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.
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.
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.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles. You may also find some great inspiration, support and resources at the bottom of this page.