Individuals recovering from SUD typically experience a wide range of emotions, especially during the first few months to a year after treatment. Struggling with our past actions can be an unpleasant and humbling experience. When you think back about all the people you may have wronged while using drugs or alcohol, you may feel there’s no way to make up for that. Oddly enough, guilt can be positive and at times, necessary—Guilt can motivate guilt and shame in recovery you to make positive changes. In other words, when you do something that makes you feel guilty, those feelings can move you to change your behavior, so you don’t make the same negative choices. A never-ending feeling of unworthiness and inferiority can cause depression, hopelessness, and despair until you feel disconnected from life and everyone else. The use of alcohol and drugs is commonly a form of self-medication for depression.

guilt and shame in 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. It’s common to experience guilt during addiction recovery, but it’s also important to move past that guilt and work towards preserving your sobriety. Guilt is a natural, human response to wrongful behavior.

How to Deal with Shame in Recovery

For example, if someone was abused as a child, they may transfer such abuse by bullying others. Such a recourse may be a temporary solution, but basically, it is just accruing more pain. Eventually, the bully will acknowledge how much pain they have caused, and the attempted recourse just results in more shame. First of all, what is the difference between guilt and shame? We may use these words interchangeably in a sentence, when in fact, these two words have significant differences and should be used to describe distinct situations. Simply put, guilt typically deals with harming ourselves, while shame implies harming someone else. Break away from guilt and shame and turn your focus to the present, on the person you are today.

Further, in addictive addiction, shame becomes almost unavoidable. Highly shame-prone individuals sometimes find it challenging to benefit from traditional cognitive behavioral therapies and may benefit from a compassion-focused approach.

Why Shame & Guilt are Dangerous in Addiction Recovery

In order to deal with the guilt and shame that often accompany a recovery journey, it is important to understand what those two terms actually mean. “Guilt” is how you feel about an action you completed, intentional or unintentional. “Shame” is how you feel about yourself when that guilt becomes internalized and you begin to feel like a horrible person. The chronic feeling of unworthiness and inferiority can make a person feel undeserving of happiness, health, life, and even love. Becoming ashamed of who you are as a person can also manifest in other ways like depression, thoughts of suicide, and risky behavior to relieve oneself of being ashamed. Shame is an emotion that is difficult to differentiate from guilt because it has to do with a reaction to a situation more than the situation itself. Guilt can motivate a person to apologize or make amends.

Can atheists benefit from AA?

Even for atheists and agnostics, AA meetings can provide a variety of psychological and behavioral benefits. AA members can fight off any residual feelings of isolation from their addictive disorders as well as ward off its resurgence in recovery by either simply attending or even sharing at meetings.

For instance, you might feel as though you’re not good enough no matter what you do or that you constantly have to hustle to prove your worth. These emotions are a normal part of the human experience, but the intensity at which guilt, shame, and regret are felt is often amplified in patients with substance use disorder.

Steps on How to Let Go of Shame and Guilt

It can cause you to engage in destructive thoughts and behaviors that lead to more wrongdoings. Shame can cause further hurt for yourself and others down the road. Knowing the difference between the two emotions can help you recognize what you are feeling and learn how to solve the situation. It isn’t easy to acknowledge the mistakes made while in active substance use. However, the whole concept of rehabilitation rests on renewal and restoration. To harbor negative emotions about yourself, like guilt and shame, is self-defeating. When someone inherently understands that their action or behavior was inappropriate or hurtful to others, that’s guilt.

Is it OK to leave AA?

Whatever your path is, know this: your recovery will evolve and your needs will change. It is absolutely okay to leave AA. That is your right as a person in recovery, and no one has the right to direct you otherwise.

It may impel you to right a wrong, take ownership of past mistakes or make amends with a loved one. The general public tends to brand behaviors that are viewed as different and less desirable than what is considered acceptable. The prejudice relating to substance use and mental health problems causes obstacles to getting care and support for people and their families.

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