Shame is a feeling that can make it very hard to make progress in recovery. There are likely to be things that you did while drinking or using drugs that you now deeply regret – this is understandable. Feeling shame about the past will not make up for any bad behaviour; it is just a form of self-hatred. There is a difference between feeling guilty about something and feeling shame – guilt can be summed up with the words ‘I did badly’ while shame is all about ‘I am bad’.
It is important that you are able to overcome shame so that you can build a strong sobriety. Here are a few ideas about how you can go about this.
Understand that Doing Bad Things Doesn’t Make You a Bad Person
Humans are fallible, and they can do some pretty terrible things. You may have behaved very badly while in the midst of your addiction, but this does not mean you have to continue behaving badly today. You can change your ways because you are fundamentally not a bad person. You deserve a second chance in life, and this is what sobriety is all about. It is vital that you are prepared to give yourself a second chance – it does not matter how many other people are prepared to forgive you if you are not prepared to forgive yourself.
Reduce Your Shame by Increasing Your Self-Esteem
There is a close connection between having low self-esteem and feeling shame. This is because if you do not value yourself very highly, you are likely to be hypercritical about yourself. The way to boost your self-esteem is to learn some self-compassion. It is also important to set some small goals and accomplish these – every time you accomplish a goal, it can give your self-esteem a little boost.
Know that Learning from Mistakes is Far More Important than Feeling Shame
The best thing you can do to make up for your past mistakes is to learn from them. This means that you commit to a sober life and you try to be the best person you can be; the goal is to always progress and not about perfection. There is nothing you can do to change the past, but by learning from it you can avoid causing hurt in the future. This will be far more productive than beating yourself up over things that are beyond your control.
Make Amends Where Appropriate
If you are going to be using a 12-step programme, you will be expected to make amends for past misdeeds as part of the process. Taking this step can be very therapeutic, but you should never try to do it if there is any chance you might cause discomfort for the other person – you do not want to hurt people more just so you can feel better. It is not always possible to make direct amends to individuals, but you need to remember that staying sober is already an attempt to put things right.
Learn to Let Go of the Past
If you allow the past to have too much influence on your current life, it will be impossible for you to make progress in sobriety. What is done is done, and it cannot be undone – you need to let it go. The chances are you have already suffered enough for your past deeds and, if you haven’t, you can leave it to life to deliver your punishments.
See a Therapist
Sometimes shame can be such a corrosive force that it is impossible to escape it without professional help. A therapist can be an excellent resource in this type of situation, providing an environment where you are going to be able to dig down to the root of your problem.