I walked into ADS outpatient that Thursday determined to fly under the radar. It was my last session with this group, though they didn’t know it yet. The previous Monday I had been cornered and drilled, much to me and my fathers surprise, on the litany of drugs I had just come up positive for on my recent drug test. I knew of course that I was still using, but I had hoped it would go undetected, just like the last time, so I could complete this court ordered treatment program and be on my way. My unwillingness to “get honest” that morning secured me a bed at a local inpatient program. I was to be sent there as soon as one opened up. This was my last Thursday in outpatient treatment; it was my seventeenth birthday.
As all good treatment counselors do, they didn’t allow me to slip out the door and disappear, never to be seen again. The counselor that evening began the group by announcing my failed urine screening, making an example of me to the others. I was livid. I had been in the group for five months, pretending my life had taken on new meaning now that I was “sober”. I wasn’t sober. I hadn’t been sober more than twenty- four hours the entire time I was there. I had learned early on in treatment that I was what they called ‘dependent’, and I figured, ‘well hell, I’m dependent! This is what I’m supposed to be doing!’ No sense of responsibility or urgency to change came from the diagnosis. I was an addict; I intended to feed my addiction.
I walked into residential rehab two weeks later.
My anger at being there was palpable. I was penalized more than once for inappropriate language, raging and taking out my anger on those around me. My primary counselor, a real hard-ass, told me they wouldn’t put up with that BS here. She told me I didn’t get a say in my life anymore. I was in rehab, wasn’t I? It was time I addressed my drug problem.
It was said to me several times in my first month there. What does that even mean? I wondered. What was I supposed to be getting honest about? I soon discovered they meant everything. My actions, my words, my intentions, my secrets, they wanted me to reveal it all. Honesty had never been my strong suite, I wasn’t even sure where to begin or what I wanted to get honest about. My lies were my armor; I didn’t yet see the benefits of taking it off. After several weeks of detoxing, observing, and testing my limits, I was confronted with a choice: get honest or get kicked out. I chose, for once in my life, to get honest.
During a month long period my rehab was placed on shut down. We were given pen and paper and told to write. Write down our guilt’s, our shames, our wrongdoings. Anything that came to mind that we had done, during or even pre-drug use. We were then made to share these lists with our families (much to ours and their horror) and to process them with each other. It was an incredibly painful experience. In choosing to be honest and reveal myself, I was now face to face with the person I really was. Shame flooded my being, and in the darkness of my grief I saw only one option: change.
Deciding to get sober was a waffling process and this purge of wrongdoings was the first genuine step I took towards a new way of life. I never wanted to share a list like that again. I knew to use drugs was to deepen the list so I chose recovery. My new beginning in sobriety was the cleanest slate I had ever had, and I wanted to take it and run with it.
The disease of addiction is insidious, shame being its biggest champion. As scholar Brené Brown puts is, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” It is the hand that holds us down, the voice between our ears, the pounding in our hearts and the knot tied in our stomach that say we are not worthy, and our disease [of addiction] has granted us a nice long list of proof as to why we’re not.
Shame is a huge part of my story. I believe shame and addition are branches on the same family tree. As the fog of my addiction lifted and the remorse of my actions began to weigh in on me, the things eating me up inside were somehow lessened by sharing them with another person in recovery. I learned I wasn’t alone. The people I met in recovery slowly became my friends and advocates, and these relationships became the foundation for the melting of my shame.
We are not our addiction. The strength and compulsion of craving is a phenomenon that shuts us out from the world, gripping us and twirling us into a daze of delusional denial. Lying, cheating, and stealing are commonplace. Unethical behavior, even by our own standards, is reasoned with or quickly dismissed because otherwise surely we will stumble into a pit of self-pity from which we may never return. To share these things with another human being is to flay ourselves and reveal the true hideousness of our being. It is a gift when we learn, that in fact, we are not the things we do.
I learned early on that shame says I am bad, and guilt says I do bad. I had to transition my shame to guilt, and reconcile my past so I could move forward.
Through lots of hard internal work and prayer I have achieved twelve years of continuous sobriety. One day at a time I have tried my best to keep my ‘shame list’ clean, and when I do something I regret (which is inevitable being human) I make amends as best I can. Every day has added up, and over time I have learned to own that I am a good person, a person deserving of love, a person worthy of the joys life has to give me.
When I tell non-addicts I am in recovery it is often with hesitation that they ask me my story. I smile with understanding, knowing the hesitation in their request, the built-in permission they’re granting me to not share my humiliation, is now an unnecessary shelter for the story I have to share. I share my story today because it is my story which strengthens me, my story which lead me to a life of integrity, and my story which is my greatest asset. The best person in me came out through the weeds and tangles of my addiction. The best weapon I have against the grasp of shame, of addiction, is my vulnerability. It’s my sobriety.