Drinking shame and our responses

So as you know I’ve been following Tami Simon’s Sounds True Self-Acceptance Project which I would really recommend!  This entire series has been so good in helping me resolve some of my lingering shame around my drinking and has helped lift my self-esteem and sense of self-worth and is completely free!


As part of this Brene Brown does a superb talk on developing shame resilience and during it she looks more closely at how we respond to shaming experiences.  In all of her lectures I’ve seen I’d never heard this before so thought it would be worth sharing here.

She describes us having three ways of responding to shame.  We:

  • move away
  • move towards
  • move against

So to move away means to hide or avoid.  This one really struck me.  When we get sick of making an arse of ourselves in public because of our drinking, we isolate.  We still have shame but it becomes a very private shame – which is perhaps worse and harder to get out of for us.  It is so corrosive to our self-worth.

To move towards means we go into people pleasing.  You know when you crawl around someone because you sense you did something wrong and you need to make amends.   You effectively creep or suck up to them.  Yep been there done that.

And then move against means you turn your shame outwards as a weapon.  Eeek done this too!  As my drinking got worse I found myself becoming more and more cynical and bitchy and cruel not just to myself inside my head but to others around me.  I wore my shame almost like a shield.

When we move against, doing any kind of self-compassion or meditative practice became impossible because I would laugh it off and belittle it as ‘woo woo’ and then drink later to cover my self-hatred for behaving and feeling like that.  I was just a massive ball of bravado with a small child crying in the middle of me who didn’t know how to get out.  Who didn’t know how to make it stop and was very afraid.

So Brene wisely says we need to build shame resilience.  For me step 1 of this was taking the leap of faith and stopping drinking.

Her 4 step guide is:

  1. Recognise your shame and your triggers.  How does it feel in your body as you will have a physical response as it is essentially a trauma response.
  2. Practice critical awareness and reality check self messages and expectations
  3. Reach out and tell your story
  4. Make amends

For Brene she says when she experiences shame she has to get away from other people and give herself 15 minutes to regroup.  In that time she doesn’t type, text or talk.  This is because this is when we are likely to act out our shame and move against whoever is around us.

I found all of this deeply reassuring and helpful as it put words to my past experience and tools to deal with it moving forward.  Did you know that I love Brene Brown’s work? 😉

What do you think?  Does any of this resonate for you too?

Edited to add: awoke to the sad and tragic news that Charles Kennedy had died.  RIP Charles and this is by far the best that I have read so far today.


10 thoughts on “Drinking shame and our responses

  1. I was really shocked to hear the news about Charles Kennedy on the radio this morning – so very sad. And his son is so young, too – the same age as mine. Thanks for the link to Alistair Campbell’s blog. xx

  2. think will have to add this project to the (increasing!) list of things to come back to if/when I am feeling sturdier… thanks for the link.

    think I would also say that for me the moving against was primarily against my own self. the self loathing was so enormous that I could barely think of getting out from underneath it. so glad that I did.

    also appreciated the CK link. this terribly sad news generated some useful family conversations here about how drinking can impact people’s lives – even the cleverest and kindest of us. xx

    1. Prim the Tami Simon stuff is not wobble inducing at all and can be listened to as audio so could replace Bubble Hour for a bit if you wanted? Yes I know what you mean about iceberg size self-hatred too! Devastating news about CK and I hope it prompts wider conversations nationally too in time xx

  3. Shame was one of my biggest motivations for drinking. I was a target of violence a few years ago, and not only was I disgusted with myself for how I reacted in the situation, but my superiors and those in charge blew it off like it didn’t matter because it would have made their organization look bad. I drank because it did a reasonably good job of covering up those omnipresent feelings.

    While I’ve made a point of not drinking my feelings anymore, the urge for ‘temporary relief,’ from those feelings, as Mrs D puts it, is still very present. So rather than live my life with something that needs covering up, I have just recently decided to face down and heal from the trauma of that experience.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience SC and I’m sorry you had a traumatic time that left you feeling shamed. I hope the healing eases the need for ‘temporary relief’ from those feelings 🙂

  4. Such sad news about Charles Kennedy ;0(
    I love the way Alistair Campbell writes and have read many of his pieces along with his novels. This article about his friend made my heart ache a little. You can feel his pain. Very sad x

    1. I agree Claire and I read that Alistair’s blog regarding Charles Kennedy was the most viewed post he’d ever written. A fitting compliment to both him, Charles popularity, their friendship and how it was reflected in his writing xx

  5. Ps – I have registered with the self acceptance project. This is something I could definitely do with some help on!!

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