There is a large amount of shame and guilt that often accompanies issues of addiction. Also, these issues do not magically disappear once we enter treatment, or even after we have left a recovery center. No, the only way to address guilt and shame without substances in recovery is by staying active, staying connected, and ultimately doing the work that is required not just to stay sober, but to grow in life.

Addressing Shame and Guilt in Recovery

12-Step recovery often references something known as “the wreckage of our past.” This phrase is actually used in the conclusion of the first 164 pages of the Twelve Steps primary text, most commonly referred to as the “Big Book.” It states, “Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.”

12-step meeting etiquette (1) (1)

What this means is that overcoming feelings of guilt and shame that come with active addiction plays a key role in lasting recovery success. In early recovery, these feelings may be magnified when substance use is no longer at play, which can allow us to address where such feelings of guilt and shame manifested in the first place. This doesn’t mean that we have to wallow in our past misdeeds and mistakes. The point of recovery is never to live in the past, or fear the future. It is to live each passing moment to its fullest.

So then what does clearing the wreckage of our past and addressing shame and guilt look like? It looks like action. But the good news is it feels like peace.

Guilt, Shame, and Their Effects on Veteran Substance Use
Guilt, Shame, and Their Effects on Veteran Substance Use

Guilt and shame are profound, difficult feelings. Read more about Guilt, Shame, and Their Effects on Veteran Substance Use.

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Managing Shame and Guilt

One of the ways we can address guilt and shame in recovery is by taking the time to see what we have done and who we may have hurt to feel guilty and shameful about. The next move is to see how we can make those misdeeds right. This may include making amends to someone, or it may include leaving someone alone entirely.

Looking at the wreckage of our past must also include one important component. We must remember that when we were causing all of that calamity, we were sick as a result of active substance use. Addiction is a disease, and we must understand that we have not only been negatively affected by it, but also the people around us, too.

Also, we must learn to forgive ourselves and remind ourselves that “we were never bad people looking to do harm, rather we were sick people looking for a way out.” Asking others for forgiveness and forgiving ourselves is a pivotal step toward getting past shame and guilt without substances.

Who Can Help Me When Shame and Guilt Surface in Recovery?

The initial program of 12-Step recovery was established roughly 88 years ago when two men, Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, determined that there were only two things that were going to keep them sober and help them recover. Those two things involved putting faith in a Higher Power of their understanding and working with another person struggling with addiction. Both of these elements can be fundamental in how we get over shame and guilt without substances.

Community-based Recovery Support

Now, while it is certainly not a requirement of recovery, many people have found that adopting a spiritual life has been essential in helping them not just recover from addiction but also recover from addiction with a sense of serenity – one that is fundamentally free of guilt and shame. Some people stray away from this due to fear or resentment of religion. However, it is important to remember that a Higher Power can be anything that can be relied upon when we feel disturbed in recovery. Faith in something else can relieve us of our sense of worry.

Now, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable putting their faith in a higher power, they could also try working with other indivduals that need help with addiction. The “Big Book” of 12-Step recovery states that “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from [alcohol or substance use] as intensive work with [other struggling indivduals]. It works when other activities fail.” Working with others can help relieve us of guilt and shame by allowing us to shift our focus away from it as we help someone else. Also, other people in recovery are great resources for tips on how to address shame and guilt.

The Impact of Guilt and Shame on the Development of Civilian Life
The Impact of Guilt and Shame on the Development of Civilian Life

Guilt and shame are profound experiences. Learn how our unique and effective approach to Hawaii rehabilitation can help by calling us at (866) 390-5070.

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Our Primary Purpose at Hawaii Island Recovery

Here at Hawaii Island Recovery, we know the challenges that come with recovery. Many of us have been through them ourselves. However, with acceptance, acknowledgment, and action, we have been able to face these challenges and come out and thrived on the other side.

Recovery exists in the present moment, not in the wreckage of our past. We must learn to forgive ourselves in the moment because it is the only way to move forward. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says, “The only thing you ever have is now.” 

Rebuilding the relationship with yourself and others is a huge part of the healing process, but it’s not without its difficulties. Shame and guilt are especially prevalent during early recovery, and without coping tools, it can lead to cravings for substances to cope. However, there are plenty of community programs, peer support groups, and professionals that can guide you if you are experiencing shame and guilt and considering substances. At Hawaii Island Recovery, one of our primary purposes is to provide spaces for individuals after their initial care, including community programs, aftercare options, and when to consider returning to treatment to help one further manage feelings of shame and guilt. For more information, contact Hawaii Island Recovery at (866) 390-5070.