End the Stranglehold of Shame. Here’s how…
Shame sits hard on an alcoholic. It casts shadows on our sense of worth. It follows us almost of its own volition.
But shame is a choice.
Overcome the downward spiral of rumination and self-recrimination, and choose compassion and esteem instead. Here’s how:
We’ll start with a tale from the olden days, long long ago in a country far far away:
An oracle said that whoever could untie the impenetrable Gordian Knot, which bound an ox cart to a pole (for reasons we won’t go into today), would someday rule Asia.
Good challenge, eh?
The knot was so complex, however, no one could untangle it. No one could find the source, the ends, the thread that would loosen the baffling snarl.
Legend tells us that Alexander–not to be undone by a mere rope–created an end-run around the entire problem.
He drew his sword and slashed the impenetrable Gordian Knot into pieces.
Alexander went on to rule all of Asia and far beyond, creating the greatest empire the ancient world had ever known.
The Gordian Knot has become a metaphor for an obstinate – shall I say “knotty” – problem easily solved when approached from an angle that eliminates the assumed constraints.
Which brings me to addiction, shame, and the tangled self.
Embracing the recovery concept of acceptance, I recently threw in the towel on endless rumination. I put negative self-talk to the sword, as it were.
I decided to be nice to myself.
Believe me, I speak from experience: Traveling the twisted entanglements of past mistakes eventually leads to an ineffable darkness littered with blame. The more you travel that path in your mind, the deeper the ruts get, and the more likely you are to…
…perpetually return to that lopsided road of shame and regret.
That is no place for you!
Why try to unravel the mysterious stranglehold that addiction has on you when you can lop it off at the source? Acceptance is the sword that cuts the Gordian Knot of rumination, and moves you to greater heights in life.
Questions like these aren’t helpful:
Why am I an alcoholic? What horrible things do I need to churn up in order to understand my disease? What went wrong in me that caused all this hurt?
You might as well try to understand God.
No no no.
You don’t need to dredge up every painful childhood memory, teenage folderol, or adult misstep, in order to accept your disease, forgive yourself, and recover from alcoholism.
You DO need to put a spotlight your character defects, though.
You need to recognize them, work on them, correct them, make amends for them. But WHY you do damage to yourself and others isn’t as important as it is to STOP doing damage to yourself and others.
Here’s how: Wield the mighty sword of acceptance.
Accept with love and compassion yourself, others, and the way things are.
Note: Acceptance never tolerates cruelty.
Acceptance, rather, dissolves resistance to the way things are. Acceptance lets you see things clearly, untangled from emotional morass.
Acceptance moves you to right action.
Choose better thoughts and words, and the right actions will follow. Cut through your endless rumination, shame, and disparaging self-talk with the transformative power of acceptance.
From acceptance comes choice.
Lay down the armor of loathing and blame. Choose forgiveness, patience, tolerance. Start with yourself.
The Buddha said, “Only love heals hate.”
That applies to you and how you treat yourself, dear friend.
Research shows that those who ruminate on their troubles–telling their sad stories again and again, sharing them on social media, dissecting them sixteen ways from Sunday–have a harder time recovering from loss and trauma than those who can…
…“zoom out” and view their circumstances from a larger, more distant point of view.
Armed with this information, I decided to make a clean break from the negative stories of my past.
To start, I sat in front of the fireplace and spent three hours torching 25 years of journals. Boxes and boxes worth. Practically burned the house down with thousands of pages from my dry and brittle past.
I kept those bound diatribes like precious jewels, schlepping them from city to city, home to home, always stashing them far under my bed because God help me if anyone, including me, ever had the temerity to read them.
Note: I still write in a journal every day, more or less. But I don’t ruminate endlessly on my troubles. I’ve found a far better strategy.
I no longer immerse myself in a pathology of woe…without a way out.
I do a core dump, yes, so I can get all the discontent out on the page.
Then I turn to positive thoughts and words, and from there to positive action.
I turn to one of the most powerful tools I’ve learned in recovery:
Psychologists call it cognitive restructuring. It basically means…
…talking nice to yourself.
More officially: “Cognitive restructuring involves learning how to think differently, to change fundamental ‘faulty thinking,’ and replace it with more rational, realistic, and perhaps positive thinking,” says Sally R. Connolly, LCSW, co-founder of CounselingRelationshipsOnline.
Blame, criticism, rumination, self-loathing…
…as juicy and tempting and familiar as they are, these habits aren’t doing you any favors.
What if you could reframe how you think?
What if you could feel differently, by intention, about your current self-image/situation/frustration/loss, and therefore change your outlook?
From an empowered thought-source…
…your feelings spiral upwards, and your actions follow suit. Your results in life get better. Your stress level, hurt level, frustration levels go down.
Your self-esteem rises.
Reframing is a massively powerful tool that will help you accept the things you cannot change … and change the things you can.
- From: “I can’t do this,” you get…
“This is possible for me. I have resources.”
- From “I’m so ashamed,” you get…
“I make amends and the truth sets me free.”
- From “Alcohol has ruined me,” you get…
“I rebuild my life, my relationships, and my finances through active recovery.”
Elevate your life with empowering thoughts, words, and attitudes.
The stories you tell yourself, and your friends, over and over, about “what happened” in excruciating detail…
…shape your life moving forward.
By repeating what happened to you in the past–to yourself or others–you paint the path of the life ahead of you with the same colors, the same familiar patterns.
That path can be bright and loving, or dark and full of resentments.
Endless rumination is keeping you down. Get it out, whatever is bothering you. Talk with your sponsor. Then look at your part…
…and fix it.
Take responsibility for every stupid, unkind, selfish, fearful thing you ever did. Make your amends.
Then forgive yourself.
If you need counseling, by all means and without hesitation, get professional help.
Take big, brave, bold action.
In recovery, we work to turn our defects into assets.
Where we are angry, we consciously practice forgiveness. Where we are judgmental, we practice tolerance. Dishonestly turns to truth, gossip turns to praise, stubbornness turns to acceptance, procrastination turns to action.
This requires volition and conscious choice on your part.
Don’t let yourself be the victim of your thoughts, your past, your ruminations.
Here’s the secret weapon to choosing better:
For me, the stronger my Step 11 (prayer and meditation), the more likely I am to, “pause when agitated…” and consciously choose NOT to spiral down into negative thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.
“Pausing” puts the power of choice at your command.
Learn to choose better, automatically, every time, to serve yourself and others.
Being nice to yourself changes everything. Your niceness drips deep into your bones. It splashes on others. It changes the outside world.
Cut through the endless tangle of shame and rumination in one fell swoop.
Accept the past and let it go.
Forgive yourself, forgive others. Turn to patience. Turn to tolerance. Refuse to let blame drip through the halls of your mind. Spiral ever upwards. Elevate your thoughts…
…and your feelings and actions will follow.
With better thoughts about yourself at the source, everything downstream gets better.