Shame is a part of all addictions. Shame is that deep sense of unworthiness we all feel sometimes. But as a woman in recovery from sexual addiction, my shame is sometimes overwhelming. After all, there are people who believe my addiction is a “man’s problem,” which makes me feel even more alone–isolated from those around me.
If I believe this shame message, not only do I have to deal with having an unhealthy relationship with sex, but I also have to deal with being so different than “normal” women that my problem is seen as being something that only men deal with. It’s double isolating.
When I let it, shame drives me into hiding. It keeps me from being connected to people I love, and who care about me. I have to put up walls so people don’t get too close. I’m afraid that if they get close, they’ll see how broken I am and that they won’t love me anymore.
When I was younger, I didn’t know what shame was. I had never heard of it. So every time I felt shame, I just believed that it was me. I believed whatever I felt. When I was a little girl, I learned to just be quiet. I didn’t have permission to share my feelings or to speak up. I didn’t realize I could actually argue or disagree with shame, or with another person. So I just believed whatever I was told–whether it was another person or shame telling me what to think about myself.
Recovery has taught me that I matter, which means I have a right to speak up. I have a right to take up space in this world. And that means I can argue with shame and fight back against the lies it tells me. Shame isn’t part of who I am. It’s something outside me, trying to crush me and trick me into believing that I don’t matter. So now I fight back.
It took a lot of work and time to get to where I am. In the beginning, I would try to argue with shame, but I didn’t really believe what I was saying. I still believed shame. I would say, “I actually do matter,” but in my mind I would say, “Go ahead and keep telling yourself that. You know the truth–no one actually cares about you.” It wasn’t easy to make the change.
I had to get help from others. I found that if people I loved and trusted told me the things I was trying to tell myself, I started to believe them. I couldn’t believe myself at first, but I could believe my sister, for example. It still wasn’t easy, but I knew I couldn’t do it without help.
Slowly, over time, I started to believe the new stories I was telling myself–that I matter; that my opinion counts for something; that people will pay attention to me. And a funny thing happened. I started to act like it too. Instead of closing myself off from others and walking around with my head down, I started to connect with people and act like a person that others would like.
It turns out I am lovable. I just didn’t know it before.
So now I argue with shame. I refuse to believe its lies about me. I stand up for myself because I am worth it. Shame still sometimes sneaks in, but as soon as I recognize it, I call it for what it is–a lie.
I never used to stand up for myself or argue about anything. Turns out I kind of like fighting my battles and being heard, even if it is just fighting against my shame and hearing my own healthy voice.