The struggle to recover from addiction is a lifelong process. Everything a person does while addicted to drugs or alcohol seems like something in another life.
It is hard to reconcile this was the same person who did those things that are now recovering their life on the other side. Dependence on a substance means a person may do whatever possible to go after that substance to satisfy their craving.
After beginning the journey to recovery, it may be common to feel guilty and ashamed of things done while addicted. Sitting in those feelings for too long is a good way to set a person up for relapse. Learn more about the shame cycle in recovery and how to learn ways to let go and heal.
Guilt vs. Shame
While guilt and shame seem like similar emotions, they are actually quite different. Guilt is when a person feels bad about something that was done. Guilt is about saying something or doing something while intoxicated or under the influence that is regretful. Shame is a step further which acknowledges that a person feels bad for their actions when they shouldn’t have. Internalizing this guilt can have long-lasting ramifications.
Shame is an emotion that is difficult to differentiate from guilt because it has to do with a reaction to a situation more than the situation itself. Guilt can motivate a person to apologize or make amends. Shame might keep a person hiding self-destructive thoughts and patterns of feelings so they don’t have to face them.
Risks of Guilt and Shame
In recovery, dwelling on guilt can lead to feelings of shame. Shame is a deep-seated feeling that can be dangerous. A person may begin to feel they deserve to feel bad about themselves. This leads them to punish themselves for things they did in addiction. To break the cycle of guilt and shame in addiction takes time. It means fighting the risks of guilt and shame firsthand. Many of the risks include:
- Becoming isolated
- Triggers to relapse
- Exacerbated mental health issues
- Concerns about how they will be perceived by others
- Poor self-esteem and confidence
Breaking the Shame Cycle
In looking to break the cycle of shame and guilt, a person needs to focus on their goals in recovery. To get out of this cycle takes time. It means looking at everything together and noticing how it all plays a role in the shame and guilt cycle a person gets into. Here are some small steps towards countering the cycle of shame in recovery to find hope and healing.
Recognize the Feelings
Even when feelings arise, they feel valid. After a while, they seem the norm more than anything else. Coming out of addiction, it is easy to be critical of oneself and recognize the challenges and still be hard on oneself. No one deserves to kick themselves over and over out of guilt and shame. Yes, things that were done caused pain to others and oneself but dwelling on them does nothing more than cause self-destruction. Recognizing this is the key to moving forward and finding healing.
Ask for Forgiveness
Forgiveness is one of the hardest, most rewarding parts, of recovery. Everyone makes mistakes. When a person chooses to change their trajectory in recovery and fight back by making amends to those harmed, they begin to find healing. Even if a person has done their best to make amends and put their actions behind them, they can seek forgiveness from themselves. Asking others may take time. They may not want to forgive now or at any time in the near future. It is okay to put it out there and let them think about it. Self-forgiveness also takes time, so don’t hesitate to start working on how to forgive yourself and heal.
Control is an illusion everyone holds onto. At some point, people realize there are things they can control and things they cannot. Moving forward in recovery means letting go of the past and not holding onto addiction, the guilt of hurting people, or shame. This is a huge step forward in the right direction. To let go means to leave behind these feelings and start to think about a healthy perspective on life, free of shame and guilt for the past. To let go is to acknowledge that shame and blame have no power over your life anymore. It does not change the circumstances but changes how people feel about themselves in light of those circumstances.
Seeking help from therapists, counselors, and others who understand the shame cycle can be healing, also. Don’t stop short of asking for additional help. It is never too much to ask for what you need. If you are struggling to let go of the past and it is triggering you in recovery, reach out. Let someone know and ask them to give you some steps in a forward motion that will help you recover and find hope again.