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Alcoholism and Shame

The need for pride in recovery

Throughout my personal and professional experiences working with active and sober alcoholics I have noted a theme: shame. Sometimes shame appears due to the "wreckage of the past" and regrets that alcoholics may have about actions while drinking. The most surprising form of shame is that many alcoholics get sober and feel embarrassed and fearful that others will find out. However, they often did not feel the same emotions about their active alcoholism that may have been more public or obvious.

My hope for all sober alcoholics is that they can begin to feel a sense of pride for the courage they have had in facing their addiction and seeking help. Loved ones can be supportive in terms of giving positive feedback even though there may be lingering resentments. There is always time to work through those issues once the individual is stable emotionally and in their sobriety.

Dr. Brene Brown has explored the topics of shame and vulnerability in a way that has resonated with the public and resulted in over 6 million views of her TED Talks. As a result of her work, she has started a dialogue about this topic that is in turn decreasing these feelings through the process of identification end education.

The movie "The Anonymous People" speaks to this theme as well, as it addresses the idea that the 12-Step culture embraces anonymity for many beneficial reasons. However, over time alcoholics in long-term recovery may become paranoid about ever revealing that they are sober to others. This secrecy is protective in early sobriety, but over time it may contribute to feelings of shame about being an alcoholic- even after getting sober. It also may prevent them from helping other alcoholics in the community of in their family, because no one knows that they are sober alcoholics. The movie discusses a movement of individuals identifying publicly as "I am an alcoholic in long-term recovery" to transition to a feeling of pride about this accomplishment. The Facing Addiction foundation has made great progress in this area and I admire and commend their advocacy work.

May shame turn to pride for all of those who are brave enough to admit they are alcoholic and who seek support and treatment!

For more information and resources about the topic of high-functioning alcoholics, please visit

More from Sarah A. Benton LMHC, LPC, LCPC, AADC
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