to be nice to those that I loved the most.

What I've learned in Step Four is that I have had shameful feelings, but I can't change the past. The concepts of powerlessness and unmanageability help me to confront the shameful feelings that I have. I know what happened but that part of my life is over. I now have more manageable emotions. I can now detach when I don't feel good about what is happening. I know that neither the alcoholism or depression were things that I could control. I am trying to take care of myself and think about the good things that I do. I'm learning that I don't need to earn the right to be loved and that I have a lot of really good qualities that make me lovable. I also am willing to grow in this program and be taught. I no longer feel ashamed of me.


  1. Your "willingness to grow and be taught" will take you so very far in this journey, Syd -- that is what my teachers have said and they haven't been wrong yet.
    Fabulous post about shame and your process. I'll be back to read it again and again.
    To putting the pieces together,

  2. "can't change the past" was the most freeing thing I ever felt, when I finally realized that, and still sometimes I have to remind myself...
    thanks for sharing this Syd, have a great day : )


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