Our Family Secret: Addiction and Shame

addiction and shame

One Wednesday night, my husband and I attended a class that Catholic Charities hosted at our parish about family stress. We sat in a partially-filled room as the topic of discussion focused on divorce, death, mental illness, substance abuse, and other traumatic life experiences. It was an installment of Wednesday night sessions titled “Catholic Things You Should Know”.

There was something markedly different about this class. It was as if a heavy blanket of discomfort had been draped across the room. While these classes are usually full, on that night, it was only at half capacity. Most of the people sat towards the back. There was less chatter in the room.

As I sat there and listened to the information that Catholic Charities offers to those like me who struggle with one of the lesser-talked-about problems, I started to remember how I felt eight years ago when I would have occupied a seat in the back.

AA: Ashamed Anonymous

The memory of those feelings of hopelessness kindled in me the desire to stand on my chair and shout, “It’s okay. I’ve been there too. You are not alone.” I remember the fear and shame. I thought that I had to be the only one in my circle of friends who faced this problem. Most of all, I wished that I could reach out to others in my church, but I was too afraid to do so.

You see, I am the mother of a recovering addict and alcoholic. And the wife of a recovering alcoholic. I didn’t dare share our secret. I didn’t want others to see my son or husband in a pejorative light. At that time, I felt like it was all my fault.

How could I open up to families that seemed to have it all together? Would they ever understand?

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A lot has happened in the last eight years. So much of it is nothing short of miraculous. I would even go so far as to say that the addictions of my loved ones have been the catalyst for my own personal conversion experience. My relationship with God is radically different today.

In my twelve-step group for families and friends of those who suffer from addictions, I am told that “we are as sick as our secrets.” I have found so much truth in that statement.

The Original Shame

One early morning, as I was reading the Genesis account of the fall, I realized something that I had never noticed before. It was something that changed the way I felt about our family secret.

Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.”

They felt no shame in their nakedness. For me, I don’t think of literal nakedness. Instead, I consider the stark, naked state of my heart and the condition of my life. Can you imagine not feeling ashamed of your worst actions?

I read on and noticed something that any faithful crime show enthusiast would notice—the timeline. While all is fine at the close of Genesis 2, in Genesis 3, Satan enters the picture and then all hell breaks loose. Literally.

If you read Genesis 3 from the beginning, you will notice four things that occur as a result of the Fall. Adam and Eve are afraid and ashamed. They hide and blame. I could see myself in our current situation, employing each of these actions. The fear and shame caused us to hide and blame. We soon learned that refusing to face the truth of a situation becomes a heavy burden to carry.

When we finally found the courage to stop denying our son’s problems, we had to go to God and expose ourselves—just as we were.

And that is when things got better.

Let’s remember that in Genesis, God already knew that Adam and Eve were naked. He knows us inside and out. Who did I think I was kidding by hiding?

This story became a weapon for me in our fight against addiction. Whenever I was afraid or ashamed, I would remember that God didn’t want me to feel those things. God is only Love. He wants me to come to Him in my hurting state so that He can love and console me. It gave me courage. I began to recognize who the enemy really is.

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Divine and Human Help

While it is important to always start by sharing our concerns with God, let’s remember that He made us to help each other, too. So how do we decide to share our most frightening secrets with others? Do we go out and tell everyone we see what is going on? Of course not.

Each person must prayerfully decide for themselves. I began to pray about who I should let in. That one action put God in charge of our situation. Then, as I began to share, my team of prayer warriors grew. My load lightened. I started to realize that each time I shared, many times the person who I shared with had a family member or friend who also suffered from an addiction. Over time, I came to see how many of us are afraid to open up.

Let me recommend that you begin by reaching out to your priest. It is a safe place to start. Then look into a twelve-step group. Everyone knows some version of your story and anonymity is practiced there.

Once you open up, life will begin to change. You won’t be alone. Then, you can find the hope that is needed to fight this journey.

Let’s pray for one another, in whatever capacity we encounter addiction or shame, that we may all bring our burdens to the God who loves us unconditionally.

[Tweet “Our Family Secret: Addiction and Shame #BISblog //”]

Jean Heaton Lovell is the wife to Matt, a horse vet and the mom to three adult children, two dogs and one horse.  She loves reading and learning about Ignatian Spirituality.  After facing family drug and alcohol addiction, she became passionate about reaching out to others whose families struggle with addiction.  It is her mission to change the conversation of addiction by sharing what she has learned about the Church and it’s history with the twelve-step movement and by offering peace and hope.

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  • Reply
    Angel P
    April 19, 2018 at 10:50 am

    I too am the mother of an addict. Thankfully, God heard my pleas for help for my son, and He so generously granted them. It has been a beautiful thing to witness the change in him and what a great young man he has become over the past four years. When things seemed at their worst, I prayed to God and Mary to please just help him and us. All I can say now is Praise God! I also know the feelings of shame. I still fight with those feelings today. I’m sure I always will, but talking about it has helped me as well as others who were or are going through the same thing.

    • Reply
      Jean Heaton Lovell
      April 19, 2018 at 11:19 am


      Thank you for your courage in speaking out. I think that gives others the courage to reach out for help!

      I’m so glad that your son has found sobriety. My son will celebrate three years very soon. It is a great gift.

      But, I also find that even though this was the worst thing that we’ve ever been through, it has also been a gift—of close relationship to God that may have never happened, if lives did not depend upon it.

      Again, thank you for sharing your story.

  • Reply
    Jessica Kresge
    April 19, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing! Almost a year ago my father died from his alcoholism. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen. But, as my brothers and sisters and I watched him go through this and tried to help him, we learned alot. I learned a lot about detachment in love and God’s presence and grace was with us through to the end. And I am confident God was with my Dad in the end, too.

    • Reply
      Jean Heaton Lovell
      July 23, 2018 at 10:05 am


      I am just seeing these comments.

      I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like you have learned about the gift of detachment. These burdens are too big for us to carry. I am grateful that you were able to find peace in the end.

  • Reply
    May 11, 2018 at 8:39 am

    It is really commendable that you shared your story in such a simple, yet wonderful way. Lots of people face several kinds of addictions and struggle with the process of overcoming them. My sister had been a drug addict, and I can very well relate to this story. We all were by her side to help her come out of her addiction. However, it is the tough time we all share together as a family and individually as well. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Reply
      Jean Heaton Lovell
      July 23, 2018 at 10:07 am


      Thank you for the kind words.

      My program says that we are ‘as sick as our secrets.’ So every share helps me to unburden, come out of hiding and lose the shame. Keep reaching out. Find a twelve-step program. And, never lose hope.

  • Reply
    May 18, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    We are as sick as our secrets. I agree so much with what you had to say about the shame and stigma surrounding addiction. This shame separates us from our community and isolates us from living in communion with the church. As a young person in recovery, I can attest to all of that. The more I am intentionally and thoughtfully open about my own struggle with addiction, the more support I find in my community and find that people love me for who I am and can relate in more ways to what I am going through much more than I ever thought. I’d love to see the conversation continue to open up in the catholic community. Please continue bring to light the struggles that so many people deal with though your writing! Its powerful to see that we are all more similar than we know.

  • Reply
    Jean Heaton Lovell
    July 23, 2018 at 10:09 am


    Congratulations on your recovery! I agree with you so much–we must open up and keep talking. That is my goal.

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