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Letting Go of Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery

Recovery is often an emotional experience. As a person transitions from a past that was dominated by active addiction into a healthier, drug-free future, they are likely to have a wide range of emotions. Learning how to manage these emotions, especially difficult ones such as guilt and shame in addiction recovery, can help you maintain your sobriety and protect your mental health.

Why is There Guilt and Shame in Recovery?

It is extremely common to experience guilt and shame in addiction recovery. Some people begin to abuse alcohol or other substances as a means of suppressing negative emotions such as guilt, shame, fear, and frustration. They use substances to attain a level of emotional numbness that they believe will protect them from these feelings. 

Of course, substance abuse is not an effective coping mechanism. Getting drunk, high, or otherwise impaired accomplishes nothing except delaying the inevitable moment when the individual is forced to face reality. This often occurs in early recovery, once the person’s body and mind are free from the influence of addictive substances.

Other people may be dealing with guilt and shame in addiction recovery because of what they did or did not do while abusing drugs. Taking an honest assessment of the damage they caused and the pain they inflicted during their addiction can be a difficult but essential step toward a better future.

How Guilt and Shame Affects Addiction Recovery

As the saying goes, it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to what happens that makes the difference. This is true in many circumstances, including when you’re dealing with guilt and shame in addiction recovery.

If you attempt to dismiss, deflect, or hide from difficult emotions such as guilt and shame, you might undermine your ability to progress in recovery. Guilt and shame fall into this category. 

The good news is that when you take the courageous step of directly addressing your feelings of guilt and shame, this can strengthen your resolve and bolster your recovery. Ending your substance abuse doesn’t magically make life easier. However, it significantly improves your ability to deal with the inevitable challenges you will encounter. 

Every time you address a problem like guilt or shame directly, you show that you are capable of far more than you may realize. This can serve you well throughout your recovery journey.

The Challenge of Guilt and Shame in Recovery

It’s fair to say that you may face certain unique challenges as you progress in your recovery. The way you are impacted by, and respond to, guilt and shame can be quite intense.

Many people may have been in situations where they were required to endure pain, demonstrate self-reliance, or prioritize others over themselves. However, in recovery, you may be asked to share your pain with others, seek assistance from your support network, and focus on yourself. This can be difficult to do, at least at first.

Many people may also feel guilty for the disruptive effect that their addiction had on others. In recovery, you will need to acknowledge the times that you let people down or actively harmed them. This isn’t easy for anyone.

Steps on How to Let Go of Shame and Guilt

Guilt, shame, anger, fear, and other emotions are only as powerful as we allow them to be. Your ability to manage your feelings and let go of self-defeating emotions can help you in your recovery and in many other parts of your life.

Learning about the disease of addiction can help you let go of shame. Addiction is not evidence of a low character or poor self-control. It is a chronic, progressive disease that affects millions of people around the world. Instead of feeling shame that you developed this disorder, you should feel proud that you are taking the necessary steps to manage your symptoms and achieve recovery.

If you follow the 12-Step recovery model, you will eventually arrive at Step 9. This step directs you to make amends to those you have harmed, except in cases when doing so would cause further pain to them or someone else. Making amends, apologizing for past mistakes, and recommitting yourself to living a life of honor and integrity are excellent ways to let go of guilt for your past actions.

How to Help Someone Else Overcome Shame

One of the many benefits of recovery is that it gives you the opportunity to help others who have had similar challenges and are also working to build a healthier future for themselves. This effort can involve helping someone who is struggling with shame. Here are three tips that can help:

Share your story. Shame can have an isolating impact. When a person realizes that other people have been through the same thing they have, this can ease their level of shame.

Remind them that addiction is a disease. They wouldn’t be ashamed of having diabetes or having heart problems, and they shouldn’t be ashamed of developing a substance use disorder.

Accept peers unconditionally. The fear of rejection or abandonment can exacerbate a person’s sense of shame. When a person knows you will accept them regardless of their past, shame can begin to dissipate.

Recovery is an ongoing process. Overcoming shame and letting go of guilt are processes, too. Over time, with continued effort and strong support, these goals can become realities. In other words, don’t give up on yourself, and don’t lose faith in others who are fighting a similar battle.

Find Addiction Recovery in Columbus, OH Today

September is National Recovery Month. Ohio Addiction Recovery Center is proud to be a trusted source of care for those struggling with an addiction to alcohol or other drug. Our facility in Columbus, OH, offers focused detox programs and other resources to help people end their substance abuse and build a drug-free future. Contact us to learn how we can help.

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