I attended The Catholic University of America. As a freshman on Halloween I was ecstatic to dress as a pregnant nun. There was something powerful about being so “out there” with something that could be viewed as so shameful. I wanted people to be uncomfortable with their own judgments. Now, years later I am deeply troubled by the constant shame I see working as recovery coach and interventionist. From the man mortified that his place of employment has uncovered his past history of abusing pain pills, to the mother who refuses to be seen at an Alanon Meeting for support with her daughters drug addiction, shame proliferates in the world of addictive behaviors. Guilt is different; it is feeling bad for wrong behaviors, and can actually keep us aligned with doing the right thing. But shame is part of how we ended up drinking, drugging, eating, or passing down unhealthy family legacies in the first place. In the words of Brene Brown, “ I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.” I was not embarrassed to ask for leave from my place of employment so I could go to treatment. I had a drinking problem. This was my truth. I was seeking help to fix the problem; there is NO shame in that. I want people to start recognizing shaming behavior in themselves and as they interact with others. If you have shaming tendencies, follow Brene Brown, and start to free yourself and the people around you!
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When I was in treatment we had to write a letter to the people we loved most dearly as if we had relapsed. Since I don’t have children yet my nieces and nephews were a no brainer. This letter is what sealed the deal on the life I was committed to living and the changes I had to make no matter what. Please share. I hope it helps you in whatever you are struggling with today.
Dear Lily, Macie, Hunter and Alexa:
I am sorry that I will not be there for you when you need me. I won’t be there for you on the days you just need someone to talk to. When you are hurting so bad and feel like you have no one, you won’t have me either. The sad truth is that Auntie Dani loves you guys so much but she just needed to always feel good instantly so she chose alcohol and a life of listening to her ego over loving you and herself and everything and everyone that ever meant anything to her. I am sorry that you may think you are less important to me because I chose these things over you. I want you to know that I love you all so much. You mean the world to me. I would do anything for you, almost anything, but I am sorry I can’t stop drinking. I wanted to be such a good example to all of you of the way to really live life…to find true happiness, love yourself and others, to be honest and caring, and maybe most importantly, peaceful inside. This is all I want for you but I couldn’t get it. I wanted you to see that enjoying the simplest things in life is what living really is. When I think of the four of you my heart and my eyes light up. I am so sorry that I failed you. My hope is that one day you will be able to learn these things on your own and live a life of true peace and happiness. I am sorry that I chose denial, instant gratification and superficiality over being a living example to all of you.
When I wanted to want sobriety but wasn't ready to give up the drink, a woman who had what I wanted looked at me and said, "You are exactly where you are supposed to be at this moment." I never forgot it. There was something about her words that told me I wasn't all broken and that things might eventually be ok. For anyone who has ever dealt with addictive behaviors you know that there is no cure for addictive tendencies. It is daily work. I have the disadvantage and advantage of having to start my day off being mentally, physically and spiritually fit and without those factors in balance all bets are off. And I don't care what anyone ever threatened me with, death, drunk driving, the effects of drug abuse, etc., I wasn't going to be ready until I was really ready. I had to have that last drink. So Elizabeth Vargas, please don't feel like a failure. We are all doing the best we can with what we have at each moment. Thank you for being so public about your struggle to remind people that they too can do this! Read more about Elizabeth's return to treatment.
about the master coach
Danielle, the Founder & Master Coach of RealYou Revolution, is a woman in long term recovery with a passion for helping others overcome their own personal demons – whatever they may be.