The Two Pillars of Recovery®

The Two Pillars of Recovery® Ask For Help!

Ever wonder why so many of us lose our voices at the precise moment we need to ask for help? Credit shame, the pivotal emotion that drives self-defeating behavior, together with all-or-nothing thinking, our most common cognitive distortion.

“Shame,” much like “stress,” means different things to different people. Here, shame refers to our ongoing sense that we are imperfect. Our sense of an imperfect self can serve us well—provided we accept it and are open about it with other human beings. Then it generates empathy and positive interpersonal connections. But all too often shame is toxic. We feel convinced we are less than, unworthy, and deserve to be rejected. We may automatically believe that, at all costs, we must not reveal our true selves, fearing that if we do, other people will want nothing to do with us.

We all have a personal burden of shame that is toxic. Shame develops (just as the very structure of the brain develops) through interactions with other people. When people disrespect us—when they communicate disrespect for our person and our limitations through myriad subtle or obvious forms of abuse and neglect, particularly in childhood—the resulting shame pollutes our perceptions of ourselves and impairs our ability to accept ourselves as we are. No one escapes shame because none of us grew up with perfect people around us; no one had perfect parents, siblings, other relatives, teachers, preachers, or friends.

To ask for help is to admit we are less than perfect. All-or-nothing thinking says, “If I am flawed in any way, then I am worthless.” Put this distortion together with a germ of healthy self-respect. “Wait a minute! Darn it! I’m not worthless!” This leads to, “No way am I going to prove I’m worthless when I’m not! I’d rather die than ask for help!”

Sadly, some people with addiction do die because they don’t ask for help. They never learned that: The way out of shame is through it. Honesty is more important than image. It is more important to be practical than it is to be proud.

Shame is created by toxic interactions with people. The remedy for shame is nourishing interactions with people. As long as we live, the neuroplasticity of the brain allows even deeply established patterns of feeling and thinking to change in response to experience. If we wish to reduce shame and increase our sense of self-worth, thereby becoming less self-defeating and more adaptive, we must find and then actually engage in nourishing interpersonal relationships.

The first obstacle to engaging in nourishing relationships is finding people who are capable of giving us the respect we deserve and need. Professional help is one option. Mutual help meetings are another—many individuals experience more unconditional acceptance at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, or Refuge Recovery than they experienced growing up in their family.

The second obstacle, once we have found respectful others to interact with, is finding our voice. Honest self-disclosure is required. The process may be gradual but, if we are to benefit, we need to open our story and our feelings to these nonjudgmental other people. Interacting with honesty and spontaneity (authenticity) can be difficult for those coming from active addiction. They are used to doing the opposite.

It is tragic that some individuals commit themselves to unhealthy isolation by identifying with roles that cut them off from other people, not realizing that other people are what they need most. They may call themselves a “loner,” “not a people person,” or a “mountain man.” But no matter what they call themselves, stubbornly remaining in these roles makes as much sense as a dried-out plant putting up an umbrella when it’s raining.


“…openness is the first step toward recovery… addiction remains a secret because of the overwhelming shame associated with it.”

~ David Sheff, Afterword, Beautiful Boy

“No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself.”

~ James Russell Lowell

“And it helps to also be thoroughly sincere in dealing with others.”

~ Geoff Kane

“The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere.”

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Geoff Kane, MD, MPH

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