Guilt and Shame in Recovery

Many people that suffer from addiction feel guilt about the bad decisions that they’re making. Unfortunately, addiction is a strong disease that causes people to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. As those that suffer from addiction make more and more mistakes, their guilt starts to persist and turn into shame. Once this happens, and you suffer from both shame and addiction, recovery seems nearly impossible. As difficult as it is overcoming shame in recovery, you need to do it to maintain sobriety.

What are Guilt and Addiction?

Guilt in addiction is when you feel remorse over a mistake that you made while under the influence of drugs. For example, if you promised yourself that you weren’t going to drink at your work holiday party, but got drunk anyway and slandered your boss’s name, you might wake up the next morning feeling guilty about being so mean and uncouth around your boss and co-workers. 

Feeling immediate guilt or remorse over personal wrongdoings and moral failures is natural. It’s what keeps people morally accountable for their actions. Plus, hopefully after you right your wrongs, guilt over a particular action or mistake will go away. 

Thus, feeling guilt in addiction is somewhat of a good thing. In fact, feeling guilt over a particular wrongdoing could be the wake-up call that you need to make you want to attend treatment. It’s when guilt persists to the point where you’re constantly speaking to yourself in a demeaning manner and questioning your overall self-worth on a regular basis that it turns into shame and becomes a negative and dangerous emotion. 

What are Shame and Addiction?

Shame and addiction is a persistent, self-loathing feeling that makes you feel inadequate and worthless. When people feel shame over something, they don’t just feel remorse over a particular action that they did. Instead, they feel that every particular action and mistake is a sign of their overall worthlessness. 

Thus, when a person commits a mistake, failure, or wrongdoing, he or she may initially feel guilt. When that person allows those feelings of guilt to persist too long though, it can turn into shame. 

Once a person feels shame and addiction, he or she will likely withdraw from others. This is because that person feels that he or she isn’t worth the time of others. People that constantly feel shame and addiction will even start to feel disconnected from themselves.

Many people suffer from guilt and shame in addiction.

People that feel shame and addiction will constantly tell themselves things like, “I don’t deserve to be loved,” “I suck at everything,” “I’m a failure,” “I’m never going to be good enough,” etc. When people that suffer from addiction are constantly telling themselves statements such as these, it allows them to wallow in their addiction longer. This is because people that feel shame and addiction don’t feel like they’re even worth recovery. 

Guilt vs. Shame in Addiction

Many people use the terms of guilt and shame interchangeably. These two terms are two different things though. As we mentioned earlier in the article, guilt is a feeling of remorse over a particular mistake. 

Shame, on the other hand, is a constant feeling of inadequacy and unworthiness. Thus, while you may feel guilty for being mean to someone one day, you’ll get over it once you right your wrong and apologize. On the other hand, when a person feels shame, he or she uses a guilty moment as a form of justification for his or her total unworthiness as a human being. 

How Does Guilt Feed Addiction and Fuel Relapse

When used properly, guilt shouldn’t feed addiction. In fact, feeling guilt is often good for people that suffer from addiction. Guilt is what can make someone that suffers from addiction want to make a change in his or her life. 

Guilt about a specific incident can even be what ends up making a person want to go to treatment. This is because people that feel guilt and addiction are likely recognizing specific alcohol or drug-related mistakes that they made. Thus, people that feel guilt are also likely wanting to improve on or fix their past mistakes. It just so happens that the best way to fix addiction-related mistakes is through treatment.

How Does Shame Feed Addiction and Fuel Relapse

Shame is a much more constant and overarching negative emotion than guilt. People that feel shame and addiction feel as if they’ll never be able to stop using drugs. Thus, feeling shame and addiction can cause someone to feel like treatment isn’t worth the investment since he or she will likely fail at it. Thus, shame feeds addiction and helps a person suffer from addiction longer. 

When it comes to relapse, guilt alone doesn’t necessarily fuel it. If anything, guilt can help keep a person from relapsing. This is because feeling guilt about a particular addiction-related action can remind someone why sobriety is important. It’s, once again, only when guilt turns into shame that it starts to truly fuel relapse.

Shame fuels relapse. This is because people that have low self-esteem while in recovery will start to feel like they are unworthy of happiness whenever they make a mistake. Thus, people that feel shame in recovery will self-sabotage themselves and start abusing substances again. By relapsing, people that feel shame and addiction are telling themselves that they don’t deserve to be happy in recovery. 

How to Heal Guilt in Addiction Recovery

Step One: Admit Your Guilt

To heal guilt in addiction recovery, you must first admit to yourself what you’re feeling guilty about. Acknowledging the truth is always the first step in recovery. 

Step Two: Right Your Wrongs

Once you’ve done this, you must try to right your wrongs. You can do this by asking for forgiveness from the people that you wronged while suffering from addiction. Even if people deny your apologies, at least you can say that you tried to do the right thing. 

Step Three: Forgive Yourself

Once you try to right your wrongs, the next step in healing guilt in addiction recovery is to forgive yourself. This step is important because if you don’t forgive yourself for the things that you feel guilty about, your guilt could turn into shame. 

How to Heal Shame and Addiction Recovery

Step One: Identify When You’re Shaming Yourself

If you do suffer from shame and addiction recovery, the first thing that you need to do to start overcoming shame is to identify when you’re shaming yourself. To do this, you need to distinguish between making a mistake and being a hopeless cause. 

At the end of the day, you can bounce back from any mistake. Thus, stop telling yourself that you’re “always” something negative like a failure or a lost cause. If you are saying these things to yourself, you’re likely acting out in shame. 

Step Two: Change Your Thinking and Accept Yourself

Once you identify when shame arises, you must then change the way that you’re thinking. You must also learn to accept yourself for who you are. 

No one is perfect. Thus, instead of dwelling in your shame, remind yourself that you’re just a normal person that makes mistakes. 

Step Three: Redefine Your Self-Worth

Once you’ve accepted yourself for the wonderfully flawed person that you are, you must then redefine your self-worth. To redefine your self-worth, stop labeling yourself with negative titles, like “loser” or “failure.” Instead, remind yourself that your self-worth doesn’t come from your achievements or your failures. It comes from you being someone that’s trying to be a better human being every day. 

Dealing with Guilt and Shame in Life-Long Recovery

Like with addiction, you’re probably always going to have to be proactive about the way you deal with guilt and shame to maintain long-term sobriety. That’s because no matter how far into recovery that you get, you’re always going to make mistakes in life. These mistakes will bring about feelings of guilt and shame and trigger your desire to want to misuse substances. Thus, it’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to manage guilt and shame in addiction recovery long-term. 

Don’t Let Guilty Moments Last Too Long

One way to manage guilt and shame in addiction recovery long-term is to make sure that you never let your guilty moments last too long. By this, we mean that you should proactively heal your guilt anytime that you feel that it may trigger your addiction. 

Thus, whenever you feel addiction-related guilt eating at you, practice the following healing guilt steps. First, admit your guilt. Second, right your wrongs by asking for forgiveness from whomever you wronged. Third, forgive yourself for your wrongdoings. 

Proactively healing your guilt while in addiction recovery is important because it can otherwise turn into shame. Guilt turning into shame is a bad thing because overcoming shame is much harder than overcoming guilt. 

Redirect the Way You Think

To start overcoming shame and addiction recovery long-term, you must make it a practice to redirect the way you think. You should also deal with stress and mistakes better. Thus, anytime you start feeling down about yourself, you should immediately identify whether or not what your feeling is shame or not. You should also remind yourself that your self-worth is not in your achievements or mistakes. 

One great way to deal with shame and addiction recovery long-term is to speak daily positive affirmations about yourself. By reminding yourself of your positive traits and true self-worth on a daily basis, it will make it easier for you to deal with shame when it arises.

Sana Lake Recovery Is Here to Help You Throughout Your Addiction Recovery Journey

At Sana Lake Recovery, we understand how difficult it is to overcome addiction. We also understand all the guilt and shame that arises when one does recover from addiction. 

That’s why we provide different therapies, recovery planning, relapse prevention planning, continuum care, and intervention services to all of our patients. Through such treatment and aftercare services, patients can learn how to manage their guilt and shame in addiction recovery. To learn more about Sana Lake and the services that we offer, contact us today!