Fighting Shame After Treatment: How Can I Forgive Myself?

Fighting Shame After Treatment: How Can I Forgive Myself?

Table of Contents

Shame is a familiar feeling among those struggling with addiction. Many recovering from addiction might feel ashamed of their addiction and the pain it caused others. There is a heavy stigma against those fighting the disease; however, it’s possible to break free from this stigma and allow yourself grace. While there might have been ways you contributed to your addiction, many outside factors were out of your control. Coming to terms with both the part you played and the parts that weren’t your fault are essential to healing from addiction and becoming a healthier person.

Addiction Is a Disease

When learning to forgive yourself for your addiction, you must remember that addiction, first and foremost, is a disease in the brain caused by substances that completely rewire your brain. Much of addiction and substance use disorder (SUD) is based on hereditary and environmental factors out of your control. While you did decide to drink or try substances, ultimately, the chance of becoming addicted depends on circumstances that are out of your control.

We don’t shame those with cancer or heart disease, even if an outside factor causes their illness. Instead, we treat the condition, provide support, and search for cures. Your addiction doesn’t make you any less than others. It certainly does not mean you’re a monster or a dangerous person. You are still a human being who has worth and dignity.

You Can’t Change the Past

Forgiveness is essential to letting go of the past and moving to a brighter future. The past has passed, keeping you from erasing mistakes made then. While you might be filled with regrets for the decisions that have led up to this point, understand that you are a human being. Humans aren’t perfect and often make mistakes. The trick is taking those mistakes and learning how to do better in the future.

Holding Yourself Accountable

It is possible to hold yourself accountable for your actions while also forgiving yourself for those actions. Many might think that forgiveness means letting yourself entirely off the hook. However, forgiveness is much deeper than that. Forgiveness means allowing yourself to let go of the hurt and pain something caused, allowing yourself room to heal. The act of forgiveness is often practiced regarding others. However, it’s imperative to forgive ourselves for our actions while still maintaining accountability for the pain we caused ourselves and others.

It’s good to take ownership of your actions and take personal accountability for your mistakes, but this shouldn’t hold you back from forgiveness as you are still human and won’t always act or react the way you should. The important lesson is improving your actions in the future and being better today than you were yesterday.

Practicing Radical Self-Love

Forgiving yourself is a form of self-love. If you hold onto guilt and shame for your past actions, you’re only hurting your self-esteem and self-image. Since the past can’t be changed, the only thing to do is focus on the opportunities the future can bring. Imagine the type of person you could be in the future, but also think about all of the extraordinary qualities you possess now. It might be challenging, but try and make a list.

Others Might Still Judge, but You Chose Sobriety

Ultimately, you still made the right choice. While you might have caused damage to yourself or others during the worst of your addiction, you still decided to get the help you needed. That alone takes strength. Even if your loved ones intervened and told you to get help, you still consented to receive care and committed to changing your life for the better.

Despite that, others might still judge you for having an addiction at all. This isn’t entirely fair because you have done the right thing. However, the stigma still exists. Instead of internalizing the stigma people project onto you, recognize that they aren’t right. You are a resilient person for going through treatment.

Many can benefit from learning more about addiction. If someone in your life is making you feel like you can’t or shouldn’t forgive yourself, then they might need to be educated on the truth about addiction. People might forget the human side of addiction and focus entirely on the media depiction instead of ignoring that the media isn’t all-knowing. As someone who has experienced addiction and treatment firsthand, you are educated on the truth of that experience. You can teach them the truth about addiction — that you aren’t a negative stereotype but a person who fought hard to be a better person.

Forgiving yourself isn’t easy, especially if you already don’t have the best impression of yourself. You might be aware of the part you played in addiction, and you might hold yourself accountable for your actions. While this is great, remember that it is possible to forgive yourself for your past mistakes while still holding yourself accountable for your actions. The past is long gone, and all that is left is now and a vibrant future. Forgiving yourself is an act of love. You might not be able to forgive yourself overnight completely, but in time and practice, you can learn to let go of the past and the decisions you made that led you to this moment. Love yourself for the fact you decided you were worth treatment. Forgive yourself for the fact that, eventually, you decided to get help after all. To learn more about forgiveness, call Jaywalker today at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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