Spencer, Swetha, and guest host Nic talk about shame – what it is, how we feel it, how we used to deal with it, and how we deal with it in recovery. We start by looking at the difference between shame and guilt. When we do something wrong, we feel guilt, and we can deal with it by making amends. When we feel shame, the message we are hearing is “I am a bad person”. We react to shame by hiding it and internalizing it and stuffing it down. We feel that we are not worthy, and that we will lose our friends, be ostracized if we reveal the thing that caused us to feel shameful.
Spencer refers to a TED talk (“Listening to Shame”) by Brené Brown, where she says that shame “plays two tapes”. The first is “you’re not good enough”. The second is “who do you think you are?” We all identify with these messages. Swetha reflects that when she gets a compliment, she thinks “Oh! I fooled them! If they only knew the real me, they wouldn’t say that.” Nic hears “you’re never good enough”, that she could never live up to expectations. This goes back to her childhood and the messages she got from her family.
One source of our shame is self-judgement, where we judge ourselves more stringently than we judge the people around us. A big part of that is comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. Spencer reflects on a new role he’s taken on at work, where he continually hears the “who do you think you are?” message, because he is still learning the new skills he needs to do that job up to his own expectations of himself. Nic’s core shame issue is perfectionism. She has felt that “competence equals perfection”, and is trying to learn that “competence equals competence”. Swetha recalls an episode from her childhood, where she came home with a 99.36 grade in her class, with a highly complimentary note from the teacher. Her mother’s first reaction was “where’s the other 0.64%?” Ever after, if she didn’t make 100%, she felt that she was underachieving and not being who she should be.
Swetha used to feel that “everything” in her life was a deep, dark secret that she could never reveal to someone else. Now, when she has the thought “I could never share this,” she immediately calls her sponsor and shares it. And in the sharing, it loses its intensity, becoming lighter and less terrible. She gets compassion and forgiveness from her sponsor, then from her higher power, and finally she is able to forgive herself (at least for a moment).
Spencer reflects on the message that we put at the beginning and end of our “script” for each podcast episode, that says “Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect.” Not only does this message make it possible for us to actually do the podcast, it means that we are human, and we can make mistakes. Messages we get from our listeners thank us for being “honest and open”. Being honest and open means that we don’t hide our mistakes, we don’t cover up our faults. Perhaps our humanity, our lack of perfection, makes it easier for listeners to identify with us.
Being honest and open is something we learn by example in the program. Swetha’s first reaction to hearing people talking in meetings was “they are so brave!” Her fear, before the first time she did a meeting lead, was “what if I’m too sick and they tell me not to come back?” Her sponsor assured her that the worst that could happen was that we would say “wow, you are really sick, please keep coming back!” She has come to realize that feeling vulnerable, sharing in meetings, doing the podcast, is really a source of strength for her. When others reveal their struggles, their failures, and their fears, it means that we can identify with them, because we have those same struggles, failures, and fears. And that means that maybe we can also identify with their victories and believe that they could come true for us, too.
How do we move out of shame? By opening ourselves up, by being vulnerable, and by sharing our shameful moments and actions. Because, as Nic notes, shame needs secrecy, silence and judgement to thrive. By breaking through the silence and secrecy in a safe place, one without judgement, we can start to destroy the shame itself. Swetha reflects back to the Al-Anon closing, where we say “you will come to love us in a very special way, the same way we already love you”. She didn’t understand this at first, but now really finds it to be true. As Brené Brown says, “the two most powerful words when we’re in struggle are ‘me too’”.
We look at how we dealt with shame “then and now”. Spencer suggests that before coming into recovery, he “dealt” with shame by not dealing with it, but by just taking it in and holding it close. When a time came where he “needed” to feel bad about himself, he could bring those shame filled moments out and relive them. Nic and Swetha agree totally. Nic has been working on her shame. She lists some responses to shame: paralysis, low energy, escapism, withdrawal, perfectionism, criticism, and rage. She is sure she has felt all of these. In the past, she didn’t necessarily recognize that she was feeling shame. Now, she knows that her body has a physical reaction to shame. When she feels that “flush”, she knows that her shame has been triggered, and she can use her tools to deal with it. Nic quotes Byron Katie who says “wherever you are, that’s your potential”, which at first she hated, but now sees it as saying “competence is competence” and “you’re good enough”.
Swetha used to guard her shame as it was the most precious thing she had. Somehow she felt that her shame was protecting her from being an overbearing, controlling monster. “If I give my self-esteem an inch, it will walk all over me.” She felt that her shame was a realistic assessment of herself. As she entered recovery, she felt shameful about feeling shame. Now she understands that it is human to feel shame. She can feel it and “sit with it,” without feeling that she has to fix it immediately, and she can move forward with her life without it controlling her. She can talk to her sponsor or another Al-Anon friend, do a quick inventory, and let it go.
Our topic for next week is Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood God. Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.
Music from the show
Other songs that we considered but didn’t end up using are in the Spotify play list for this episode.
Links to stuff we talked about
Brené Brown “Listening to Shame”
You may like to visit Brené Brown on the web.
Nic talked about Byron Katie, whose work has helped her move through her own shame into acceptance.