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Letting Go of Shame and Guilt

A stigma is often attached to people with drug addiction and alcoholism. These diseases are often associated with people who are out of control, dysfunctional, or inept. Neither the homeless man nor the misguided celebrity are the true faces of addiction. The majority of people struggling with an addiction are normal people. They often mask their suffering out of shame because of negative associations with drug or alcohol abuse. In addition, addiction drives people to act in ways they never thought they were capable of. The guilt of these actions pushes people with addiction further into hiding. People with addiction need to move past their guilt and shame in order to move into a healthier life.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines shame as “a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong.” Because of addiction’s influence on the brain, many alcoholics or drug addicts do not feel shame until they become sober or entered recovery. Looking at your past you may not not believe how you treated yourself and the people around them. Once in recovery, you may begin to shoulder all the blame of your past. There is no need to drown yourself in self-blame. You must remember that many things factored into your addiction, many things that you could not control.

Shame of your past can paralyze your present recovery. Fear of failure is natural, but if it is preventing you from taking the next steps in recovery, you should remember this:

  • Your past actions have no sway in your present outlook or character. You are always capable of making a positive change in your life.

  • No one is perfect, so don’t hold yourself up to impossibly high standards. Life is about the long game and you can come back from a terrible first quarter.

  • Asking for help is a sign of self-awareness and strength, not weakness. Sometimes just having company can make all the difference between success and failure.


Often, we cannot move past our shame until we forgive ourselves. Guilt can come from others blaming us, or from blaming ourselves. Perhaps someone makes you feel guilty for things you did while abusing drugs or alcohol. Maybe, you feel guilty about thinking about using drugs or alcohol again. In any case, it is not a good motivator for you to stay in recovery. Like shame, guilt makes your past influence your present actions. Unlike shame, guilt can be used to grow into a better person. To do this, you have to deal with guilt before it drives you back into substance abuse.

  • Seek Forgiveness from others or yourself. Most religions preach forgiveness as one of the most sacred acts. Figure out how best to make amends, and do it as soon as you are able to.

  • Acknowledge your acts as wrong, then move forward. Just as important as seeing your mistakes is to see them as in the past.

  • Learn from your actions. We all make mistakes- use them as a way to grow.

Only when you stop living in the past can you see the present. From there, anything is possible. Recognize yourself as a human- mistakes were made, and you will make more. But as a human, you can change for the better. Let go of your past shame and guilt. Life in recovery is about finding out who you really are, and how you can live a better, more productive life. Find strength in your new life and take joy in its possibilities.

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