To anyone who struggles with addiction, it may be easy to feel like the recovery process is destined to be forever lonely. What we know, first and foremost about addiction is that it is often inextricably linked with the experience of shame. In turn, shame can be incredibly isolating.
Setting the Scene
Consider the following narrative: A mother of two has had difficulty with addiction for years. Due to her addiction, she has made choices that place her desire to use substances ahead of the needs of the children, forcing her parents to step in and take care of them. When she detoxes from the most recent high, she recognizes what she’s done and the pain that she’s caused, and promises that things will be different.
However, when the next stressor reappears, she falls prey again to the pull of her addiction. Knowing she’s let those in her life down again, and deciding that she cannot bear the weight of emotions that greet her once she’s sober, she’s swept away again by the promise of feeling nothing. As this pattern continues repeating itself, she falls prey also to incredibly shaming beliefs about herself that she is broken, that she is incapable of change. Embodying this belief, she chooses to isolate herself, and shy away from any instance that confirms the fears she has for herself about who she is and what she’s capable of.
In this narrative, and common throughout the story of addiction is that overcoming these patterns requires finding the bravery to make incredible amends to those in one’s life.
Start With Empathy
One thing that is common on both sides of the issue is that both the person with addictive habits and their loved ones desire for their perspective to be heard and understood. Of course, it’s important for the supporters in one’s life to understand the twisted pull of the shame and addiction cycle, just as it’s equally helpful to remember that typically, family members and friends have suffered negatively due to their loved one’s addictive habit.
Parents may have had money stolen from them, friends or spouses may have been lied to or hurt as they slowly drifted down the list of priorities in their loved one’s life. Those in recovery need time, space, and a place to heal, but so too do the other characters in the story.
Recovery can be a painful emotional process for someone who struggles with addiction, due to the incredibly tense nature of facing the negative outcomes that resulted from choices made while wrapped up in addiction. It is actually natural to feel guilt and regret about what happened because this is the first step towards taking ownership and responsibility for your actions.
Stay Out of Shame
The key in this situation to not getting pulled back into addictive habits lies in the differences between the words “guilt” and “shame”. While shame is destructive and is centered around beliefs like “I am bad”, “I am broken” or “I am beyond repair”, guilt is adaptive, and focuses instead on the behaviors that took place.
Thoughts like “I didn’t show up for my kids”, “I stole from my parents”, or “I did a bad thing”, along with the resulting guilt experienced, is important because it teaches you who you don’t want to be. This ultimately helps you to construct a future that is very different from your past, based on what you have learned isn’t actually working for you. In this way, guilt is actually a very powerful teacher.
Get a Support System in Place
Overall, it is important to focus on the process of recovery itself and what diving into the mistakes of the past means for you. When it comes to facing those you’ve hurt most, it’s important to know that it will take time for true healing to happen. You may want to initially lean on those who are supportive when you’re in early recovery, before working to repair the relationships that may be the most difficult to face.
Know that with time these relationships will likely change for the better, but that the largest change will come from healing yourself first. Let us at Riviera Recovery be your support system today as you work through your recovery journey today!