The Sober Journey off the Shame Train and onto the Freedom Trail

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When we begin our sobriety journey, we are often ready to jump onto the Shame train. Let’s derail that train and escape, for right next to the Shame Train, there is a Freedom Trail. Look, I get it.  Now that we are alcohol-free, our mistakes from the past are no longer wiped down by the mist found on the beer stein.  We are finally coming to grips with the fact that we drank too much, and with sober clarity, we see how poorly we behaved whilst drinking.  

I don’t attend AA, and I am only familiar with the steps based on podcasts and articles I’ve read.  I understand that AA suggests that you “make amends” with people you’ve hurt in the past. I get that, I do… but on the other hand, making amends can undo all of the hard sober work.  Simply reaching back into your past, to re-live the nasty behavior is hard enough… but then to seek out those that you hurt and to apologize can be risky.  



The movie script says that if you apologize, the hurt person is supposed to graciously accept it, followed by a heartfelt “I forgive you, too.” The script may call for some tears, and perhaps it suggests hugs to follow.  But what happens if the script goes sideways and is torn up in your face?  What if this person is so hurt by what you did… that time did not heal their wounds?  What if they reject your apology, ugly cry, scream at you to “bugger off”, and storm away?  The fear of this possibility can be so overwhelming that it prevents any initiative from us to get sober, and to stay that way.

I’m here to say to get off the Shame Train.  



As a mom of four, there were many times that my kids would get into nonsensical arguments, and as the parental referee, I would often demand an apology from one to the other… “Sorrrrryyyyy!”... one brother would say to the other. I would scold the insincerity: “Say it like you mean it!!!”, to which the smirking son would put on a “charming” smile and say, full of sappy, sarcastic sugar, “Oh, I am soooooo sorry!” (still not meaning it, but checking the box).  I could almost feel the eye rolls circling as I walked out of the room. The truth?  No matter what I said or demanded of my children, I could not force them to feel anything.  We need to remember this life lesson when it comes to expressing our regrets to people that we’ve hurt.

When thinking about our behavior during past benders, let’s agree on this:  we were wrong, period.  We should not have ____  ____ _____ (fill in your sin here)…. BUT there’s nothing we can do about it now.  In fact, if you express sorrow and remorse to the person you inflicted this pain upon.  It will not change what you did.  You know, and I know, that whatever it was…. it was wrong. Forgive yourself.  



There’s no reason to write an explanation outlining your wrongs and trying to justify to yourself, or to explain away that it was the “alcohol” that influenced your behavior. We all know that. What’s done is done.


So, what do we do TODAY, now that we are sober and committed to being that way?  How are today’s actions showing our loved ones that we are, in fact, better people?  (Well, maybe not “better people”, but we have a better understanding of our inner self, right?)


If YOU do not forgive YOURSELF, there is no reason to ask others to forgive you.



I remember when I was 17 years old, a senior in high school and trying to be a “grown up”.  My friend and I managed to get a bottle of orange flavored vodka (complete with orange coloring, ha ha), and we drank most of it.  I was smart enough to know that I shouldn’t drive my little blue car, but not wise enough to think about letting our third, sober friend drive it (she was 15 and without a driver’s license).  When I eventually got home, covered in vomit-  I was apologetic, emotional, and ashamed.  I can still hear my mom saying to me, “Look at you!  Look at yourself!  Are you proud right now?”  

The next morning, I woke up to a sleeping house…  I tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen, because I had to work at the public library.  I wanted to avoid my parents, and the lectures that were certain to follow.  I sat at the kitchen table, trying to find my equilibrium-  my first hangover.  My dad found me there, quietly trying to stomach a strong cup of coffee with cream and sugar. I wanted to crouch down and slither underneath the table… filled with so much regret and remorse. Shame. 

Casually, as if nothing had happened the night before, my dad opened the refrigerator and asked, “Did you have breakfast yet?”  My stomach recoiled at the thought of food!  “No”, I softly answered. “How about one of these?”  he asked.  He turned around holding a ripe orange, with a slight smirk and a twinkle in his eyes.  I burst into tears and ran to him.  He gave me a big hug and I whispered, “I’m so sorry, Dad”.   My Dad was a man of few words and hidden emotions, and so that hug still warms my heart when I remember it, many years later.  

“Did you learn anything, dear?”  he asked me…..  and all I could say was, “yes”.”Well,”  he advised, “the important thing is that you learned something last night.  We all make mistakes, but what you do with that knowledge is what matters.  If you make the mistake over and over again, then you haven’t learned”.   Lecture over.  These wise words were the gift from my Dad, and my past actions were never held against me.  

I was forgiven.


So as I hop off the Shame Train, I have to remember my Dad’s advice from my teenage years.  Yes, I’ve made mistakes while drinking, without a doubt.  Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I know today that the Freedom Trail is my new path, with a destination of hope.  When I’m strong in my conviction to be sober, I can address the past, but for now, I have to get stronger…. and that starts with forgiving me.  



How do you go Sober? ( more reading in blue titles)

B Be accountable Talk to Us We Understand
A Avoid alcohol like the plague  Ideas Here
L Let yourself enjoy regular sober treats  Ideas Here
A Allow yourself to cry when needed  Ideas Here
Nourish your body with good food  Ideas Here
C Create happy & fun memories  Ideas Here
E Enjoy the precious moments in your day Ideas Here

W Work hard to get what you want Ideas Here
O Organise things for less stress  Ideas Here
Realise you can’t control it all Ideas Here
K Keep going & prepare for success Ideas Here
S Sleep enough for body & mind rest Sleep Solutions


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2 comments on “The Sober Journey off the Shame Train and onto the Freedom Trail”

  1. Bingo. I can feel shame, or I can change my tomorrow. I’m 10 months sober and I have the clarity to protect my quit.

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