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The positive progress people make when in addiction treatment is often shadowed by guilt or shame from the past. Addiction makes people do things they regret, but when that regret turns into shame, it can become a downward spiral. Dealing with shame in addiction recovery is the only way to successfully move on with a healthy lifestyle. 

Guilt vs. Shame In Addiction Treatment

Feeling regret about the past does not necessarily equate to shame. It is guilt up until the point that it evolves into self-contempt. Psychologists define a person’s guilt as their perceptions that a previous behavior was bad. The misdeed or wrongdoing is passively attributed to the environment or the intoxicant. It doesn’t amount to an equivalent judgment about the person who did it. Guilt evaluates actions, but it doesn’t lead to overarching judgment about the actor. 

Shame, on the other hand, is the feeling that the past dictates your current worth. If your past includes addiction, then you might feel unworthy of better things or inferior to others. Your identity may become one of an addict rather than the true makeup of your character. 

Unfortunately, continued shame is often followed by relapse. 

The Allure of Shame

During the addiction treatment process, it is common for people to acknowledge addiction with accompanied self-depreciation. The societal stigma of addiction makes this notion an easy one in which to slip. Self-hatred may be declared openly, or it might be hidden in excuses or explanations. These things quickly turn into thoughts of helplessness and despair. Addiction treatment is meant to conquer these negative emotions, but shame is a worthy opponent. 

It is normal to feel shame during addiction recovery, but it can become a different type of addiction. Maybe it is a faulty way to reconcile mistakes, or maybe it’s the brain’s way of leading you away from the road to recovery. In either case, shame serves no useful purpose and must be dealt with in order to overcome addiction. 

Dealing with The Reality

Addiction recovery is impossible without the acknowledgement of past actions, so it is easy to believe that shame is a given. Treatment is not a celebration of the past, but it is a celebration of the present and the future. It is a world where hope is abundant and personal pride is developed. You are not your addiction no matter how much time it has taken from you, but shame will make it seem like all is lost. 

Dealing with shame is a process that looks different for each person but will definitely involve some communication. You need to talk about your shame in a setting where that shame can be heard and extinguished. Each empathetic listener can help to process shame and get rid of it. In some cases, it may only be reduced to regret or guilt. In other cases, it may come and go with the weather. This is why long-term support systems with peers are essential to addiction treatment success. 

Living a Shame-Free Life

The most successful people in life have experienced and overcome failure. You are simply beginning that journey when you start addiction treatment. Looking back may be part of the process, but living a life in the past is not living a life at all. The past is over, but the struggle will continue. Shame only enhances that struggle. 

So, how do you possibly live a shame-free life during addiction recovery? It won’t happen overnight, but there are many ways to start, including: 

  • Communication with your Support System: This means talking to people who can listen with an empathetic ear. These vital members of your support system are not quick to judge or hand out advice. Rather, they consider your situation and the person they know you to be. When you have the ear of a person who listens without judgment, you remember that your past is just a collection of stories that landed you on the path to recovery. The future is full of hope. 
  • Purge Your Shame in Writing: Consciously knowing you need to forgive yourself is very different from actually doing it. Shame weaves a tangled web of if-only’s and buts. Creating a shame narrative can help you to bring your past back down to the level of external experience rather than internal identity. This works similarly to communication with your support group. These are just stories. Once they are on physical paper (or a computer screen), they will seem more like something you did rather than someone you are. 
  • Find Yourself in a New Hobby: Many people going through addiction treatment pursue new hobbies, or hobbies they had before addiction took hold. This can be an excellent way to re-shape your identity from one of shame to one of self-improvement. Learning new things helps a person to look toward the future. You have a future, and learning something new forces your brain to accept that fact. 

Reconciling Differences in Orange County

Knowing you’re not alone in your addiction can help you to overcome shame. Orange County statistics from 2017 showed lower than average national mortality rates from drug and alcohol. But even then, over 50,000 people were hospitalized because of overdose. This shows that addiction is not a rarity anywhere, and Orange County has support to help you on your path to recovery. 

The pandemic has worsened the mental health of many individuals, which has increased the challenges and barriers to recovery. The Kaiser Foundation reports that 12% of people have increased alcohol or substance use during this time. People have looked to drug and alcohol to relieve shame associated with job loss or reduce stress associated with uncertain times. 

If you are an Orange County resident, you may be looking for the help that alcohol or drugs promised but never provided. You might be feeling shame because of previous actions. Somehow, that shame has made you go back to your addiction for temporary relief, which then leads to more shame. At Covenant Hills Treatment Center, we understand this cycle, and we know that your addiction does not define you. Contact us today for help living a life free from the chains of addiction.