Skip to content

How to Deal with Guilt and Shame in Recovery

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach

Photo by Pixabay on

Like many of us, I came into recovery with a great amount of guilt and shame about my alcohol induced behavior. Under the influence, I have done things that I would have never intended to do, and often, I found myself in situations that I would have never imagined being in. This kind of shame has left me with a skewed self-perception and a very low self-esteem, as well as powerful emotions that have negatively affected my ability to move forward in life.

Feelings of guilt and shame may feel somewhat the same, or be intertwined, but according to Psychology Today, there is a clear and distinguished difference between the two. Guilt unlike shame, is a productive feeling. It’s the way we are able to see that we have done something wrong, then learn from our mistake, and move on. Shame on the other hand, usually stems from a negative perception of ourselves; we don’t view it as just making a mistake, we see ourselves as the mistake.

When shame is especially persistent, it usually prevents feelings of genuine concern and guilt from developing; the sense of being damaged is so powerful and painful that it crowds our feelings of empathy for anyone else.

When we finally reach the point when we see that something needs to change in our lives, and that our drinking has now caused us a great deal of pain, we may, yet again, feel the shame. This might happen because we have already convinced ourselves that we were worthless and our inability to resolve our problems with drinking has now left us with shame about our unmanageable life and for needing help. We may also find ourselves in fear of the unknown and of the judgment from others, which may block us from seeking sobriety or lead us back to drinking.

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise

Photo by Victor Freitas on

Many in recovery believe that in order to maintain sobriety, we have to also work on our unhealthy feelings and perceptions about ourselves and others. This takes a lot of effort and often may require professional help. But, if you’re willing to start healing yourself now, you can start by releasing some shame.

The most productive way to get rid of shame is to forgive ourselves! Forgiveness does not mean condoning our past behavior, but rather letting go of the feelings associated with it. Obsessing over what we could have done in the past just keeps us from focusing on the present. But we do have the ability to be proactive – start by making a resolution to stop letting the past continue to haunt the person you are today. Remind yourself daily that you are a good person and that you deserve love, care and a better future.

Another way to get rid of shame is to make amends to the people that we have harmed. Of course this is easier said than done. But for most part we can make simple amends by forgiving people who have hurt us, being kind and generous whenever possible, and willing to help others. Journaling is a great way to release pain and forgive others.

dawn sunset beach woman

Photo by Pixabay on

Continued sobriety and living a good, honest life also helps with overcoming shame by boosting self-esteem and positive thinking. Once we are no longer under the lash of our addiction we will no longer find ourselves in situations that may bring us shame. We may still make mistakes but they are no longer based on our unpredictable drinking behavior.

I truly believe that letting go of the guilt and the shame will change your life and boost your recovery. It’s simple, but not easy. The important part is that we make an effort to stop beating ourselves up for our past mistakes, and we move into the future with a renewed sense of purpose and focus on a positive change.

7 Ways to Let Go of Shame

I found this great article on Cathy Taughinbaugh website. She is a Certified Life and Recovery Coach. and works with anyone interested in receiving recovery support, but especially parents and family members of addicted children.

Connect with Sober Courage on Facebook and on Twitter!

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)please click the Find Support link under Recovery Tools for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful Resources in the sidebar.



  1. Great post! I do believe in letting go if the shame and guilt. But first, I need to remind myself of all that alcohol had done to me and my life. I need to learn from my post first. I believe after admitting my mistakes, I will be able to start letting go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, very true! Thanks for bringing that up. I don’t think you can have guilt or shame if you don’t see your mistakes, and you definitely can’t change if you don’t see what’s wrong.

      For me, I had so much same thought that it was blocking me from getting sober. Getting sober to me meant that I have failed again. But in reality I was failing because I was not getting sober. I guess it’s a fine balance between knowing your mistakes and using them to rebuild, and knowing your mistakes and just getting drunk over them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, letting go of guilt and shame was a hard lesson. One I sometimes deal with still today. However stopping the constant beating up of myself was paramount in making strides toward recovery. We are what we do, not what we did 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Art! It’s still a work in progress for me! The beating myself was pretty rough too. I totally agree, it’s a huge blocker in recovery and moving forward. But the longer I am sober and the longer I keep my side of the street clean all the shame start melting away. Thanks for stopping by Art!


  3. I can’t even begin to explain how much I needed a post like this. I’ve always considered myself a very forgiving person, yet I have never forgiven myself for the things I’ve done in the past, mainly concerning my drinking. Thank you!


    • Hi Erica! You’re very welcome. I think for most of us, we end up the last on the list. Yet it’s really important to forgive ourselves too. This definitely was crucial for me, I was just stuck for so long. I had to cars up some of the carp to see the road ahead again.

      Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day. 😊


  4. This reminds me of AA when it comes to cleaning my side of the street and keeping it clean. Making amends was a singularly powerful experience and my Step 10 work helps me make sure that i don’t let the negativity take seed and grow over time. i still make mistakes, but now i know how to deal with them right away so they don’t become problems.


    • For me too, making amends was scary but so well worth it. And I always got a new outlook on my disease and how people viewed me. I was really able to forgive myself and others. By just being open and acknowledging my wrongs, it created new relationships and I was able to let go of lots of shame.


  5. I absolutely love this post. I am going to share it with some of the women I coach. Your perspective is uplifting. Everyone has regrets, but not everyone holds onto them for a lifetime. Why do addicts? This post is exactly what I needed to read today. TY xox Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Lisa, that means so much coming from you! I am glad I could help. Really, it has been something I have struggled with for a long time and it wasn’t until recently that I realized what a blocker it was. It’s so hard to move on and grow if you are constantly beating yourself up and living in the past! But to know that there are things I can do to help release the shame is very uplifting. 🙂


  6. I needed this post thank you this is the hardest thing ive ever had to deal with but these last few months ive been trying to get rid of all the negative people and things in my life causr as much as i tried to forgivr myself iam getting put down by people that are suppose to care about me and wants nothing but the best for me but thats not true when they constantly put u down for ur past that ur trying to work on. I realized i cant deal with those people if i want this to work for myself so hopefully now i can start forgiving myself and look forward to a happy sobor life

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi. Thank you for this great comment. You are so very right. Its very important to surround yourself with people that care about you. We all make mistakes and we all deserve second, this and sometimes even more chances. Our drunk behavior was not who we really are anyways!

      Congrats on your sobriety. Keep moving forward. Hugs.


  7. If it’s a pitch for the crooked greedy rehab business.. I’m out. On the 24 hour plan as a secular humanist in AA with 2plus years of continuous “sobriety” Regular on Beyond Belief and Agnostica sites with corresponding links. 57 year old attorney in north Fla. with nine year old daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

Share your Sober Courage here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: