Vulnerability Hangover


In my last post, I showed you my privates: private pain, private shame, private guilt, and private struggles. I laid it all out there because I believed it would help people. I hit “publish” and almost vomited.

That was 7 weeks ago and I haven’t written another post since. I’ve spent the entire time fighting my way out of a “vulnerability hangover” – a term coined by Dr. Brene Brown to convey the regret associated with pushing the limits of the honesty comfort zone.

To refresh your memory, in the post “3 Years Sober: What It’s Like for Me” I talked about having a form of OCD called dermatillomania. People who have this condition (or it’s twin trichlotillomania, which is hair pulling) tend not to talk about it and as a result feel tremendous shame and feel freakish and alone. (Sound familiar, alcoholics? Any experience with isolation and shame? Anyone?)

I wrote the piece to be brave and try to help people, and guess what? I received a TON of emails from people who said “me too” as they expressed shock and relief that they are not alone. Most people did not know this burdensome condition even has a name let alone support communities and even a Facebook group.

With gobs of appreciative feedback, why then the vulnerability?

Back to Dr. Brene Brown for answers. (Sidebar: Brown’s books “I Thought It Was Just Me”, “Daring Greatly”, and “The Gifts of Imperfection” are fantastic tools for recovery and personal growth. If you aren’t already in love with her work you soon will be!)

Brown gave voice to the idea that to be vulnerable requires incredible courage, a counterintuitive notion because we have learned to equate the former with weakness and the latter with strength.


The payoff for being vulnerable, however, is nothing less than the eradication of shame. When we share our shame anecdotes with others who connect and utter those magical healing words “me, too,” shame evaporates.

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection,” says Dr. Brown in “The Gifts of Imperfection”. Blogging is about connecting, connecting is about healing, and healing comes from digging deep and sharing our truth. Dr. Brown suggests that if we don’t feel a wee pang, then perhaps we have not been open enough.

I know this and yet I had the hardest time dragging myself back to the keyboard for another post. I’ve already showed you all my stretchmarks and warts – what’s left? Um, plenty. I have a lot more to share and I need to bounce back from the emotional sofa where I’ve waited out my vulnerability hangover.

It occurs to me as I write this that each person who commented and emailed to say “me too!” had the same feeling. It took courage to share your truth and I want you to know that I am grateful for your willingness to be vulnerable.

Here is to everyone out there who writes, comments, email, speaks, listens, and reaches out. We are all heroic in our small ways.


    • Good question. I think it was harder to own up to my addiction in the first place, because I had no idea what would happen next. Over time, as I understood how my blog helps others, and how others’ stories help me, I became braver about sharing more details of my life because I knew it would make a difference to someone who was hurting. No one seems to be pouring over these pages on a mission to humiliate me or dig up dirt. The ones who spend time here are those who are searching for answers, who are hurting and looking for insights into themselves. I am honoured to have our journeys overlap.


  1. Found your website recently after a particularly shameful binge drinking session. Just started to unpickle and all going well so far. I had not realised how alcoholism was linked to do many other things including OCD which I ‘specialise’ in. Thanks for writing so openly and making me feel that I can do this forever and not only will I never drink but other associated aspects of my life may also become less of a burden.


  2. I have (or had) this Trichotillomania. I pulled all my eyelashes out when I was in grade school. Then I started working on the top of my head and got a big bald spot for my troubles. Bizzaro stuff.
    This is a little comforting in a freaky way.

    It means that I was weird before I became an alcoholic. I suffer for OCD, social anxiety, and depression. All the things a person wacked out of their gourd on alcohol for 6 or 7 days straight should have.


  3. Thank you unpickled and thank you everyone who posted here, it’s been a huge help. I am on day 6th sober, again. I have done this dance several times now, and I usually manage to put together a few sober months without great difficulty, but then I always relapse. This time it’s been by far the hardest until now, I don’t know why, but I am literally counting hours and obsessing every single minute with drinking.Actually it’s been a month now that I’ve tried to stay sober more than a day at a time, and I couldn’t do it. 6 is huge. Reading your blog and the posts helped me a lot!

    I wanted to reply to this post, because I found it serendipitous–if that word does even exist. The thing is, as part of my recovery this time, I have started writing a journal where I try to put my thoughts in order and dig into why I drink, where those feelings come from, etc, so that I can stop or address them. And what I have found as the most powerful feeling and strongest determinant to my drinking is shame. Particularly, shame at showing myself being vulnerable. Shame at showing too much of myself. As I write, I have a strong case of vulnerability hangover, after having had a “too honest” talk with my boss, about my career and my expectations. I mean, it was a career discussion, it was the best thing to be honest, and yet, I feel so ashamed to have admitted what I wanted. I feel like crying and drinking and forgetting about being as stupid as to be honest. At least, I was sober, that is my only consolation. That I know it was the real me talking and not the alcohol.

    One more thing. I have tried seeing many psychologists, therapists, etc. It has never worked more than 2-3 sessions. The reason why I gave up was because I know that I was never going to be able to be honest with them about everything, I would be too ashamed. Too ashamed of how messed up I am. I always lied to them so I thought there was no point in paying the money if I was not going to open up. To some, I didn’t even tell I had a drinking problem.

    Even crazier? Although writing this really helps get a load of my mind….I know that in half and hour, an hour, I will be so ashamed for being so honest. So yes, me too….I get it. Thank you for posting.


