Discovering Beautiful is a powerful narrative about author Brittany Shelton’s personal struggle with addiction and her journey to recovery. Within the pages of her book, she shares some of her most personal experiences, diving deep into some important topics related to addiction, including childhood trauma, sexual assault, mental illness, shame, and domestic violence.
Brittany took a few minutes of her time talk with us and talk about her book, as well as some of the important themes in it. If you’re interested in reading it, you can pick it up on Amazon or head over to her blog Discovering Beautiful — Life After Childhood Trauma to follow her on her journey of long-term recovery.
Question: In the Preface of your book, you talk about why you wrote Discovering Beautiful. You wrote, “I believe in the power of storytelling. Stories inspire change. They help us feel less alone in our pain. They connect us to people and the world around us.” At what point in your recovery journey did you decide that you wanted to use a book to share your story? Would you recommend it to others who are in recovery?
Answer: “As I was relearning who I was and the things I enjoyed, writing just happened to be something that I remember being good at. I ended up becoming a stay-at-home mom and I wasn’t able to go to meetings. I still wanted to help people and be of service to them, so the book came to be as an idea because of that. As I was going through the process of organizing it, it became clearer. It was about speaking up for the people who don’t speak right now. We’re in a very critical time in our country where there are still so many people that are suffering silently and alone. It just became really important to me to speak to those people. I wouldn’t necessarily tell other people in recovery, “You should write a book” but I would say, “Use your talent, whatever that may be, to share all the things that you’ve learned and experienced.”
Question: You describe your relationship with your grandmother early in your book. You wrote, “For twenty years I called her to rescue me from my most recent set of self-perpetuated problems, knowing with full confidence that she would show up; even after she realized too late. Not only did helping me no longer feed her desire to feel needed, she realized that what she did have to give me, didn’t have the power to help me anymore.” Why do you think it’s so easy for loved ones to enable addicted family members or friends? What kinds of things should they be doing to help the addicted person instead?
Answer: “My younger brother is an alcoholic, so I’m on the other end of this now. First and foremost, I feel like what drove my grandma was guilt. I knew she felt guilty and I capitalized on that a lot. Now, as a person who’s trying to love and support somebody who’s suffering, guilt also drives me to make some of the decisions I make that aren’t healthy or helpful.”
“Years ago, I would have given you all those textbook answers like tell them no, be firm, and create boundaries. But when you’re in the thick of it and it’s a day-to-day thing, it’s so much harder to actually do those things. I think now I would say just be willing to be flexible and to change as you go and as they grow and heal. Commit to loving them but be flexible.”
Question: You wrote about “the summer of your spiritual death,” during which you are sexually assaulted. While you were writing about the shame you carried from this experience, did you learn anything new about yourself? How do you process feelings of shame now that you’re in recovery?
Answer: “It’s so terrifying to face shame and you’re so scared to show the world, show your family, or just look in the mirror, but that’s exactly what you have to do to heal from it. Vulnerability and intimacy were how I defeated shame in general. Shame controlled my entire life and I did not realize it. First, I got sober and learned how to just be a sober person living in recovery, but it took years to realize how connected this all was and how shame played a part in every single facet of my life. It really dictated my beliefs and how I operated daily.”
“I’m twelve years sober but I’ve only been digging around in the shame stuff for about five years, so this is still new to me. Now that I know that it happens, it is so much easier to recognize it, which Brené Brown says is the first step to developing resilience. Instead of living there and operating my entire life there, I can say, ‘That’s not me. That’s not how I feel. That’s not who I am.’ and put a stop to it.”
Question: You describe your first night in a shelter with your son listening to your abusive ex-boyfriend’s car making rounds outside. You wrote, “Hearing the sounds of his car somehow comforted me. I began to question my decisions and even my own sanity. I felt like I was going crazy, cycling from certainty to confusion so quickly. Maybe I made a mistake by leaving? Perhaps I was making a big deal out of a small situation again?” Knowing what you do now about addiction and domestic violence, what would you tell yourself in response to these thoughts?
Answer: “I was always seeking out that feeling of wanting to fit or belong somewhere. I cannot speak for every woman who has been in that situation, but I knew in my heart that that was not love. I think that was the frustrating part. I didn’t understand why I accepted that and why I kept going back again and again. It doesn’t make any logical sense, but I would just tell myself, ‘That is not love.’”
“I would also tell myself to listen to my gut and trust myself. I spent a lot of time second guessing my own opinions and I shouldn’t have. I was right the whole time. I think we should just trust our intuition. A big part of all of this is our self-worth. I didn’t put a very high price on my own happiness or opinions and I was only ever complete with a man by my side. I needed to take some time and just figure out who I was.”
Question: After the scary ordeal with your breast augmentation, you wrote that in the end, you could have cared less about how your body looked. You were seeking contentment in all the wrong places and suddenly, you were battling full-fledged addiction. In what other ways do you think people seek contentment or try to hide from the truth about their lives and their addiction?
Answer: “I think people tend to want to run from the hard things, especially those who really don’t have the critical skills to cope. In my opinion, I think that’s what recovery has been about from day one: simply being brave enough to face the feelings, shame, the past, and the mistakes. That’s what it’s all about. Just learning how to cope with the things. So, whatever your things are, they are not going to be fixed by wine or boobs. None of that was going to fix me or help me. I was always searching for that and I did go pretty far, but I was grasping at that point. None of it transformed my life or my heart. It was definitely a spiritual thing that needed to happen on the inside.”
Question: You said you hated your first few days sober. You wrote, “There were minutes and hours and days where I was convinced that my death would be such a ridiculous irony; it wouldn’t be the addiction that killed me, but the recovery.” Why do you think facing issues like shame, sexual assault, mental illness, and domestic violence hold people back from achieving sobriety? How can people push through these things and experience the freedom you eventually found in recovery?
Answer: “When addiction comes into play, it changes how anyone would deal with those same things. I also think one of the biggest barriers for achieving sobriety is the comprehensive care that’s missing. The care is not always holistic. That was a big issue for me and still is for people in my family.”
“Not having a support system is also another thing that holds people back. If you face issues like shame, sexual assault, or mental illness, you can’t do that by yourself. You don’t really know how you’re supposed to navigate all that without a solid support team behind you and people who are wiser than you who can cheer you on.”
“I didn’t completely lose everything and go back to my life, but I messed up. I slipped and fell on my face several times. I felt obligated to be loyal to a lifestyle, like I was almost betraying my family and my friends for leaving them behind while they were all still struggling. I felt guilty. It all goes back to support though. You have to have people that will keep you focused and remind you of the truth when you have so many different distractions.”
Like Brittany, so many other people struggle with co-occurring disorders and issues of shame, sexual assault, childhood trauma, and domestic abuse alongside their addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Nova Recovery Center can help. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with an admissions representative today.