Tear down the walls of shame

Monday, November 05, 2018 - Updated: 10:49 am

By Father Michael Decewicz

It has been my experience that one of the greatest impediments to recovery is shame. Shame is the wall that encloses the addict in a world of crippling self-pity that only nourishes self-centeredness.

The toxicity of shame allows the addict to delude himself to believe that he is somehow unworthy of wellness. By immersing himself in self-pity, the addict continues to keep himself as the center of the universe.

A healthy sense of guilt allows a person to look honestly at their failures, sin and shortcomings, and move them to conversion. Shame, on the other hand, nourishes an individual’s sense of failure; imprisoning him or her in the shackles of a wounded and broken ego.

The great lie of shame is that it is just another expression of narcissism and self-pity — a way to avoid confronting one’s own disease, owning and claiming responsibility for one’s actions, attitudes and behavior. This can keep the addict from believing he is worthy of recovery, never mind working for recovery.

The only way to tear down the wall of shame is to expose the lie that supports the wall. Shame is the cancer that, left untreated, will destroy the addict. It is the malignant tumor that must be removed so the seed of recovery can be planted.

How then can we tear down the wall of shame that imprisons the active addict/alcoholic? First, I think we need to not just say addiction is a disease, but believe it, and show it by our actions and attitudes.

If your son, daughter or spouse was a diabetic you would not blame him/her for their disease; you would not be ashamed of their disease.

You wouldn’t avoid seeking treatment for their condition. Then why, if addiction is a disease, do we blame the addict, be ashamed of the addict, avoid accepting the need for treatment for the addict?

Although we say addiction is a disease, our actions may indicate that it is a moral choice and failure.

Now having said this, we also need to hold the addict/alcoholic responsible and accountable for poor choices and actions.

It would be unfair and unhelpful for us to accept or accommodate inappropriate, harmful or destructive behavior on behalf of the active alcoholic/addict.

The wall of shame enslaves the active addict/alcoholic in a prison of self-centeredness that only feeds the falsehood of worthlessness that impedes the path to recovery and wellness.

Let us together work to tear down the wall of shame.


Father Decewicz is senior parochial vicar in the parish grouping that includes St. Joseph in O’Hara Township, St. Juan Diego in Sharpsburg, St. Pio of Pietrelcina in Blawnox/Harmar and St. Scholastica in Aspinwall. He heads the recently established Addiction Recovery Ministry, based in Sharpsburg.

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