Letting Go of Shame in Recovery

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Shame is a major hurdle on the path to recovery for many addicts and it is at the root of the majority of setbacks. Harboring beliefs that you’re not good enough, or that you can’t change will keep you from living a happy, healthy life, even after you get clean. In order to make a full recovery and become a whole person, you must learn to recognize shame, and to let go of it.

Shame vs. Guilt

Oftentimes we confuse shame and guilt, which makes it hard to cut either one of them out of our lives. Guilt is feelings of regret for past behaviors, which makes you want to make amends and do better in the future. Guilt can actually be a productive part of recovery as we recognize our shortcomings and seek to heal them. Shame is feelings of inadequacy that we use to define ourselves as people and project onto our outlook of our future. Shame makes us feel that we can’t overcome who we’ve been in the past. It’s a flawed way of thinking where we allow thoughts that are untrue to solidify in our mind. Some examples of shame-based thoughts include:

  • I am damaged or broken in a way that is unrepairable.
  • I am not good enough.
  • I am useless.
  • I am dirty or disgusting.
  • I am weak.
  • I am unloved.
  • I am worthless.

Where Shame Comes From

Shame takes up residence in our thoughts when we allow these negative notions to become personal mantras. We accept these thoughts as truth and allow them to dictate who we are, and who we may become in the future.

Challenging Shame

The way to overcome shame is to drag it out into the light, dispel it, and leave it behind as you move forward. One way to recognize where shame has a hold on you is to say your thoughts out loud. Verbalizing repetitive thoughts makes them more clear, and reveals their falseness. Instead of trusting your thoughts about yourself and others as absolute truth, view your thoughts as mental events that are open for analyzing and consideration. Once you’ve isolated a thought, ask yourself:

  • Is this thought true?
  • What evidence do I have of its truth?
  • What evidence do I have that it is false?
  • Is this thought helping me or hurting me?
  • Am I willing to let this thought go?
  • What will happen if I let it go?
  • What truth can I replace this untrue thought with?

Once your shame is faced with the light of truth, you’ll find it goes scattering away, leaving you ready to face the other challenges of recovery with renewed confidence and self-esteem.