Secrecy and Shame in Addiction

Facing the truth is painful, confusing and often terrifying; therefore, secrecy and shame are often prevalent in the depths of addiction. Many addicts live a life of dishonesty because they can’t bear the idea of being labeled as an addict, so they lie to themselves and others to pretend the problem does not exist and to avoid confrontations. For example, making excuses as to why they missed work or hiding the paraphernalia.

Defining the difference between shame and guilt is essential. Guilt, as Brene Brown perfectly describes, is “adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” Shame, on the other hand, is a deep internal pain resulting from the belief that we are flawed, broken and unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is what causes the disconnection of self and reality within addiction.

Shame does not always embody itself as a solemn appearance but can, in fact, be masked in narcissism. Narcissists feel that they need to hide a devalued sense of self, so they appear self-inflating or entitled, and provoke envy in people around them. To escape shame’s self-diminishing effects, expressing contempt toward another person projects one’s own shame on to the other person.

Friends and family members can also contribute to shame and denial when their loved one has fallen ill to addiction. This is problematic when we “rewrite” certain situations and behaviors that we find alarming because we don’t want to deal with what’s happening. It’s just easier to make an excuse for our drunken family member that they are over-worked, have the flu or just trying to relax. Family members feel shame and embarrassment that one of their own is an alcoholic and, as a result, become the enabler. The enabler’s denial allows the addict to keep using, and the impact of the addiction is disregarded entirely. Denial, in this sense, can lead to significant dysfunction within the family system, because there is a “cover-up,” an ever-growing “secret” that family members do not feel comfortable talking about.

Dishonesty is so harmful to the recovery of addiction because lying is a relapse trigger; when an addict lies, it means they are relying on ineffective coping strategies Honesty about addiction is what convinces most people to seek recovery and helps keep them committed to being sober. One of the biggest reasons why relapses occur is because the person in question stops being honest with others and themselves. It is impossible to make advancement when an addict fails to acknowledge the problem and are not willing to do whatever is necessary to cure it.

Remember, you are more than your addiction. You have the power to change and heal your relationship with yourself. If you or someone you know has relapsed from drugs and alcohol, please know that for some people it is a “normal” path in addiction. Show understanding, patience, and love. Never give up on yourself or someone else. I will help you find the self you have lost. Please, never hesitate to contact me.