Active addiction puts people in survival mode; it leads them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Whether it’s draining the family savings account for Hydrocodone, stealing from neighbors, friends or coworkers for heroin money, or neglecting family events to get high – someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol must find a way to get their drug of choice, every day. It does not matter how they get it who who is hurt in the process – all that matters is meeting the need of the addiction, no matter what the cost. To an addicted person, meeting the needs of the disease can be more important than sleeping, eating, shelter, or any other type of basic human need. Because of the obsession with their drug of choice, people in active addiction often do things that cause them shame and guilt. Without the compulsive behavior caused by the addiction, you wouldn’t normally do these things – so in order to avoid remembering and reliving those feelings, you flush out the memories of shame with more drugs or more alcohol.
Beginning the Recovery Process
Many people beginning the recovery process walk into rehab with their shoulders slumped or heads hanging low – as overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt and resentment return. Without drugs or alcohol to buffer those memories of mistakes made, people that have been hurt, and things they wish they could undo, taking the first steps in recovery can be especially difficult. You can’t go back in time and change what is done, but you can work to reshape your feelings.
1. Recognize Your Guilt
Break the cycle of guilt and shame by recognizing that it has taken hold of part of your life. By facing your wrongs and taking responsibility, you are able to free yourself from the prison of those feelings. Remember, addiction isn’t a character flaw or lack of morals – it’s a disease that can be overcome. Guilt can make you feel as though you’ll never recover and can truly hinder your self-esteem. But by looking at your guilt as a springboard into a new chapter in your life, you will be able to find a life filled with acceptance, hope and peace.
2. Don’t Identify With Your Mistakes
Guilt can destroy your self image; it can push you to identify with your addiction; it can drive you to feel like a terrible person. Without properly treating guilt, it can consume you. Thoughts of negativity often preempt any other thoughts you may have. Refuse to let addiction define you. Recognize past behavior – but don’t identify it. The best way to start is by reviewing the good things you have done in the past – and now that you’re sober and beginning your journey into recovery – all of the good things you plan on doing in your brighter future.
3. Understand that Feelings are Not Fact
You may feel as though you will never be able to cope; as if you’ll never loosen the burden of shame. But, as much emotional pain feelings may put you through, the feelings themselves will not kill you. However, what you try to do to avoid those feelings – like drugs, alcohol, unhealthy codependency – will kill you. Feelings are not fact, and with focus, therapy, and recovery, you can change them.
4. Socialize, But Practice Social “Hygiene”
Addiction is a disease of isolation, and guilt can be, too. With feelings of shame clouding your head while in recovery, you may want to steer clear of friends, loved ones, and other people. When you are closed up and closed off by guilt and shame, there’s no way that anyone else can get in. While alone time can be healthy, isolation is not. Isolation will give you time to ponder on negative thoughts. Make the time to connect with others who will support and encourage your path to recovery – and stay away from those who put you down or surround you with peer pressure. Cleanse your friend zone, and fill it with people you can confide in, like a sponsor, close friend or counselor.
5. Become Vulnerable, But Stay Strong
Therapy can be the beginning to a new life. Most great addiction treatment programs offer individual therapy, group therapy, and continued care and counseling to deal with these types of feelings. It’s important to remember that part of therapy is becoming vulnerable – you will feel exposed; you will feel ashamed of shortcomings or activities you engaged in in order to meet the needs of your addiction. But with therapy, you won’t have your usual weapons of drugs, alcohol, denial, or anger. Vulnerability can be a key ingredient to change – and with strength, you’ll be able to deal with it in a healthy way. Guilt and shame can be powerful emotions that can greatly affect our progress in recovery and in life. Holding onto feelings of guilt and shame can keep you stuck in the past – and can even lead to relapse. Freeing yourself from guilt and shame isn’t a life long pursuit. With the proper care and therapy, you can liberate yourself from emotions that are counterproductive to your recovery.