Daring Greatly and shedding shame

So over the Easter break I read Brene Brown‘s Daring Greatly.Β  I felt a little guilty that it had taken me so long to get to read it as I had read her earlier books quickly and voraciously.Β  Maybe I needed to be ready to read it and I wasn’t until now?Β  Who knows but WOW.Β  This book was as applicable in recovery as it was when I was drinking which is when I read her first two – I was looking for an answer then but still had the glass in my hand! πŸ˜‰


For me the focus has to be her work on the subject of the vulnerability shield of numbing.Β  Yep I had an A* in numbing and escaping myself.Β  In fact when I think back I’ve been trying to escape myself almost as long as I can remember.Β  As Rachel said recently quoting Caroline Knapp ‘same dance, different shoes’.Β  In childhood it was escape into books, films, sweets and chocolate.Β  In the teenage years it was friendships, boys and booze.Β  In young adulthood it was boys, sex, booze, drugs, overspending and debt and food again.Β  As an adult I added in over-working and ongoing study and then along came the internet!Β  Perfectionism was always present – perfect house, job, marriage, children, life …….. Β  When one substance or behaviour stopped working – I switched to another or had them all running simultaneously so I never had to come up for air or have to deal with being ‘me’.Β  As Brene says ‘We’re desperate to feel less or more of something – to make something go away or to have more of something else.’

So I read this chapter carefully and with great thought and reflection.Β  I’m going to share some of the key bits but really recommend you read the book in its entirety.Β  She postulates that anxiety and disconnection are also drivers of numbing in addition to trying to avoid our vulnerability and shame.Β  Her data described a range of experiences that included depression, loneliness, isolation, disengagement and emptiness.Β  And this paragraph really resonated with me:

Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out of control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded, and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger or better, we’d be able to handle everything.Β  Numbing here becomes a way to take the edge off of both instability and inadequacy.

I read this and it was like a fire alarm going off in my head.Β  Ding ding ding ding ding!!

Brene continues:

For me, vulnerability led to anxiety, which led to shame, which led to disconnection, which led to Bud Light.Β  For many of us, the literal chemical anesthetizing of emotions is just a pleasant, albeit dangerous, side effect of behaviours that are more about fitting in, finding connection and managing anxiety.

Yep I hear you Brene …..

So her research findings from those who lived Wholeheartedly:

  1. Learning how to actually feel feelings
  2. Staying mindful about numbing behaviours (they struggled too)
  3. Learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions

As regards anxiety she was quite clear that there were different types of anxiety and levels of intensity, that which was hardwired and best addressed with medication and therapy, and that which was environmental – the ‘crazy busy’ overextended and overstressed.

The solution to the environmental ones are about setting boundaries and limits to lower our anxiety and the research participants related this to worthiness with boundaries.Β  We have to believe we are enough to say ‘Enough’.

For me this was saying ‘Enough’ to alcohol and so I am closer to living wholeheartedly and tomorrow I’ll talk about the other shadow comforts that remain …..

PS Can I welcome a new face to my neck of the sober blogging world: https://1mum3kids0booze.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/day-148/

Go say hello πŸ™‚

18 thoughts on “Daring Greatly and shedding shame

  1. I’ve also only read this book in the last month or so – it’s just absolutely fantastic, couldn’t agree more.

    this bit that you said – this was me, in spades, too:

    When one substance or behaviour stopped working – I switched to another or had them all running simultaneously so I never had to come up for air or have to deal with being β€˜me’.

    so perhaps we’re finally dealing with it now in achievable chunks – oh, look, we’re back to chocolate, AGAIN πŸ™‚

    I also found this book really helpful on the parenting front – not so much as a ‘this is how you should be parenting’ but as how we can model behaviour for our children and hence start re-parenting ourselves, filling in gaps that have been in ourselves for decades, perhaps….

    another thought is that I wonder how all this vulnerability malarkey fits in with the neuroscience around addiction? if we are coming from a place of fear and seeking to fill that with the pound shop full of avoidance behaviours you describe, how does that fit in with the science bits? hmmmm…. feel a re-read coming on πŸ˜‰ thanks for this post as ever Lou and very glad you found this book helpful!

    and re remaining shadow comforts: let’s shine our lights into the dark corners , my dear – we are all here, and those shadows are retreating away from our little determined torches. xxx

    1. Hey Prim! It’s amazing when I think back how many maladaptive coping strategies I’ve had in play most of my life – anyone would think I don’t like who I am!! πŸ˜‰ I agree with the parenting aspect too. Ooh interesting question about vulnerability and neuroscience around addiction – I’ll drop Paul a tweet later! πŸ™‚ Yes we are shining a light on those shadow comforts – it all feels very Harry Potter as we try to defeat our own Voldermort xx

