I’m the daughter of adoption. I’m a proud and resilient adoptee.
I can say this now, but I couldn’t always. My story was once very different. I used to be an adoptee who was scared stiff of rejection, uncomfortable in my skin, and unsure of my worth.
You see, I’m also the daughter of alcoholism.
Throughout my childhood, my adoptive father was addicted to alcohol. Parental alcoholism takes a toll on a child.
My father’s drinking is a part of my life that’s been hard to share because, for many years, it was attached to deep shame. It’s taken time for me to fully understand the emotional damage of living in a household ravaged by this destructive addiction.
I was an adoptee who longed to feel safe. Dad’s drinking reminded me of how unsafe I was. His drinking also reminded me that I wasn’t enough. In my young mind, it was clear; I could never be more valuable than his bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
That’s the thing about shame, it makes you feel small and insignificant. It’s hard to talk about because, like alcoholism, shame is often experienced in the shadows. My friends didn’t know about the shame I was hiding. I never spoke of it. I kept silent.
They didn’t know about my dad’s drinking. How could they? I never invited them over to my home. They’d judge me if they knew. My family’s secrecy became the ideal environment for my shame to take root and grow.
Unresolved shame can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. I’ve struggled with all three.
Adoptees and children of parents struggling with alcohol addiction don’t need to feel alone. We can talk about the shame we feel and lessen its taboo.
Shame is a cesspool that can keep you stagnant in submission.
It’s vital to face the cesspool of shame, look around it, understand it, walk straight through it and out the other side.
There were three brave steps I took to leave shame behind. If you’re struggling with feelings of shame, I believe these steps can help you, too:
- I learned from Brené Brown the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I’m sorry I made that mistake.” Shame says, “I’m sorry I am a mistake.” My first step to leaving shame behind was claiming that I’m not a mistake.
- I learned to sit in stillness and with my shame. I went in and had a look around. The critic that I found there, waiting in the shadows, was most often me. I was the voice in my head saying that I wasn’t good enough. My second step to leaving shame behind was claiming that I’m worthy of my dreams.
- Shame says to a woman that you have to do it all, do it perfectly, and look like a beautifully crafted Instagram photo while you do it. My third step to leaving shame behind was claiming appreciation for who I am—scars, flaws, and all—over the expectations of what the world wants me to be.
It took time and action to find my strength along the path to healing shame. It took time to find my voice and to believe in that voice. Time to forgive and let go. Time to choose the present over the past, and faith over fear. Time to say no to secrecy, silence, and judgment—the three things shame needs to thrive.
My only regret is that I never had the chance to understand my father’s shame. I never really knew his pain. I believe he was consumed by a good amount of both. I say this because of the way he looked at me when he was dying. There was so much he wanted to say, but he no longer could speak the words.
Speak the words. Don’t wait.
Claim victory over shame!
You are not a mistake.
You are worthy of your dreams.
Show up with an appreciation for who you are and let go of the world’s expectations.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Shame is an epidemic that results in a host of mental health issues. Together we can find ways to get out from under the grips of shame and build a bridge back to ourselves and each other. A bridge constructed with empathy. A bridge paved with the words: I understand. I’ve been there too.