September 10th, 2014

     True knowledge is gained through the experiment of living life. I have gained truth about myself and my life from the results of my experience, through the tools that I have acquired and been given, and through the actual consequences of my words, thoughts, and most importantly, my actions. I know what has failed me and what has brought me success. And I can reasonably assume that anyone who shares a similar experience may also experience similar results.

     This is precisely why the Big Book prophetically states that you can rely on anything a [recovered] alcoholic may say about himself. A recovered addict who has gained clarity and success knows himself completely. The reason my experience makes so much sense to me is because I understand who I am, and the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand everything. As I’ve suggested before, I don’t think we are really that complicated. We are essentially just human creatures on earth, sometimes doing good stuff, sometimes doing bad stuff, and sometimes just hangin’ out. And given the existential law of cause and effect, you probably wanna try to do more good stuff than bad stuff.    

     In my book, I described the sort of behavior that saved my life as ‘spiritual action’. We can’t get too bent about word choice because the solution and the knowledge gained through experiential success is very practical, grounded, fact-based (in its purest sense) and time-tested. So when I say spiritual action, I’m not talking about fluff. Spiritual action means moral action, as well as many other practical actions such as prayer, meditation, exercise, work, art, music, creativity and outdoor activities that benefit ourselves, others, and the greater world around us.

     In my previous post, I wrote that our core problem is spiritual. To note, I refer to the totality of my being as spiritual, and thus any disconnection from self, others or God is malady of my spirit (that is, my entire being). At any rate, for those of us who need the fluff taken out, we can easily break down our core problem more practically. Thanks to our friend, Jim, who commented on the nature of our malady as being rooted in deep emotional stuff, some of which lies below the level of our consciousness, as opposed to spiritual. I completely agree, but I simply choose to contemplate my emotional life as my spiritual life. At any rate, he kindly reminds us what our core problem really is, and this is perhaps the most accurate thing I’ve heard from anyone in years.

     So what is our core problem in simple, layman’s terms?


     Human shame [and perhaps sadness] is a universal epidemic. Addicts and alcoholics have no monopoly on shame.

     What are we ashamed of, you may ask?

     Why being human, of course. We are ashamed of our human bodies, for one. We are ashamed of our minds, our thoughts and our feelings, especially our feelings of self-consciousness, insecurity, depression, anger, jealousy, envy, weakness and stupidity. We are ashamed of our feelings of powerlessness, meaninglessness and purposelessness. We are ashamed of our size, our mortality, our past, our future, our frailties, our failures and our insignificance. We are ashamed of our greed, our lust, our gluttony, our cowardice, and the list goes on and on. You get the picture, I’m sure. Being human by definition is a vulnerable condition both internally, externally, and most importantly, spiritually.

     The Big Book says the knowledge of God is in our make-up as human beings. I believe we all know that God Is on some level, even the atheists and the silly agnostics out there. To deny God is really to deny your human being, your existence. And forget about addiction and alcoholism because that, my friends, may be the most precarious position of all.

God, teach me how to better love and accept myself that I may better love and accept others and do Your work well…

4 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Charlie, I forgot to comment on this post when you first posted it. The funny thing is, I was coming to your blog that day to see if you had any posts on shame – and this was the newest post! Serendipity.

    Anyway, I agree with you that shame is a huge driving force in humanity, and that we all suffer from it. Personally, I am deeply ashamed of the idiotic mistakes I've made over the years, as well as the financial disaster that has been the result.

    What I am trying to figure out, and what you didn't go into in this post, what the role of shame is in an addict's recovery. Clearly, someone who is hurting others needs to feel some shame in order to want to change…but what if the addict seems to be so drowning in shame that they can't handle it at all, and any hint from anyone that they are doing something wrong sends them into a deep depression where they pretty much give up on everything? I know my addict is ashamed of himself – but it seems sometimes like he is so ashamed that he believes he can never do anything good and might as well kill himself as quickly as possible. Which is actually selfish of course, but it's how he thinks. Is this just a self-indulgent excuse to keep using, or can shame truly paralyze a person from recovering? I am not sure how to handle it when he talks like this. I don't know if I should give him encouragement that he can do better, that his family loves and needs him, or tell him to stop whining.

  2. First we must distinguish between shame as a natural and healthy reaction to committing a wrong, whether before or after the consequences materialize. That is quite healthy and necessary to curb the behavior in question. Unhealthy shame, on the other hand, is essentially self-pity, which is a character defect in and of itself. Self-pity is a form of selfishness, and is often applied by damaged individuals to manipulate others and to rationalize avoidant behavior. If you hear,

    'Well I'm so ashamed, I cannot face this or face that… I can't move on… What's the point of anything after what I've done… I might as well just drink or use… I might as well just kill myself…'

    …those are the words of a someone who is probably just manipulating you. They want attention and are trolling/fishing for some reaction, similar to the way a child would behave. When we embrace cowardice by remaining in the comfort zone of isolation, we are not engaging in healthy or productive recovery. Please note that I am no shining example of anything, but nonetheless, that is how I see it.

    Unhealthy Shame isn't a good thing, especially excessive shame (like you see in victims), as we render ourselves useless to those in our lives. While ashamed, we can accomplish nothing and are crippled from giving. Conversely, when free from shame, we can engage, produce, succeed, influence and create love, happiness and magic for others. So while Shame is the human condition, it is also the human epidemic. It makes us sick, and ridding ourselves of Shame through acceptance, hard work and living in the present is where we find peace, fearlessness, and limitless potential.

    So I would tell him to stop whining (although I don't exactly have a history of the alternative). Shame in this case sounds like an excuse not to move forward, especially when we vocalize it so much. We are essentially whining as a means to rationalize our failure or procrastination in moving forward and progressing. This is quite different than humility and honest self-assessment, both of which are productive. Shame as guilt simply chains us to the past, whereas engaging in rigorous honesty is a means to stand back up and face the world.

    The Big Book says that we are not doormats. We are to respect ourselves and command respect from others. What sort of example are we setting if we remain paralyzed by shame, hobbled over and crying into our pity pot? Recovery is actually about conquering Shame and becoming an example of strength for others. Hope that makes any sense.

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