Last Men Standing: Shame and Fear

You get sober. Quit the booze and the pills or the meth and coke and pot or whatever it is that had its hooks in you. You get some time sober, and you start to feel better.

You start to work the steps. You begin to build a concept of a Higher Power. Start to build a relationship there. You pray, even if you feel like a fraud. You meditate, even if it burns to the bones to try to be still. You write out your thoughts. You share your feelings. You speak up in meetings. You ask for help. You begin to feel moments of peace and serenity. You practice faith, even if you can’t always feel it.

You quit smoking. Chew Nicorette. You see a therapist. You take more walks. You still sometimes binge when you don’t want to feel or don’t know what other tool to pick up. You still sometimes restrict food or starve yourself because it feels safe to control. It makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere. You look in the mirror and hate what you see. You think the hatred is because your body isn’t up to standards. You don’t know it’s something else. You keep going.

You work hard at your job. You get stressed. You move through it. You read hundreds of books. You keep building your God. You date. Make new friends. Try new things. Pray. Meditate. Become very aware. See yourself. Warts and all. You try to love it. You start feeling your feelings, even though it’s like knives. You let them move through you without having to do something destructive to block their passage. They leave you, and you bow to your courage.

You start to unravel your resentments. Get some perspective. You see your behavior and reaction to things. You pray to forgive and to be forgiven. You make amends where you have harmed people. You start to feel free and clean on the inside. Your faith expands. Your courage grows. Peace comes more and stays longer. You see your part in all of your life.

Your thinking neutralizes, and when it’s dark and stormy, you recognize that it isn’t real. It isn’t telling the truth. You trust infinite God rather than finite self. You trust your large sense of self instead your small. You watch your thinking, and you see it clearly. You start feeling pure golden love. For yourself. For others.

You take really good care of yourself, and in turn you help others. You laugh and play and feel authentic joy. It’s so glorious, sometimes it makes you weep. You are so very grateful to be sober and to be free. Your creativity soars. Your heart and your Higher Power sing loudly to you, and you listen. They speak louder than the old black tapes in your mind.

You start to see that you have recovered from a disease that wanted to kill you, that you are connected to God, that you are taken care of and carried no matter what. You no longer want to die or drink or cut or binge or starve or spend or shop or smoke or flee. You just want to be. You let yourself be.

And then up comes another layer of gunk.

Recovery can look a lot like that. It did for me, and still does. Onward on the jagged line we go. Never trying to get anywhere, Just experiencing life and growing in spirit. Spirit doesn’t grow up. It grows out. It expands, and it does so limitlessly.

The last bogeymen standing on the journey of recovery are shame (self-hatred) and fear. They are by far the deepest and most penetrating feelings one can experience, the most challenging ones to face, the most corrosive to our systems, and in turn the most emancipating ones to heal from. They are the most violent and destructive to the spirit, for they are in complete misalignment with the spirit. Fear is a lack of faith and a belief in destruction, and self-hatred/shame is a complete rejection of self and belief that you are wrong and unloved by God. Their very nature clashes with God, and yet it is God that has the power to shine light on these toxic emotions and cleanse them from our systems.

There is nothing wrong with having these two feelings. Feeling we are “wrong,” is exactly what fear and shame are trying to accomplish! All humans experience them at one point or another, and nearly all of us addicts and alcoholics suffer from them greatly until we enter recovery. There is no sense in feeling shame or fear about having shame and fear, for they are not our fault; they are the simply the pillars upon which addiction stands, glowering. They are not our fault, but they do become our responsibility to heal. It just takes time, a lot of willingness, and as much faith as we can muster.

On the road of recovery, we peel off layers little by little. We aren’t healed in a flash of white lightening or stripped of all character flaws in sixth months. We don’t overcome a resentment and then never face one again. We don’t lighten our load of grief only to never grieve again. But we do start to clean up on the inside. We start to clear away the toxic emotions and trauma and sludge that has kept us sick for so many years. We start to become aware of our thinking and behavior and rely on a Higher Power to help us live, and this allows us to not accumulate further toxic sludge within us. But we’re not perfect. And it has been my experience that the hardest and toughest and oldest gunk to scrape off the crevices of our hearts comes from self-hatred and fear. I will even argue that they are the only negative emotions there really are and that all the rest stem from them: resentment, jealousy, envy, arrogance, self-righteousness, judgement, cruelty, selfishness – those are all essentially emotions and actions we pick up when feeling threatened or not good enough or like we won’t get what we need or we’re going to lose something we have. They are all defenses and attempts at hardening our hearts so we don’t get hurt.

But underneath all that is the very tender wound. The sweet baby girls and boys who just want to feel safe and loved. We all just want to feel safe and loved. We all deserve to feel safe and loved.

And that right there, is the way out.

The only solution to shame and fear is to love yourself unconditionally and to trust that nothing can really hurt you. Even when life feels terrifying, it’s just a feeling; there’s no monster. This is no easy task. This requires great power. This requires finding faith in your center that is larger than your fear. That your fear would bow to. You have to love your shame and fear, when in the thick of them, that they would crumble right their under the weight of all that love.

Shame has by far been the most uncomfortable experience to face for me. Shame feels like poison; it can feel swollen, infected, stuffy, pulsating, stinky, dirty, and hot. It can also feel rubbery and thick and glue-like. Because of its nature, it is very much stuck in the body. It’s hard to clean. It hides in crevices. It disguises itself. It can feel so suffocating. It tells you that you don’t deserve to be alive. That everything is your fault. That you are disgusting and worthless. Imagine how good we feel to get free of such toxicity!

Fear is sharp and jittery and taunting and dangerous. It’s thin and runny and tastes of battery acid. It wants to beat you up. Wants to make you wrong and a bad girl. It’s a deceptive and cruel bully. An emperor with no clothes. It locks us up and makes us tight, disabling life force and energy. When we’re free from it, we feel pure and radiating joy. Our minds function healthily. We are connected.

Both experiences for me have taken a few years to come to terms with and find healing. Fear is more wicked and stressful and shame is so very painful. Both stem from old wounds that spent years festering. They do not arise from any sort of Truth or reality in my present life. They come from the mind and the earthbound body. Neither one is more powerful than faith and the Higher Power working in my life today. But when they arise, I must seek that faith and pray for guidance as to what is necessary to encourage healing and protection. They are very much like waves that loom large in the distance but never actually break. We learn to trust that they will not break.

The truest and deepest recovery for me has been all about self-love and faith. That’s really what it all boils down to. I had a sponsor who used to say that to her, God was always how much more loving she could be to herself.

She was right: Everything is always about how much more loving we can be to ourselves.

Don’t let those last men standing throw you; let those last men stand around all they like for however long. Your spirit is infinitely larger. Promise.

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