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The Close Connection Between Shame and Addiction

Individuals who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction are no strangers to feelings of guilt and shame. The very nature of addiction leads to a range of reprehensible behaviors, from lying, stealing, and pawning family heirlooms to compromising personal morals and values. It is no surprise that those who are new to addiction recovery often have a fair amount of shame to sort through. 

Before entering treatment, you might find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror. The guilt and shame you accumulated during your active addiction might feel overwhelming — too difficult to even begin addressing. Fortunately, with the right tools in place, you can successfully overcome everything that is holding you back from a fulfilling life of recovery. 

At Enlightened Solutions, we believe that addiction is a chronic health condition that can be effectively treated. Behavioral changes are merely a symptom of this condition. The way you behaved while active in addiction is not a reflection of who you are as a person. Not only will we help you rediscover who you are, but we will also help you foster an invaluable and unshakable sense of self-compassion. 

What are Guilt and Shame?

Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably. However, there is a closer link between shame and addiction than guilt and addiction. The two emotional experiences are different. It is an important distinction to make in the context of addiction recovery. 

What is Guilt?

Guilt is a feeling a person experiences when they perceive they did something wrong. Feelings of guilt can be fairly superficial and are generally resolved rather quickly. For example, a person might feel guilty about eating the last slice of pizza at a party or watching an episode of a television show after promising someone they would wait. Over time, feelings of guilt subside. 

What is Shame?

Shame is an overwhelming and persistent feeling that makes a person believe they are bad, wrong, or flawed. Oftentimes, shame is not tied to a specific event or external circumstance. It comes from within, which makes it significantly more difficult to shake. 

The Connection Between Shame and Addiction 

The behaviors people are inclined to carry out while in the throes of active addiction can instigate feelings of shame. People behave in ways that make them feel bad about themselves. Even the act of continuing to drink or use drugs despite repeated attempts to quit can lead to feelings of shame. Furthermore, shame often facilitates and exacerbates addiction. The more shame a person feels, the more likely they are to self-medicate with chemical substances. 

The good news is that shame dissipates the longer a person stays sober and puts the work in on themselves. Like other uncomfortable emotions, shame will fade over time. It fades even more quickly when a person works through a multi-staged treatment process and dives headfirst into intensive therapy. At Enlightened Solutions, we focus on helping our clients work through shame and regain a stable sense of self-esteem. 

Working Through Feelings of Guilt and Shame 

How can a person begin tackling deep-rooted feelings of shame? Is it important to acknowledge that emotional recovery is a process, and uncomfortable feelings will not resolve overnight?  The best way to work through feelings of shame is by working to develop a stable sense of self and an understanding of the Disease Model of Addiction. 

Both self-acceptance and self-forgiveness are crucial to the addiction recovery process. It is important to understand that people who suffer from addictive disorders lose control over their substance use. They feel compelled to go to any length to continue using their substance of choice. Oftentimes, this means behaving in ways that they would never normally behave. 

Tips for Coping with Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery 

There are many effective ways to cope with lingering feelings of guilt and shame in addiction recovery. We recommend the following:

  • Find a licensed therapist who can help identify the causes of the shame and work through uncomfortable feelings in healthy and productive ways. 
  • Become an active member of a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. 
  • Engage in acts of service, like volunteering at a local homeless shelter, picking up a service commitment at a 12-Step meeting, or helping an elderly neighbor carry out household chores. 

We recommend building self-esteem by engaging in esteemable acts. One of the best ways to begin this process is by committing to a recovery program, much like that offered by Enlightened Solutions. 

Begin Your Recovery Journey Today 

If you or someone you love has been struggling with addiction, recovery is possible. Enlightened Solutions is available to help. We have developed an accessible and effective program of care. We work to help our clients restore an imperative sense of self-love and compassion, forgiving themselves for their past mistakes and working towards a brighter future. 

Contact us today if you have been struggling with shame and addiction. An experienced staff member will walk you through our simple admissions process, which begins with a no-obligation assessment to determine which level of care is the most appropriate. We look forward to speaking with you and walking you through the process of early recovery. Contact us today to learn more!

The Shame Spiral: How Guilt and Shame Fuel Addiction

The conversation around addiction and addiction treatment has been a multifaceted and complex one over the years. While some would assert that addiction is a disease with genetic predisposition, others maintain that addiction can result from severe trauma. With all of the differing causes and manifestations of addiction, one thing many addicts have in common is the prevailing sense of shame that consumes them- both shame for their addictive behaviors and the pain they cause, and shame for the traumatic events that may have contributed to their addiction in the first place.

Addiction can take on many forms, including a dependence on, and dangerous overuse of, alcohol and narcotics, gambling, love and sex, cigarettes, etc. It can also be an over-reliance on seemingly innocuous things such as work and exercise. Addiction can involve anything one might use in self-destructive ways in order to escape his or her pain and fear.

Human nature has some universal truths, and shame is one of them. Guilt has to do with remorse for particular incidents, while shame morphs that guilt and remorse into an all-encompassing sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem. Shame can come from anywhere. A parent or caregiver might blame a child excessively for the family’s troubles and convinced him that his behavior was the cause. An addict may have experienced abuse or neglect in childhood, leaving her feeling generally unloved, unsafe and unworthy. Similarly, trauma can come from many sources, from the shock and destabilization of a car accident, to the feeling of abandonment that can come from divorce, separation or death. The pain of being deeply ashamed of oneself can lead an addict to want to run from that pain, choosing a drink or a lover or some other unhealthy behavior instead of safer tools for healing.

Once on the shame spiral, it can be heart wrenchingly difficult to remove oneself. An addict carries shame from his childhood, for example, then engages in addictive behaviors to numb himself from the pain; he hurts himself and others more and more in the process, as shame is compounded exponentially over time. When an alcoholic feels ashamed, her instinct is to drink to feel better. As an addict runs from her shame rather than confronting it head on, she instinctively escapes the pain with the rush of the high from her drug of choice, and thus the shame cycle repeats itself.

The path to healing is different for every addict. One tool for healing everyone can add to their toolbox is simple but not easy, and it involves healing on the spiritual, emotional and mental levels. Forgiveness. Radical forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness, for yourself and for all of your mistakes and wrongdoings. Forgiveness for those who hurt you, for those who may have contributed to your struggle with addiction over the years, for those who traumatized you and caused you pain. Forgiveness. It feels so much better than the bitterness and resentment. Worlds better than the relentless self-loathing of shame. As you strengthen and heal yourself, place your hand on your heart and meditate on forgiveness.

Forgive yourself. Let Enlightened Solutions help. We provide therapy, mentoring, and friendship. Call (833) 801-LIVE today.

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