Shame and addiction are unfortunately linked for many people, but this is especially true for women. This not only makes it difficult to reach out for help, it can also fuel the addiction by causing women to feel embarrassed or ashamed about reaching out for help, or worse, feeling that they are not worthy of getting the help they need.
The roots of shame come from many outside factors as well as our own thoughts. It’s important to realize, however, that there is a way out.
What Shame and Addiction Have in Common
Shame can come from many outside sources. It can also come from our own deep feelings of inadequacy. When we feel shame, we may be driven to use drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Consistent use over time can develop into an addiction. Thus, shame and addiction feed each other in a toxic cycle. The resulting guilt that often comes from using can increase feelings of shame even more.
The Deep Impact of Shame
People often experience shame differently, but one thing is constant: it’s deeply effective in influencing our behaviors and self-perception. Few things can make a person feel like a failure or unworthy or love quite like shame does.
There are many coping mechanisms for feelings of shame depending on one’s personality. Some women who are already inclined to perfectionism may “up the ante” and work much harder to be seen as above reproach. Others may withdraw further into themselves, lacking in motivation to change because nothing will ever be enough. Others may try to work harder at meeting the expectations of people around them, including bosses, professors, family members, or friends.
Women with depression are more likely to have deep feelings of shame, especially where substance abuse is concerned. As using substances exacerbates depression symptoms, those symptoms can drive them more into using to feel better, albeit temporarily. Therefore, depression and substance abuse also feed each other in another unhealthy cycle.
How Shame Prevents Drug-Addicted Women From Seeking Help
For many people, asking for help is not easy. Shame makes it difficult for women to seek help for addiction in the following ways:
It Destroys Self-Worth
Women may convince themselves that they don’t deserve help, or aren’t worth the trouble.
It Makes Reaching Goals Seem Impossible
Admitting you need help is one thing; actually reaching out to get it, and sticking with a treatment plan, is another matter. Many women may feel like they lack the strength to make that first step. They may feel “too damaged” to succeed with sobriety.
It Hinders Relationships
Many people withdraw into themselves when they feel depressed, which can damage relationships and friendships. Many women may feel unworthy of affection, or that they have to hide their true selves. They may think that they would be rejected if friends, family members, or romantic partners knew who they really were and what they struggle with.
It Convinces Women They Are Bad Mothers
One unfortunate aspect of parenthood is that there is frequent judgment that comes from society regarding decisions we make for our children. Women, in particular, are especially vulnerable to this criticism. For mothers struggling with addiction, the fear and shame of what could happen if people find out may make them fearful of reaching out for help. Women may fear being called selfish or terrible mothers. They may worry that their children will be taken away from them by Child Protective Services. For women who have experienced the latter, that shame and guilt can further drive addiction.
While these concerns may be valid, that does not mean that they are true. Shame is a manipulative liar that keeps people from reaching their full potential and understanding their real worth. Keeping the addiction silent is what gives it power. By letting people who care about you into the struggle, you strip shame from having that power over you.
How to Heal From Shame
It is possible to heal from both addiction and shame. Healing from addiction begins by addressing the shame that drives it. Here are a few ways you can start that journey toward healing and recovery:
Face the Cause of Shame
The roots of shame can go very deep. They could be a result of an event from your childhood or a humiliating event you can’t forget. Digging up these roots is hard, but it is worth it if it helps you better understand how it’s linked to drug use and addiction. Therapists are great for unearthing these difficult revelations.
Learn to Let Go
Shame may come from past decisions you made, or how your actions may have affected other people. It can be tempting to drink these memories away, but that isn’t a helpful solution. Some relationships or circumstances can be repaired, but others you must let go of and resolve to use those lessons as motivation for making different decisions in the future.
Be Kind to Yourself
If you had a friend struggling with substance abuse and shame, what would you say to them? Chances are you wouldn’t heap judgment and condemnation on someone you care about. Rather, you’d respond with compassion and understanding. Try to have that same level of compassion for yourself.
Create a Support System
Try to surround yourself with people who are devoted to lifting you up, not kicking you when you’re down. This could be a spouse, family members, close friends, or a therapist.
Find a Safe Space
Having a safe, judgment-free space to unpack shame can be beneficial. Many people find a therapist’s office a great place to do this. Others turn to their support network.
Shame is an incredibly damaging, albeit understandable emotion for women struggling with substance abuse. It can prevent you from seeking help and further perpetuate the cycle of addiction by making you think you can never get better. At Spero Recovery, we know that is not true. We have helped many women overcome their shame and achieve long-term sobriety. It may seem impossible right now, but our licensed, experienced staff are equipped to help you develop tools and coping skills so you won’t feel like you need drugs to fall back on. Our gender-specific residential treatment program can pair you with other women who share your struggle, further reducing feelings of shame and isolation. If you need help, don’t wait. Please contact us today at (303) 351-7888. You can also reach out to us through the message portal on the contact page of our website.