Many addicts in early stages of recovery feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame. Even non-addicts commonly struggle with shame.
While it might seem like feeling guilty all the time could help motivate you to stay sober, the truth is that when you dwell in these dark feelings, you could be setting yourself up for a relapse.
Read on to learn how guilt and shame in recovery can derail the process, and how to combat these feelings to maintain your sobriety.
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
Guilt and shame are similar emotions, but it’s important to recognize the differences between them.
Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done, or haven’t done. For example, you might feel guilty about the hurtful words you spoke to your wife when you were drunk, or about forgetting to pick up your child from school when you were high.
Shame goes a step further than guilt. Rather than acknowledging something that you did was bad (guilt), shame tells you that you, yourself are bad. Shame tells you that there is something deeply wrong with you that cannot be fixed. Shame tells you, “I am a bad father and husband because I did these things.”
Dwelling in guilt will often lead to shame, and that’s when you’re in danger. Shame cuts much deeper than guilt, and for this reason it poses an even greater threat to your sobriety.
Why Self-Punishment Derails Recovery
The self-punishment you endure when you dwell in feelings of guilt and shame can lead to a downward spiral of negative thinking. This type of thought process is isolating and unproductive, and it will not end unless you put an end to it.
Though you might feel like you “deserve” to feel shame for your actions, punishing yourself does not help the people you may have hurt, nor does it help yourself for that matter.
No amount of self-punishment will ever feel like enough, and you will get caught up in the cycle of reliving bad memories and engaging in negative self-talk.
Ultimately, shame-based thinking is self-destructive. It eats away at your self-worth and causes depression — and as you probably know already, feeling depressed and bad about yourself is a common trigger for using.
Tips For How to Cope With Feelings of Guilt in Addiction Recovery
You will learn in addiction recovery treatment that it’s normal for feelings like guilt and shame to “come up.”
When dealing with guilt, it’s important to acknowledge these feelings, listen to them, and learn from them. However, after you have absorbed the lesson, you need to release these thoughts, or they will stand in the way of your recovery.
You can move towards releasing your feelings of guilt by taking responsibility for the wrong you’ve done. Admitting the mistakes you’ve made, apologizing for those mistakes, and endeavoring to correct those mistakes is a great first step.
Forgiveness is a large component of the process too, both in terms of seeking forgiveness from the people you’ve hurt and forgiving yourself for the things you have done and said when you were using.
How to Overcome Shame in Addiction Recovery
Naturally, you’ll also need to learn to overcome shame as you progress through recovery.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Overcoming shame on your own is practically impossible because in order to process it, you need to talk about it — ideally in a safe, therapeutic setting, like with a substance abuse counselor or in group therapy.
Shame researcher Brene Brown says the following about shame: “The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
Says Brown, empathy the antidote to shame: “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”
Only by processing your feelings of shame with a trusted counselor or supportive friend will you be able to move past guilt and shame in recovery.
Wise Word Quotes to Find Strength and Inspiration
Sometimes, we all need a little pick-me-up that inspires us and helps us find the inner strength to face our fears or obstacles in our lives.
This is true for many of life’s situations, but especially so when the situation is trying to stay sober.
Here are a few quotes to give you the strength you need to continue moving forward, even when things look bleak.
“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” – Napoleon Hill
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha
“What lies behind you and lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa
“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” – Swami Sivananda
Get Started on the Road to Recovery
The first step to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is getting sober.
After that, you need residential addiction treatment with intensive therapy to help process your feelings in a safe setting, and thereby give you the tools needed to prevent relapse. Our addiction treatment center meets all of these needs, in an intimate, rustic setting.
If shame is preventing you from getting or staying sober, learn more about the holistic addiction treatment offered at Alpine Recovery Lodge.