      1. Hi Lucy and Primrose, obviously this is a huge area of research to cover in one comment – I have various theories of addiction on my blogs so please check out this page in particular http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/a-brain-on-drugs/. My understanding of this topic is that we seem to have an illness of “just one more” before we ever touch alcohol or other drugs. Why is this? There are various contributory factors, say in alcoholism. If we genetically inherited, in an alcoholic or dysfunctional home, I think we inherit emotion processing deficits like alexithymia which means we have limited ability to read, identify and label emotions so this results in an undifferentiated, unpleasant feeling state which is akin to a mild distress. This results in a distress type impulsivity when making decisions – emotions normally guide health decisions by recruiting the prefrontal cortex in making evaluative, reasoned decisions. For alcoholics even in childhood and adolescence this distress type impulsivity of undifferentiated emotions means we recruit limbic regions instead, we react to undifferentiated emotions rather than act on them. The anxious amgydala in particular plays a greater role in our decision making than in healthy people. This profile of decision making is not helped by altered stress systems in those of us who have had insecure attachment, abuse or trauma in childhood, as this stress reactivity leads to a heighten reward sensitivity. We seem to like things more than others without this. This altered stress reactivity also leads to an “avoidance of emotion strategy” or a avoidant coping strategy as it is known as we find emotions “distressing” for the reasons given above. If one can not regulate (control) emotion via cognitive or cortical means we then try to “fix them” instead, if we find them distressing we often react by “making them better” we regulate emotions by external means in other words by eating sweets for example (sugar was my first addiction I believe). Insecure attachments and trauma and abuse not only exaggerate these above mechanisms but they also leave us with negative self schemas, we often feel bad about ourselves so we “fix this feeling” too. This just compounds our need to escape unpleasant and negative feeling states or emotions. Effectively we are running way, avoiding, our emotions. Replacing them with “soothing” rewards instead, as these rewards are almost like approximate emotional states. In fact negative schemas alter stress systems too and increase our alexithymia. So there you have it – genetic inheritance of emotion processing deficits with maltreatment in childhood leads to a distress based impulsivity to feel better NOW! When you mix in the stress based effects of alcohol over many years of drinking we simply end up drinking to relieve distress i.e. we end up drinking compulsively. When we start drinking this stress/distress based lack of inhibition sets us up for out of control drinking. This distress via stress also usurps all parts of self regulation ie memory networks, affect, attention and reward/motivation networks hence when we are distressed emotionally we are more in danger to relapse as distress activates all these networks. So to conclude recovery from alcoholism is learning to deal with distress – how? by learning to share, verbalise, identify and process emotion, to regulate emotion rationally in other words. There is no distress with emotion regulation – there is no avoidance coping strategies with stress/emotion regulation. Let go, acceptance, meditation, prayer, working with others etc all help us regulate emotions. The perfectionism mentioned above is distress based, the need to escape (avoidance) over working (workaholism) is distress based ie stress systems activating motivational systems in the brain to make us want more, more, more of whatever you got.. β€˜We’re desperate to feel less or more of something ” is controlling an emotional state in some way, however maladaptive. “anxiety and disconnection are also drivers of numbing in addition to trying to avoid our vulnerability and shame” is distress and negative self schema based. Hope this helps πŸ™‚ Paul

      2. Thank you so much Paul for taking the time and trouble to explain the connection. I think that comment warrants a post all of it’s own! πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for the recommendation and another great post dear Lou. Anxiety and disconnection seem to be common threads linking so much of our experience…for me the overwhelming core feeling at the back of it all seems to be fear, that great root from which anxiety and the other stuff sprouts. Whenever it gets beyond me to cope, I ask myself, what am I actually afraid of here, and that helps me separate out the leaves so I can see the horizon more clearly xxx

    1. Thanks Binks for sharing your experience. Looking forward to meeting you! πŸ™‚ xx

  3. Thanks for the recommendation. Her words ring true for me!
    Fear underlies it all – fear of being left, being unlovable, not being enough…

    I feel a book purchase coming on.

    I think i’m up in your neck of the woods at the weekend! We are seeing family in Saffron Walden. Is that up your way? x

    1. It is up my way Claire! The book is well worth the investment πŸ™‚ xx

  4. Thanks for this post. I am going to buy and read this book. I’ve been struggling for so long now, and I need to try something different. Annie x

    1. Do Annie πŸ™‚ Plus if you are stuck in struggle it sounds like you do need to do something different x

    1. Thanks Wendy! will read it as soon as I get back from my run – can’t wait!! πŸ™‚ xx

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