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As humans, we have an innate desire for connection. We want to feel accepted by the people in our lives, whether it be friends, family, or significant others. We want to feel like we belong. One of the biggest roadblocks to belonging is feeling shame: shame about things that happened in the past, shame about habits or actions or choices.

Author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

A disease of isolation

When someone lets shame drive their life, they start to believe that they are not enough. They believe that there is something fundamentally bad about who they are, and they begin to isolate as a result of that.

Addiction is a disease of isolation and disconnection. This isolation comes in many different forms, whether it be losing relationships with family, walking away from community, or disengaging at work. In active addiction, shame causes someone to be disconnected not only from those around them, but also from themselves.

Listen to Caryn B.’s story of finding support and acceptance in her community at MARR:

The cycle of shame

At the core of addiction is an attempt to escape reality. If we do not know how to identify and process our feelings and emotions, it can be much easier to run from them than to face them. These emotions can stem from stress, trauma, abuse, or anything in between. For an individual who suffers from addiction, drugs or alcohol become a vehicle of temporary escape.

Addiction perpetuates a cycle of shame. Shame about past actions or experiences can push people towards substance abuse. Society’s stigmas about addiction can fuel more shame, which in turn pushes people back to drugs and alcohol to escape again.

As this cycle goes on and on, it digs deeper into one’s life. It fuels hopelessness, and someone may not think that they even deserve help or treatment because of this idea that they are a “bad” person.

Breaking the cycle: acceptance and community

In order to break the cycle of shame and escapism, we must use tools to combat these patterns. The opposite of escaping is engaging. Engaging with one’s emotions and with people who are willing to listen.

It takes a lot of courage to show up in recovery. It takes even more courage to present your true self: fears, failures, and messy feelings included. But this courage paves the way to true belonging.

At MARR, true belonging is found within the therapeutic community. We tend to use this phrase a lot, simply because it is at the very core of who we are. We believe that lasting recovery requires growth and support. In order to grow, you need to know that you are not alone.

These communities create a safe space to begin a journey of recovery. With a home-like setting, a balance of daily activities, and group accountability, clients begin to develop the tools that they need for recovery.

These tools include:

  • Learning how to identify and process feelings and emotions
  • Developing healthy rhythms of work, rest, and responsibility
  • Dealing with conflict and setting boundaries
  • Setting and working towards goals

This kind of community is built on vulnerability and acceptance. This includes acceptance of others and self-acceptance. If you want to experience true acceptance, you have to be willing to show up exactly as you are and face the parts of yourself that are scary. In turn, you will be met with empathy and understanding from people who are walking alongside you towards a life of recovery.

You will be accepted at your worst. You will be accepted in the middle of the process when everything is messy. You will be accepted without any sign of perfection.


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