"Your brain is an echo chamber for the toxic shame words: You’re Not Normal. They are amplified, too. You hear over and over that you’re flawed even when the words aren’t spoken directly to you. Staying sober helps reduce the echoes, but they stubbornly refuse to vanish. The longer they hang on, the more the Symptoms hang on.
One of the foremost authorities on the impact of toxic shame is John Bradshaw. (Healing the Shame that Binds, Health Communications, Deerfield Beach, FL 1988) Bradshaw makes a direct connection between shame and lapse because alcohol provides an escape from the feelings you get from the Symptoms and the labels. Labels that don’t fit but others have tagged onto you leave you feeling wounded. You want to medicate the wound by having a drink. You’re caught between the dog and the hydrant.
The shame causes stress . . . the shamer causes stress . . . not conforming to your body’s request for a shot or two causes stress . . . and knowing you’ve never in your life just had one or two causes stress. Knowing you’ll easily spiral back downward into a new bottom causes stress.
If/When you drink because of the shame someone else heaps onto you for being Alcoholic, the more right the shamer becomes. You prove their points. And you earn more shame. Bradshaw sees this cycle of shame begetting more shame and guilt as a squirrel cage, beginning at the point at which you’ve been labeled. You then want relief, you take a drink, get relief, then get shamed for getting the relief which puts you back to wanting relief from yet more shame.
For an Alcoholic in sobriety, only a single spin through the squirrel cage—maybe two—and you’re well on the path from lapse to relapse.
People expect more out of someone who’s put his Alcoholism into remission. There’s the expectation that the Alcoholic avoids relapse. Forever. There’s the demand that he achieves new levels of productivity on the job. He’s not allowed other human problems, like overeating. They insist he pursues spiritual enlightenment. And if he fails in any of these areas, they’re actually disappointed in him and label him again as a failure—as if non-Alcoholics routinely achieve such goals! Just because you never can drink does not mean you never can be allowed to live without someone reminding you of it each day.
You don’t need to have a really low bottom to have attracted shamers. People shame high-bottom Alcoholics, too, whether or not they’ve been a victim of his drinking. These are the people who are on you for having a disease like ants are on a popsicle melting on the sidewalk. There will always be some Bozo who is going to help you into the squirrel cage because shamers and shame go hand-in-hand with Alcoholism."
--- from Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Relapse and the Symptoms of Sobriety, pages 56-57
Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, plus the new radio interview replay is available at alcohologist.com... and please read the new interview with Scott Stevens at Christoph Fisher Books. Mr. Fisher is an acclaimed international historical fiction novelist from the UK.