Stopping the Shame Spiral

“Sun is up, I’m a mess /

Gotta get out now, gotta run from this /

Here comes the shame, here comes the shame.”

— “Chandelier” by Sia.

When Sia sang about wanting to swing from the chandelier, she was singing about a woman who found herself going through the motions of doing things that made her feel wanted, loved, and accepted — all the while knowing the shame was inevitably coming. To deal she would drink till she lost count.

Shame has always been present in the rooms amongst recovering addicts. But we don’t need to have an addiction to recognize that the feeling of shame is perhaps the most uncomfortable of all bad feelings, pushing us to drive at top speed, head-first into a brick wall.

The reasons for our shame can be so varied and engulfing and can range from food and body issues, undignified behavior, not sticking to goals or resolutions, sex, wronging a friend, breaking a plan, leaving a hairdresser for another hairdresser, etc.

Embarrassment is a thinly veiled version of shame. Guilt is another. Sadness, depression, and anger are often heavily laden with feelings of shame. Behind almost every negative feeling, fear, or perception, there lies this dark emotion. We have learned how to name it, but we still don’t seem to know what to do with it.

A stressed out friend recently confided in me how ashamed she was of herself because she was meditating less and drinking and eating sugar more than usual. She knew the behavior was a coping mechanism, she even knew that it was temporary and would return to normal once the situation had resolved itself… yet, she was drowning in being ashamed of herself for not being stronger in her moments of stress.

The worst part of shame is that it forces us into solidarity. We go into a dark place within ourselves and swim around until we are drowning. We don’t want anyone to know, and we won’t ask for help. It can be hard to get out of.

While there is no quick-fix, being able to identify shame underneath the layers of what it masquerades as is a definite start, as is practicing loving-kindness towards ourselves.

What I have found works best for me (along with therapy) is having that one friend who is a little bit more of a cheerleader about me than I am. Whenever anything triggers me I immediately text or call her and tell her what happened and how I’m feeling. She will help me see the situation from a different lens, often with a bit of laughter and a lot of love. It gets me to a place where I can be more objective and nicer to myself.

So my advice to the reader is to ditch the shame. Go full out high school cheer captain on yourself… and others. Accept the shame, acknowledge it, and then move on. Life is too short to wallow in it. There are, after all, chandeliers to swing from.

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