Addressing Lingering Guilt and Shame in Recovery

Young man covering face in shame

Dane O'Leary April 26, 2021

When you’re newly sober, emotions run high. It’s normal to experience a lot of things at once and have trouble dealing with new feelings as they arise, but this is integral to the healing process. 

One common feeling that most people recovering from a substance use disorder deal with is lingering guilt. 

What is Guilt?

Guilt is most often associated with self-defeatist thoughts. It tells us that we’ve fallen short or failed to live up to a certain set of expectations or responsibilities. Of course, we all have certain expectations of ourselves, and our friends, family, and even society have expectations of us as well.

In other words, most people have the potential to experience quite a lot of guilt when they fail to meet the expectations imposed on them. In recovery, it’s very important to learn to process that guilt in a healthy way.

While guilt is a discomforting feeling, acknowledging and understanding guilt is actually a positive step in your recovery. It shows that you’re making progress towards healing by realizing that you aren’t happy with the way things you’ve done while under the influence of alcohol.

For example, you may feel guilty when hearing or even just thinking about how you hurt someone you care about before you got sober. However, lingering feelings about your misdeeds against someone you love are what led you to sobriety and wanting to make things right.

Now is the time to face those feelings of guilt and move forward.

What matters most about guilt in recovery is letting it go and moving past it, and that is a process in itself. It’s all about using the past to move towards the future. 

Moving Past Guilt

The good thing about the mistakes you’ve made is that you can learn from them. You can use those mistakes and the guilt you feel as motivation to grow. Here are a few helpful steps you can take to begin or continue that process. 

Make amends

By making amends and taking action, you demonstrate that you’re putting in the work towards a better life and better treatment of those you love.

Making amends is different from apologizing. Apologies are just words—words that loved ones might not believe anymore—but making amends is taking action to show how you can and will improve your life and relationships now that you’re in recovery.

This outward demonstration of the alignment between your values and the new life you’re creating for yourself can alleviate feelings of guilt. You’re making up for past behaviors towards those you’ve made mistakes with, which improves your self-image and shows people you are serious about your recovery. 

You can make amends directly to the people you’ve hurt, or by volunteering your time towards organizations that you care about, or organizations that have helped you while in recovery. 

With this giving back, you can begin to overcome your negative self-image and feel at peace with your inner self again.

Don’t hide from the past

Listening to how your addiction hurt a loved one isn’t comfortable or easy. But it will be healing for both parties because it will help you come to terms with what you did, and the person you hurt can unload the burden they’ve been carrying. 

Talk it out

Instead of bottling up emotions and waiting for an inevitable explosion, talk through your feelings as they occur—especially if the feelings are intimidating or unfamiliar. Within your circle of support, find someone you trust who is willing to listen. You might benefit from a program like Alcoholics Anonymous. Through AA, you can find a sponsor who has been in your shoes. By keeping an open dialogue with your sponsor or someone you trust, you can develop a strategy for seeing these difficult feelings through to the other side.

Keep Up the Good Work

As you progress through recovery, you’ll frequently run into opportunities to help those who fill the shoes that you once wore. By offering your support, your focus is shifted towards helping improve the world around you and the people inside it. There was once a support system that lifted you from rock bottom, and you can give back by being that person for someone else. 

When it comes to recovery, there’s no one single finish line—there are hundreds of them. But by addressing guilt and working through it, you’re crossing a meaningful point that will greatly improve your quality of life as a sober person. 

Learn to Let Go of Your Guilt

As with any addiction, alcoholism is difficult to conquer. But with the right medically supervised detox program, you can safely face your addiction and come out on top. 

If you or someone you know is in need of a treatment program to overcome a substance use disorder, Silicon Beach Treatment Center is here to help. 

For more information, call 833-LA-REHAB or send us a message.

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