    • I LOVE your honesty so don’t you dare let the shame monster crawl in your ear. You have to be willing to be honest if you want things to change. It is the only way and once you get past the first few times, it does get easier. How are you doing today? What has helped you and what is holding you back? How can I help? How can we all help?


  4. Just checking in to say that I am now twenty months sober. I have been to funerals, weddings, boozy lunches, long flights and have not touched a drop. The way I keep myself clean is to keep telling myself that there are not too many people in the world who have the same determination that we have. It makes me proud of myself and of us. I think it is a small percentage of people. who like many of us on unpickled, are successful in remaining sober after 18 months. I love all of the stories that you share on this site. It is the only blog site I use and feel privileged to have shared my journey on it. I read it at least two times a week. I know that if I have another drink it would be like a terminal illness for me. I do not want that. I want to live to see my grandchildren marry and have children of their own. I have had breast cancer and am now four years in recovery. I believe that the cancer was a direct result of high levels of drinking and stress, both of which were way above normal. The wine bottles emptied faster as the stress levels grew. The oncologist says that he thinks that by giving up wine my cancer triggers are lessened. Fingers crossed.


    • I love to hear that you are continuing to enjoy your new life and I celebrate your health! There is a lot of evidence that alcohol has a direct impact on cancer and the health benefits of abstinence are enormous. That alone is usually not enough to get people excited about getting sober but once we are it is exciting to know that a difference it can make. Big big hug. I am so glad you are here.


  5. I found your wed site over a year ago and it saved my life.I actually take well to people that are not entirely “perfect”, ….maybe the profession I’m in. But, the more tarnished the penny the more I am drawn in like a magnet. So, that being said. I have had some tough times. No relapsing in the wordly flesh sense, just mental anguish relapses. Kinda like a two year old tantrum. “Just doesn’t seem fair”, that I can not partake like others. Sucks! Keep writing…Your way with words truly touches people.


    • Thank you so much. I am happy you found hope in my story, happy you saw yourself in me because we are all so much alike and yet we think we are alone. Hang in there. There’s joy and freedom to be found in recovery.It’s worth the effort.


  6. I’m glad I found this when I did, and I appreciate you putting it out there. I’ve been relapsing for almost 2 years and am 3 days away from going back into treatment…a different kind this time. I’m super scared I am going to fail after the first couple days. I’m hoping that people that have been through some of the same things can be my guiding light. See you again soon!


  7. So glad u r back. I have missed your posts. Check for them everyday. You are helping me make positive changes in my life! You are my inspiration. Thank you.


  8. Nice to have you back Jean.

    I am a big Brene Brown fan (Daring Greatly sits on my bedside table as I type).

    Your vulnerability is what attracts people to you, and this is why you are able to help so many people find the inspiration to quit drinking. So I hope you keep finding the strength to be vulnerable because lots of people on this blog will testify that it’s worth it for them, which I know means it’s worth it for you.



  9. Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth and reshaped them into a well written, clear, insightful version of EXACTLY what I’ve been feeling lately. My sponsor seems to have hinted to me that maybe my blog dishonors the tradition of anonymity, but I feel like it helps me and others, so why would I hide in the shadows? Also I got a new job and now I’m wondering what would happen if they learned my truth. It’s so scary to be vulnerable, but there is something so freeing about it. You are a champion. I hit my 30 days tomorrow and you were a big part of my success. Here’s to vulnerability and evaporation of shame!


  10. Aw Jean-without your vulnerability, I wouldn’t be coming up on almost 6 months of sobriety and yes, I get it…ripping off your clothes and standing naked feels awful, but look at all the people you have helped with your ability to reach out and be real. I’m still working on it, and you are paving the path for authentic living. I love you-warts, stretchmarks and all of you! Lisa


  11. Thank you so much for this post! I know it is such a relief to be able to talk opening about ourselves, but I also relate to the vulnerability hangover. You are doing a great thing by helping yourself and others to feel less alone.


  12. oh my goodness, that vulnerability hangover is exactly what I was feeling when I commented about my own experience last night. I literally hit “post” and fled away from my computer. I had originally thought about emailing, but I didn’t really want to hide like that. This is definitely a learning process.


  13. I too am an alcoholic. Totally shamefull and feel totally helpless. I keep trying to not drink wine but fail every time. I will just keep trying.

    Sent from my iPhone



  14. Having the courage to be vulnerable: what a poignant and powerful idea. Thank you for your posts – and for your courageous vulnerability. I really value your voice.


  15. Please keep blogging The me too’s…. Are so many more who’ve not yet started reading.

    With the help of God, I need to follow someone like you


    Sent from my iPAD



  16. Thank you for all you’ve done to help me (and others like me) in recovery. You are a source of great comfort and inspiration. Your insights are spot on and I now realize that I do not need to hide in my shame. Because of you I stand in the light of truth. I will be forever grateful to you for being courageous, honest, vulnerable and for taking the time and effort to share your story with the world.

    Gratefully yours.


  17. I have suffered from these conditions as well, mainly in childhood. It is only recently that I realised the symptoms were of a recognised illness, and only with your post that I made the connection with my alcoholism. I have been wondering why I have to be afflicted with multiple illnesses that carry social stigma! I have just realised that the OCD symptoms diminished as the alcoholism took hold. So maybe there are links with all these things. I’m grateful to you for making the links for me.


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