By Sandy Baker
Addiction carries a strong stigma.
Many people, even those years into recovery, feel shame over drug and alcohol dependency. Even as you work through why you used, you may have a lingering feeling of letting others down or lacking the mental fortitude to just be “tough enough.” While shame may be something you feel right now, it doesn’t have to define your future.
Everyone Feels Shame
It helps to recognize this simple fact. Everyone has times in their lives where they simply hate what they did. You lose your self-respect and wish you could go back to make the better decision. This natural emotion is a direct response to a behavior. It’s a type of autonomic nervous system response—something you cannot simply overcome. It’s also one of the most painful of all emotions to have.
Sometimes, no amount of a therapist telling you it’s okay helps. You may also feel incredible guilt for what you feel you caused as a result of using drugs or alcohol. If you believe you are a bad person or unlovable, think again. A pattern of focusing on such thoughts can be detrimental to your overall well-being and your recovery.
Spot Moments of Self-Defeating Thoughts
As noted, shame is something people feel for many things. Yet focusing on it, even obsessing over it, is a sign that you need more help.
In addiction recovery, you will learn to spot moments of negative thinking that lead to poor behavioral decisions. These thoughts are a good example of that.
- Are you too focused on guilt and shame?
- Do you feel you don’t deserve to be happy?
- Do you feel your thoughts, needs, and ideas are not important or as valuable as others?
- Do you feel like you are a fake person or one that isn’t worthy of the time others give you?
These are the thought patterns you need to terminate in order to move beyond this feeling. Many people feel they must be perfect to overcome shame. Others feel they don’t deserve to live a good life because of what they did. Still, others just seem to self-hate no matter what good things happen. If you are experiencing those thought patterns, it is time to seek out support.
Recognize Self-Punishment Limits Your Recovery
No matter what has happened, you still have the power and ability to change the future. Yet, this type of self-punishment limits your ability to make better decisions. With up to 60 percent of people at risk for relapse from substance use disorders, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, you need to give yourself every opportunity you can to avoid this type of punishment.
When you focus on negative thought patterns like this, you are more susceptible to using drugs or alcohol again. Struggling with mental health disorders alongside this, including anxiety and depression mixed with feelings of shame, puts you at a high risk.
Take Steps to Overcome Shame
Here’s what’s most empowering to those in recovery. You can overcome the guilt, shame, and hatred you feel for yourself. And, when you do, you control your future. Consider these tips to thriving:
- Recognize negative thought patterns when they occur. When you start feeling those symptoms of shame, take a moment to recognize what is happening. You may feel worthless in that moment, but realize that thought doesn’t help you. Instead, consider a different approach. “I can’t believe I did that. It’s okay, I’m going to do better next time.” Though not easy, learning to transform negative thought patterns like this can empower you. It’s a key component to your behavioral therapy.
- Know when to reach out for help. Focusing more than a few minutes on feelings of shame can quickly spiral out of control. As soon as you start to dwell on such thought patterns, reach out to a friend or family member. They don’t need to try to prove to you that you have nothing to be shameful about, but rather should listen to the way you feel. Just talking it out can help. If you feel depressed or unable to reach other people, turn to your counselor for support.
- Learn to forgive yourself. Another component of your drug and alcohol rehabilitation will be to forgive yourself. You don’t need to make excuses. Rather, you need to recognize what happened and then move forward. Learning to forgive yourself can help release some of the guilt you feel.
A final thought to keep in mind is just how important it is to rebuild your self-worth while in recovery. By finding new things to learn and do, you are developing confidence, self-respect, and independence from needing approval from others. Let go of shame and be proud of what you are building!