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 I didn't feel good about myself and became withdrawn around others.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.
One of the great shames that I had during my fourth step was that I didn't do something sooner to take care of myself. I wished that I had gotten into recovery long ago. I was trying to manage the lives of others when mine was as unmanageable as theirs. I felt 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.
I am glad that I am at a place where I don't feel ashamed of the past any more. The concepts of powerlessness and unmanagability helped me to confront the shameful feelings that I had. I know what happened, but that part of my life is over. I now have more manageable emotions. I know that neither the alcoholism or depression were things that I could control. I take care of myself and think about the good things in my life. I have learned that I don't need to earn the right to be loved and that I have a lot of really good qualities.
I am glad to be able to share with my sponsee that shame doesn't have to define our lives. He too is seeing that the past doesn't have to overshadow today.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whomever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
from Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi