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Dealing with Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery

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Alcohol or drug use often starts as a way to deal with difficult emotions like guilt and shame. When you self-medicate in this way, you experience the illusion of control over these feelings as your body’s chemistry changes. Your discomfort is numbed, and endorphins flow through your system. However, the effect is fleeting, and, as your body tries to regain its equilibrium, you come crashing back down and often feel worse than when you started. In addiction recovery, once you move past detoxification and early withdrawal symptoms, you begin learning how to cope with your emotions. Failure to address guilt and shame in a positive manner can derail a recovery and lead to relapse.

Feelings of Guilt in Recovery

Guilt is generally described as a negative feeling associated with violating your own personal code. It’s perfectly normal, healthy even, to experience some level of guilt when you begin recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. When you were using, you may have been oblivious to the physical and emotional pain you caused to those around you. Although it may not be possible to make amends with everyone, you can begin addressing these topics in family therapy which is often part of drug treatment programs. You might also feel guilt for no discernible reason at times. These unresolved feelings of guilt can damage your sense of self-worth and weaken your resolve to maintain sobriety.

Experiencing Shame in Addiction Recovery

Shame is a similar feeling, but it stems from violating the rules and expectations of those around you. Fear of judgment or feelings of unworthiness can develop when someone is struggling with shame. If you don’t deal with this state of mind in a healthy manner, you might shrink inward and stunt your personal growth. Some people feel the need to punish themselves when they feel this way, but this does not lead to healthy change.

Coping with Guilt and Shame in Recovery

Many of those suffering from abuse or trauma struggle with self-esteem issues. Patterns of negative thinking like when you struggle to move past guilt or shame in recovery can also lead to low self-esteem and increase your risk of relapse. Some ways you can confront these feelings in a healthy way include:

  • Examining why you feel guilty or ashamed and changing negative behaviors.
  • Talking about your feelings with a loved one, friend, sponsor or therapist.
  • Forgiving yourself for past transgressions.
  • Being proud of the positive changes you have made.
  • Valuing yourself as a person.
  • Avoiding reliance on the approval of others.
  • Empathizing with others to gain control of your attitude towards yourself.

Get Help with Guilt and Shame from Addiction at Design for Change

Understanding that addiction is a disease and not a choice is one of the keys to recovery. Your addiction is not a personal or moral failing. Your loved ones don’t want you to feel guilty or ashamed. They want you to heal from this disease, and so do we. At Design for Change in Lancaster, California, we can work with you to develop a treatment program that meets your individual needs. Our residential treatment center is a neutral space where you can join a nurturing community and support system. Contact our team today for information on how we can help you make lasting, positive change in your life.

A woman struggles with guilt and shame in recovery from addiction.