Overcoming Guilt and Shame in Recovery


Moving through recovery is an important time in your life, but it can also be one where guilt and shame can sabotage your focus.

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” ~ Brené Brown

Moving through recovery is an important time in your life, but it can also be one where guilt and shame can sabotage your focus. Fortunately, it is possible to have these feelings and to continue moving forward in your sobriety journey. Overcoming guilt and shame in recovery is possible when you know how to work your way through these issues.

Understanding the Difference Between Shame and Guilt in Recovery

Shame and guilt in recovery often get lumped together but they are different. Shame is a feeling of embarrassment, and of being bad or wrong. When you let shame take over, it can seem like these feelings are your identity. Guilt, on the other hand, is based on an action of the past. You might feel guilt for a particular behavior or choice. Guilt can also bring up feelings of regret.

Why People Feel Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery

In early recovery, and even throughout your recovery, you may start to look back on where you were and the things you’ve done. By doing so, your past behaviors and choices may make you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Letting go of guilt and shame in recovery is important, but you'll need to work through your feelings first. It's understandable that you may feel uncomfortable about situations and past choices made in the grip of addiction – but you don't have to let it define you. It will help to talk about your past with a therapist or good friend to expand your perspectives about what happened so you can stop catastrophizing about the impact of your past self. Remember the past is the past, and that you are making progress towards a healthier future. 

“Your past is just a story. And once you realize this it has no power over you.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk

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Dealing and Coping with Guilt and Shame in Recovery

There are some great options to consider when it comes to guilt and shame. You don’t need to use every tool, but do find something that works for you as you move along your journey. Feelings of guilt and shame in addiction recovery are normal, but you don't need to take them along for the entire ride. Here are some ways to cope.

Talk About Your Sobriety

If you keep your sobriety a secret, you may feel like your journey is a shameful thing. Instead, talk about your sobriety. Tell your family, friends, an online community, or others you feel connected with. When you talk about where you were and where you are today, it helps you take back power and control over your life.You can talk about it with a therapist, a significant other, a family member or a friend. It doesn’t matter their qualifications, only that they are willing to listen without judgment. 

“Shame cannot survive being spoken.” ~ Brené Brown

Remember Your Feelings Aren't Facts

If you feel shame and guilt in recovery, you aren't alone. But remember that your feelings aren't facts. Anxiety and depression surrounding past experiences can trick your mind into thinking your feelings are the truth. While the situations that occurred are factual you are not the same person you were back then, so defining yourself in a negative light isn’t sticking to the facts. Think about who and where you are in recovery right now to minimize those negative feelings, so they don’t hinder the progress you’re making. Learning about recovery and sobriety can also help, so you can better understand these feelings and stop them in their tracks.

“Yeah, well, that’s just your opinion, man.” ~ The Big Lebowski

Forgive Yourself

Forgiving yourself isn't always easy, but it's very important. You would forgive a friend or loved one if they made a mistake, right? Then you should forgive yourself! You don't want the issues you feel guilty about to lead to more guilt or shame in the future. It's okay to acknowledge that you made mistakes, or to wish you'd handled things differently, but let the shame and guilt go with forgiveness. Holding onto those feelings will only hold you back.

Redefine Who You Are

Shame can make you feel like you're a bad person, even when you're doing everything you can to be better. Replace those negative characteristics with positive ones that define who you are today. When those thoughts of shame creep back in, remind yourself of your positive characteristics. Talking to your support network can help in coming up with these characteristics if you’re having a difficult time coming up with them yourself. 

If you are struggling to overcome the feelings of guilt and shame in any stage of your recovery, an online sober community can help. The Luckiest Club offers 35 meetings weekly to discuss issues related to recovery with people who understand exactly what you’re going through. With meetings for men and women, the queer community, and people of color, we have a place for everyone. Connection is an important part of recovery, and you don’t have to do it alone. Are you ready for the greatest adventure of your life? Join now with a 3-day free trial.

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