How to Cope and Overcome Guilt and Shame During Recovery

When you're struggling with substance misuse and addiction, you might do things you wouldn't have done while sober to satisfy your craving. You could have done or said things to loved ones that caused harm to your relationship or their well-being. 

Once you start an addiction treatment program and begin to recover, it's common to start feeling guilty and ashamed of what you did. In this blog, we'll talk about how to cope with these emotions to avoid relapsing and habits to form to overcome guilt and shame during recovery.

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Guild and shame are common emotions people experience throughout life, especially during addiction recovery, but what's the difference between the two? Below, you'll learn about the differences between the two emotions and how they affect a person's life.

What Is Guilt?

Guilt is a feeling someone experiences after doing or saying something rude, mean or harsh to someone else. The negative emotions you experience after doing or saying something wrong or bad are called guilt. Having remorse or feeling responsible for the results of your actions is associated with this emotion.

What Is Shame?

Shame is usually a result of internalized guilt that can cause someone to believe they are a terrible person. While guilt is a feeling people have after doing or saying something, shame tends to go a bit deeper and can affect how a person thinks or acts. Shame can cause negative thoughts or behaviors that influence a person's quality of life.

Why People Feel Shame and Guilt in Recovery

Addiction and guilt often go hand in hand. Once a person starts their journey toward recovery from substance use, they become more aware of their past actions. A person may begin to realize the harm their actions or words have had on their loved ones, which can create intense feelings of guilt. 

Sometimes, a person's guilt in recovery relates to what they did while struggling with addiction. Other times, guilt is related to the promises a person made but didn't follow through on, like not initially seeking treatment after promising to do so. Someone with an addiction might even feel guilty based on how substance misuse has impacted their finances. Guilt is a common emotion people experience during recovery, but once apologies are made, it shouldn't be a feeling that's clung to.

Shame and addiction also often go together. Shame can be a natural result of guilt, but it results in feelings of unworthiness and as if you have a lack of support or help. If shame becomes internalized, it can make it more challenging to progress through recovery and make a person vulnerable to relapse. Shameful feelings can trigger specific emotions that make a person more likely to relapse, which can cause additional feelings of shame until it becomes a vicious cycle.

How to Overcome Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery

Overcoming shame and guilt in recovery is beneficial for preventing relapse and improving quality of life. Here are some tips for moving past the guilt and shame to help strengthen your recovery outcome.

1. Recognize That Negative Emotions Are Counterproductive 

The first step to overcoming guilt and shame is understanding that these emotions hinder your recovery. While guilt can motivate you to make amends with those you may have hurt while struggling with addiction, it's essential to let go of the emotion once you've made your apologies. 

It can be easy to continue being over-critical of yourself and who you were while struggling with addiction. However, no one deserves to be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame. Realizing that these emotions are self-destructive to your recovery process is the first step to overcoming shame and guilt.

2. Ask for Forgiveness

Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and you're not a bad person for your addiction. Fighting against your substance use takes courage, and part of your recovery process includes asking for forgiveness from the people you may have hurt. While they may not be ready to forgive you immediately, you have done everything possible to make up for your past actions or words and put your past behind you.

It's also essential to learn how to forgive yourself. Dwelling on what you have done isn't constructive to your recovery. Remember that the actions causing your guilt and shame are in the past, and what matters are your choices and actions today.

3. Surround Yourself With Support

The people you surround yourself with can play a significant role in how you overcome your shame and guilt. Some people may be determined to make you pay back for your past actions, even if you've already apologized and done what you could to make amends. These individuals aren't ideal people to surround yourself with as you're going through your recovery.

Instead, you should surround yourself with supportive people who understand what you're going through and want to help you move forward instead of dwelling on your past. These individuals can make a significant difference in your life as you overcome guilt and shame.

4. Redefine Who You Are

Feelings of guilt and shame can come from how you see yourself. Instead of seeing yourself as a reflection of your past, try to view yourself as someone focused on making amends and doing the right thing. By working to overcome your addiction, you're already taking steps to improve your life positively. Try to see yourself as a good and deserving person of forgiveness and love.

5. Let Go of What You Can't Control

There are numerous things outside of your control that you may wish to change, including your past actions. The truth is that you are the only person you can control, and what happened in the past can't be altered. Holding onto the things you did in the past when you were struggling with addiction or the shame of having an addiction will only harm your recovery. 

Instead, it's better to let go of your past so you can start making meaningful progress forward. Addiction therapy can help you look forward to the future and discover ways to grow and let go of shameful or guilty feelings.

Let Diamond House Detox Help You Through Your Recovery

Addiction can happen to anyone, and having an addiction doesn't make you a bad person. While you may have said or done things throughout your addiction that could have caused harm to your loved ones, there are ways you can make amends and improve your relationships. The first step is seeking treatment for your addiction so you can make meaningful improvements to your mental and physical health.

Diamond House Detox is here to guide you through every step of the addiction recovery process. Our inpatient treatment programs, outpatient options and mental health services can help you detox from substances while addressing the factors that lead to your addiction. Our locations give you the proper space for reflection and rest, allowing you to become your best self while healing from your past. Take the first step and contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs in Northern California and how we can help you improve your life.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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