Healing Addiction at it’s Core: Underlying Shame

Question from a reader:

“I believe just like soul contracts that we set ” themes” for ourselves before we come to earth. Patterns that play out over and over in our lives, I believe, are good clues as to what some of our themes or lessons we want to learn while here on earth. If this is the case, I would like to know what the HELL the addiction theme that keeps rearing its ugly head in my life is teaching me because I would really like to learn that lesson and get the f*ck on with it! Any thoughts on that?”

I‘m not sure if you are saying that you, yourself, are dealing with addiction that you keep finding people in your life who are dealing with addiction – either way, having a deeper understanding of what addiction is can help you figure out why it seems to keep showing up.

The accepted mainstream idea of addiction, today, is that it is a disease. An addict is not responsible for his or her behavior because their brain is literally wired to compulsively act the way that they do. Additionally, when it comes to drugs, many people blame the drug itself. And when drugs aren’t involved, then it’s just that this person has an “addictive personality” and is genetically predisposed to being hooked on something.

A quick Google of the subject and you’ll find a thousand articles heralding the fact that addicts no longer need to feel ashamed for their behavior, because they literally cannot help themselves. They have a disease. A disease which is incurable, and their only hope of survival is strict abstinence.

We used to believe that the problem was with the drug itself. Rumors that just one experience with a drug was enough to get hooked, and that there such things as “gateway drugs” that would lead to bigger, nastier addictions.

But it’s interesting, don’t you think, that people can be addicted to things that aren’t substances? Like gambling, for example, sex, or pornography. At first glance, this might lend credence to the idea that addiction actually IS a disease, rather than the result of the substance abuse itself.

You might also find that when an addict begins to abstain from one addiction, another moves in to take it’s place. This, too, would suggest that the issue is not with the substance, but rather with the person themselves.

We often hear drugs, sex and alcohol referred to under another umbrella term: Escapism.

Herein lies the key to understanding addiction.

It’s called escapism because when a person engages in this behavior, it is for the purpose of numbing or escaping unpleasant emotions. In many instances, the person may have been doing this for so long that they no longer remember what it is they are attempting to escape from. They’re not connected to it anymore and it becomes buried deep within their subconscious  mind.

When a person chooses one avenue, specifically, to cope with these kinds of emotions, they develop habitual brain patterns. Eventually, feeling the initial emotions that are being repressed will automatically trigger a mental response to seek out the external thing that (temporarily) makes them feel better. We call this addiction.

Of course, there’s different types of and degrees of addiction, and how people react in certain situations may differ, but the underlying cause is the same – whether it’s a chemical substance or a behavioral compulsion.

Addiction Triggers
I have a friend who is a crack addict. He’s spent much of his life in and out of jail, usually for petty crimes committed while under the influence or in an attempt to make more money to feed his habit. He’s gone into rehab and been able to clean himself up several times – sometimes for years at a time. But then he inevitably experiences a relapse and usually lands back in jail.

During his most recent stint (he was just released again a week and a half ago) we exchanged correspondence for about a year and a half, during which I brought to his attention the pattern that was playing out in his life.

Every time one of his relationships went sour, he relapsed.

I wasn’t familiar with his childhood, but often, the emotions that trigger life-long addictions are resultant from trauma experienced during the developmental years. Whatever deep-seated personal negative emotions he is dealing with, they are obviously triggered when a relationship ends, which then triggers the need to cope with those emotions through his drug of choice.

For other people, their pain is constant, but dull, and so the emotions they experience don’t need to be specifically triggered, because they are almost always present (though they may flare up from time to time).

Addiction is an Emotional Illness
Earlier I mentioned that you could find a thousand articles on the internet claiming that addicts no longer need to feel ashamed of their behavior, because they had a disease, and if they have a disease, it’s not their fault.

This is an extremely ironic declaration, because the underlying core emotion that often results in addiction is shame itself.

Whereas guilt is a right or wrong judgment about your behavior, shame is a feeling about yourself. Guilt motivates you to want to correct or repair the error. In contrast, shame is an intense global feeling of inadequacy, inferiority, or self-loathing. You want to hide or disappear. In front of others, you feel exposed and humiliated, as if they can see your flaws. The worst part of it is a profound sense of separation — from yourself and from others. It’s disintegrating, meaning that you lose touch with all the other parts of yourself, and you also feel disconnected from everyone else.
Shame: The Core of Addiction and Codependency

This self-imposed isolation is created by a lack of self-love. The disconnection from parts of the self is what makes these feelings and emotions become repressed and fly under the radar, then they begin to ooze out in other areas of the person’s life, and they are often not aware as to why – addiction being one of those symptoms.

Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love…Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

The issue here is that when one cannot even connect with themselves, they find it extremely difficult to connect with others, and so they often retreat and isolate themselves, which then creates a vicious cycle. The person suffering from shame and addiction often believes that who they are is defective, so why would they be worthy of connecting with other human beings?

As with all emotions, shame passes. But for addicts and codependents it hangs around, often beneath consciousness, and leads to other painful feelings and problematic behaviors. You’re ashamed of who you are. You don’t believe that you matter or are worthy of love, respect, success, or happiness. When shame becomes all-pervasive, it paralyzes spontaneity. A chronic sense of unworthiness and inferiority can result in depression, hopelessness, and despair, until you become numb, feeling disconnected from life and everyone else.

Shame can lead to addiction and is the core feeling that leads to many other codependents’ symptoms.

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

This is why abstinence doesn’t solve the problem. The root cause is still there. This is why people relapse or shift from one addiction to the next. This is how certain life events trigger benders. And it’s precisely why the theme of addiction continues to follow most of these types of people.

This is also how addiction can be HEALED. It is not something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

I am a Registered Professional Counsellor and I have personally struggled with alcohol addiction in my life.

After the last three years of intense psycho-therapy and group work focused on healing personal wounds from our childhood and dealing with our traumas, I have managed to come out of my addiction on to the other side.

–  Addiction is not a disease: How AA and 12-step programs erect barriers while attempting to relieve suffering.

Recovering and Healing from Addiction

Tracing an addiction back to it’s root cause is not easy. You often have to dig through many layers of emotions, false personas and behaviors that have accrued over the years in order to get back to the source, but the first step – and often one of the most difficult – is obviously to recognize the addiction itself.

1. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. If you can’t even get this far, then you’re not ready to heal yet. This can be difficult if the person has created the outward false persona that they’re in control and nothing is wrong with them. This is the lie they tell themselves, because they don’t want to deal with who they are afraid they really are – their inner false persona.

2. The second step to recovery is becoming aware of your triggers. Self-awareness is a huge factor in healing. When you feel yourself looking to that thing that you’re addicted to – whether it’s food, drugs, sex, porn, or something else – stop and become aware of what emotions you are feeling. If you are able to identify those emotions, then you are likely on your way to discovering what it is that you are attempting to escape from. You can begin to trace those emotions back to their root, which are often negative beliefs about the self – the inner false persona.

Learn to identify these triggers and the emotions that are causing them. Instead of attempting to escape those emotions, dive into them. Take the opportunity to make a healthy human connection. Talk to someone who cares about you about how you are feeling and why. You have to begin to reconnect with those emotions in order to process and release them.

3. The third step to recovery is self-acceptance. Like I mentioned above, many people dealing with shame and addiction often believe that who they are is not good enough – that’s the person beneath the “I’m in control” false persona. What needs to be understood is that who they really are at their core IS good enough. The problem is, they believe that they are not. And it’s this original inner false persona – this ugly illusion of themselves that they hold in their own minds – that is creating the emotions that are leading to the shame and the addictive behavior.

So it’s not about accepting themselves the way they BELIEVE they are – it’s about accepting themselves for who they REALLY are – the beautiful soul within. This is the part that helps you overcome shame. My class on transcending the ego can lay much of this groundwork out for you and help give you a visual understanding of what’s happening.

The obvious solution here is to enter into a therapy program with a professional counselor who understands the connection between shame and addiction.

Here’s a great Ted Talk by Brene Brown on Shame and vulnerability:

Part 1 | Part 2


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  1. Hello Ash,
    I am the one who asked this question and I am in deep appreciation that you answered it so well. I read everything you post on your blog because it resonates true to me. I follow my instincts on how it feels to me when “gathering” information on anything. It is me struggling with this and I have come far but just felt I was missing a piece to the puzzle and all of what you wrote rings so true to me.
    Now that I feel I may have the missing piece, I have hope that I can focus better on healing it so I can move on to the things that matter most to me.
    Thank you for the time you invest in your website…you are helping people with the posts you write…whether it’s something deep like addiction or on the lighter side, like how to store your crystals….yes, that was me asking that also!
    Again, thank you for sharing knowledge!

    • Thank you 🙂 I’m glad it was helpful.


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