“Shame is an excuse to hate ourselves for something we did or didn’t do in the past. There is no room in a shame-filled mind for the fact that we did our best at the time; no room to accept that as human beings we are bound to make mistakes.” from “Courage to Change” (published by Al-Anon)
I well remember the intense feeling of Shame that swept over me one day when I saw the state of my son’s room. I kind of knew it would be bad, but I wasn’t prepared for the scale of the shock that hit me when I opened that door. The smell of Skunk smoke had been intruding onto the floor below, where we slept. I had been avoiding going up to the top floor, because I didn’t want to invade my son’s privacy. He had said for a few weeks now that he didn’t want the cleaners to go up there, and of course that told me all I needed to know.
One day, I knew he had gone out for several hours to see a friend, and I plucked up courage to find out what he had been up to in his den – a small box room at the top of the house.
The sight that met my eyes was a floor strewn with takeaway cartons, empty beer and coke cans and nitrous oxide canisters. (Nitrous oxide is another name for laughing gas and is used to achieve a temporary ‘up’). The detritus that had accumulated over 6-8 weeks was about 3 inches deep over a box room. I got some help from cleaners, and we worked on that room for two hours.
Here is my recollection of the stream of thoughts that filled my mind…
“How did things come to this? Can I bear to ask the cleaners to help me clear it up? I feel disgusted and utterly ashamed of this mess. It reminds me of pictures I used to see of slums and squats inhabited by drug addicts – the only difference is that this ghastly mess is being contained secretly within my middle class home. What would my friends think if they knew about this? Presumably they’d think I was a failure as a mother. I must be a failure as a mother. How did I let things get this far? Why didn’t I stop it? I didn’t stop it because my son would have shouted at me or physically barred the way into his room. What’s going to be the reaction when he comes home? Oh my God – this family is in a very, very bad place. What’s going to happen next?”
You get the picture. Maybe it resonates with you. I was filled with Shame. And so are countless mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses out there who experience addiction in their family.
Here is an excerpt from the leaflet produced by DrugFam for their service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate those who have lost their lives to drugs and alcohol – held on 9th May 2017:
“Addiction never truly happens to just one person. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children are pulled into the pain and destruction that addiction to alcohol and other drugs can cause. Many of the emotions addicted people feel – hopelessness, shame, sadness – are also visited on the hearts of everyone who loves them.”
In my next post, I will take a look at why we allow Shame to get a hold on us – and what we can do to dissolve it.