Shame and Guilt and Acceptance

Once, a long time ago, a friend of mine valiantly tried to convince me that I was starving myself to death. I was having none of it. I was not quite ready to admit that my eating was beyond weird and had moved from bad habits that I acted on compulsively into a Substance Use Disorder. I was using the chemicals that my brain produced when I was in starvation mode to comfort myself and distract me from the deeper issues that were causing me great suffering. My life was out of control. Today, I can admit that I knew something was wrong; I can tell the truth about the shame I felt about my body and my starvation diet. Shame plagued me, dominating my thoughts. It berated me, insisting that I was without value unless I was super skinny, practically perfect, and pleasing to all.

Shame is the emotion that tells me that I am broken beyond repair. Shame is not guilt. Guilt is an emotional acknowledgement that I have done a particular thing wrong. It is circumstance specific. Shame is all-pervasive; shame lies and tells me that I am UNIQUELY AND TERMINALLY FLAWED. Back then? I was withdrawn, defensive and arrogant. I believed that people who ate three meals a day were weak-willed, even disgusting. This is what a Substance Use Disorder costs us. It robs us of our ability to love ourselves, God and others. I was also filled with self-loathing. It’s a Jedi mind trick to be both arrogant and filled with shame but most of us who suffer with Substance Use Disorders are masters at holding these two perspectives in one mind.

Before the underlying issues of our disease can be addressed - depression, anxiety, trauma, guilt and shame, trouble coping with real life on life’s terms, etc. - we need to acknowledge the truth about our situation. The combination of arrogance paired with self-loathing contributes to denial. It basically means having a messed up perspective on life. If we have a serious problem that is messing up our life - at some point we are going to have to collapse into the admission that something is wrong. We need help.

I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed

Has been floating forty days and nights

On the flood of my tears.

My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.

The sockets of my eyes are black holes;

Nearly blind, I squint and grope.

Psalm 6:6-7 The Message