Alcohol and shame – by psychologist Deborah
Deborah Cole is a licensed psychologist and has been a member of Club Soda for over two years. We asked her to write about what is a common theme among our members, especially those trying to give up alcohol completely: alcohol and shame.
Enemies of recovery
Hello! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Deborah. I live near Boston, MA, but I was probably British in a former life. I have been blessed to spend much time in the UK throughout my life. I am also happy to see so many nationalities represented in Club Soda! I am a licensed psychologist and have had a private practice for 40 years. Yeah, I am old! I live an alcohol-free life, after misusing alcohol for many years, decades, in fact. I am going to be writing about the FF & SS of
over-drinking. You will see in a moment what I mean…
First, a disclaimer: I do not support or oppose any avenue of recovery, whether it be AA, Smart Recovery, any type of counselling, on-line or off-line. The views I will express are my own and will hopefully resonate with many of you.
As a member of Club Soda for over 2 years, I wanted to share some of my observations, thoughts and, hopefully, useful ideas that I have picked up from knowing many of the other members and reading tons of posts over these 2 years. So….FF & SS stand for feelings of failure, self-criticism, and shame. These are enemies of recovery.
Relapses & blips
Very often, when someone is trying to change their drinking, they have setbacks, relapses, slips, blips, whatever term they choose. Often, these setbacks are followed by posts to the group, apologising, beating themselves up, calling themselves failures. I see statements such as, “I have failed”; “ I am so sorry”; “I am so ashamed”. Responses are usually upbeat “You can do this!”. “You have no reason to feel ashamed”, “We are all human”. In fact, it is true that most of us have been there, understand, and want to be supportive. Sometimes all this support isn’t enough to overcome feelings of failure brought about by alcohol and shame.
The problem is, shame is often one of the very roots of drinking in the first place. Take the child who was shamed by important people in their life, then becomes the teenager who doesn’t feel “good enough”, the adult who feels socially awkward. Drinking may seem like the magic solution to feeling outgoing, better-looking, sexier, funnier. That was the case for me, for a long time. It helped me socialise, deal with boredom, anxiety, difficult situations and was a very entrenched habit. It may seem like a solution but drinking may turn on us. We find it is taking more from us than it is giving. In fact, the shame and low self-esteem that may have been a cause of our over-drinking is now a result.
The vicious cycle of alcohol and shame
Thus, the vicious cycle continues. We feel like failures because we can’t control or stop our drinking. These feelings are so excruciating that we drink to numb them. We feel shame that we have no “willpower”. We call ourselves weak, bad mothers, frauds. I know this is not gender-specific, that many men have these feelings, but in Club Soda, I note that many more women describe themselves in these derogatory terms. Well, let me tell you a secret……..willpower has little to do with recovery, at least at the beginning.
Alcohol is a very addictive drug that causes an internal fight, hard to win. How many people tell themselves, “I am going to get hammered/pissed tonight, get into a fight, embarrass myself, fall down and injure myself, sleep with a stranger, forget what I said and did”? Hardly anyone, of course! What happens is that the craving sets in and people are unable to access a way to combat it. People feel ashamed, like failures, because they have done something without their own permission, the opposite
of what they told themselves they would do. Let’s reframe this. Instead of calling yourself a failure, ask yourself what tools you
are missing, what support you need. You can’t run a marathon on a broken leg. You need people to help you. People are often ashamed to ask for help. Macho men and capable women don’t need help, right? Wrong! Everyone needs help at one time or another and stopping alcohol is very difficult to do alone.
You are not alone
Club Soda is an awesome tool for online support. If you are afraid to post, start small. If you are responding to others’ posts, remember not to shame the person posting, eg. “You shouldn’t be drinking”; “Think of your children”. Also, joking or making fun of posts can add to the poster’s shame. Sometimes what seems funny to us, may make someone else feel bad about themselves. Most people who know they have a drink problem are already self-critical in the extreme. We don’t need to add to that. Face-to-face meetups and recovery groups are also a great way to feel like you belong, that you are not a failure, but a courageous person, one of countless people working to change their life for the better. This may be a small group of sober friends, it may be an organised recovery group, it may be professional addiction counselling, detox or a rehab. If your current tools and level of help aren’t enough for you, take it up a notch! If you have a cold, you just need a couple of days rest, but if you have pneumonia, you see a doctor, right?
MOST IMPORTANT, stop that negative self-talk. Talk to yourself as a friend, not an enemy, as someone who deserves to live a happy, healthy life. Even if you don’t believe it at first, ACT as if you do. Feelings of failure and shame can keep us trapped in the vicious cycle of drinking, then feeling guilt at our intake of alcohol and shame that we numb by drinking again.
Finally, remember, you are not alone. There is strength in numbers. Reach out, believe in yourself and don’t give up!
May we all know our worth. May we all be well and happy ❤️
Deborah S. Cole, EdD