Shame is the stab in my stomach that pulses in and out and creeps into my chest making it hard to breathe, the knot in my throat that makes it hard to swallow. Shame is also the tunnel vision, the shutting down of my senses as my mind transitions back to another time. Shame is the unwelcome remembrance of my past; just like all my trauma-based flashbacks, this takes me back to that moment. Then the shame whispers in my ear, “drink something to make this stop.” Then the decision to drink, take a glass of wine, vodka, or whatever I can find to numb the pain.
It’s interesting now in sobriety, knowing that the shame that drew me to drink was not my shame to wear. It’s not my fault my parents struggled financially, that we were below the poverty line, the pitty in the eyes of kind people in the church who wanted to help. It’s not my fault that I have a mentally ill father who had his own substance abuse issues and took his pain out physically on me. It’s not my fault for the abuse I withstood. I should not wear the shame of the first adolescent relationship I had for years that was equally unhealthy and now feels dirty. It’s not my fault that my adult life became so stressful that I needed to numb. I say this with the understanding of PTSD and that all stress I experience feels like that same trauma-based stress described above. I know that my stressful prestigious job and the imposter syndrome I experienced from this toxic, high-paying environment weren’t necessarily my fault. What starts to become my fault is the choice to numb daily. Drinking daily to escape all of the shame and pain that continued to grow in me the better my life became. Then the shame of drinking and the shame from my past meld into one darkness that takes over and leads down a path to alcohol abuse.
Here in sobriety, I have a new shame. It’s a well-meaning conversation that comes from me sharing how happy I am to be sober, an expression of joy and lightness, and the seeking to connect with family on that level. It’s then being met with a person I love telling me how hurt they were because of my drinking. Then the shame I have been working on managing healthily feels heavier than any other shame I’ve experienced because this feels like my fault. Finally, I start to sink into the shame spiral, the physical symptoms, the tunnel vision that feels almost like a panic attack, and the knowing that this experience is not the end.