Shame is the feeling that there’s something inherently wrong with you, that at your core you are just not good enough. It’s a powerful emotion that is common amongst people who struggle with addiction – it may even be the reason they turned to drugs and alcohol in the first place. But it’s also the reason that many don’t seek help. When shame becomes part of your identity, you see the world through a self-defeating lens that tells you that you are not worthy of recovery. But what happens when you let go of those beliefs? Releasing shame paves the way to self-acceptance and makes recovery from your addiction possible.
So, how can you overcome shame?
- Acknowledge your past. Own your mistakes and learn from them rather than letting them define who you are. Those events have shaped who you are today, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to shape who you become. Release shame by talking about your mistakes – sharing them with others can be as tremendously cathartic!
- Look beyond your label. You are not just an “addict” or an “alcoholic.” You are more than your problem. Make a list of everything you are – daughter, son, friend, student, artist, writer, athlete – and step into those identities instead.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Bring awareness and acceptance to areas in which you struggle. Don’t shame your shortcomings! These are areas for improvement. Reframe your problem areas and opportunities to grow into the person you want to become and look at positive aspects that they add to your life.
- Practice forgiveness. Don’t judge yourself for mistakes you’ve made. When you were in the throes of addiction, you weren’t yourself! Actions you may have taken were the result of the disease and were beyond your control. Remember that it’s never too late to make a change for the better. You’re on a path of recovery now, and that’s all that matters.
- Be aware of shame-based thinking. Focusing on your past failures just emphasizes that you are “defective.” If your thoughts are riddled with judgment, it’s important to practice self-acceptance. Self-directed insults can do long-term damage. Stop telling yourself you’re weak, unwanted, bad, dirty, or worthless. Try instead telling yourself you are strong, loved, and worthy. Don’t believe everything you think! Observe your thoughts and let them go rather than internalizing them. Replace negative thoughts with more accurate ones. Look for evidence that your thoughts aren’t true.
- Practice empathy. Give help when able. Forgive others. Maybe you’ll learn to do the same thing for yourself!
- Create opportunities from your setbacks. If you have a slip-up, don’t label it a failure. Think of it as an ideal opportunity to learn how to do better in the future. Ask for help if you need it. Accept the challenge of a setback to become stronger and more resilient in your recovery.
- Affirm yourself. Say positive and encouraging things to yourself that lift you up rather than drag you down. It may feel like you’re faking it ’til you make it, but the more you tell yourself you deserve recovery, the more you will believe it.
- Build self-esteem. The more you value yourself, the less likely you’ll be to beat yourself up over little things.
- Try mindfulness. Gain control over what is occurring in your head and learn to simply watch your thoughts and let them go.
Shame in early recovery can present a dilemma. As you make moves towards sobriety, the weight of responsibility for past mistakes can feel overwhelming. Taking responsibility for your actions is an important step in recovery, but when guilt and shame move into self-blame, you might feel paralyzed and incapable of moving forward. It’s important to confront feelings of shame head-on, to deconstruct them and understand from whence they came to prevent relapse in the future. Don’t let shame be the roadblock to your recovery. When it isn’t the driving force behind your actions, you can go places you’ve never imagined.