How Can I Deal With My Guilt?


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Guilt is something that we all experience, no matter who we are. Whether it’s caused by something in our past or present, everyone will experience guilt at one point or another. Guilt is a natural thing to feel, but it becomes destructive when it lingers beyond its usefulness, follows us everywhere, weighs us down, or causes new problems. Guilt can serve a purpose but can also quickly get out of hand and begin to cause issues of its own.

Many alcoholics and addicts have experienced guilt over something that happened in our disease. Maybe it was something we did, or maybe it was something we didn’t do. Maybe it was something that happened to somebody else, and we blame ourselves because our disease kept us away from them. Whatever the source of our feelings of guilt, most alcoholics and addicts experience guilt in early recovery. We regret our lives and our behavior in the disease.

No matter how we feel, it’s very important to understand that recovery is not about regret over the past. It’s not about punishment for what we did or who we were. Recovery is entirely about turning things around. Recovery is about the promise each of us has to live a bright and beautiful life! Let’s make progress toward that goal right now and learn how we can help ourselves deal with guilt a little better.

Feeling Guilty

We all know what guilt feels like. It’s a lot like regret but usually hurts more, as we feel lingering pain over something we did or failed to do. Sometimes guilt happens to help us learn. We have a better sense of right and wrong or how to handle certain situations in the future, all because we experienced guilt in a previous situation. It isn’t the kindest teacher, but guilt does have some usefulness in our lives.

Sometimes, however, guilt has too much power in our lives. When it becomes a daily feeling or an overwhelming or recurrent thought, that’s when guilt has gone too far. Guilt can cause more damage when it gets out of hand, hurting us and those close to us or even causing depression or other mental health issues. The best-case scenario is when we can learn from our guilt, see the truth and the lesson, forgive ourselves, and then move on. But that doesn’t always happen, especially with alcoholics and addicts.

We often like to hang on to our guilt, to keep reliving it and punishing ourselves with it. We can’t forgive ourselves because we don’t think we deserve forgiveness. We can’t let go of the past because we use it to keep hurting ourselves and others. Sometimes hanging on to guilt becomes a good reason to relapse. But we can’t keep living like that in recovery.

Guilt is no longer allowed to overstay its welcome. We’re moving forward with our lives. We’re going to set right what we can, give the rest to our higher power, and do our best to be of service to our fellows.

There Is a Solution

Just like our alcoholism and addiction, there is a solution — and luckily for us, it’s the same solution! The book Alcoholics Anonymous promises us that if we are dedicated to working all 12-Steps, “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.” Doesn’t this sound like a great end to lingering guilt? But how do we get to this place the book is talking about?

Well, we work the 12-Steps and adopt the recovery lifestyle. As we go through this life-changing process, we will be healed, we will learn and grow, and guilt over the past will vanish. Any guilt we may experience in the future will be put in its proper place and no longer take over our lives. We can have all of this simply by working the 12-Step program and living the recovery lifestyle.

Working the 12-Steps takes time, so it’s highly recommended that you start as soon as possible. However, there are some immediate things we can do about our guilt right now.

Take Action To Relieve Guilt

Whatever our guilt is over, it may strongly benefit us to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help us process and lessen our feelings of guilt. They may also offer helpful suggestions for other actions we can take in our daily lives. Regular therapy is often a vital tool for our mental and emotional health.

Another important action is forgiveness. That might not be the word we want to hear, but it’s a crucial ingredient to a guilt-free life. We have to search until we find a way to forgive ourselves and others. It’s a necessary step to freedom: forgiving ourselves and forgiving other people. There are many books about forgiveness, and our private faith or religion may also teach us ways to forgive. If forgiveness is hard for us, we need to seek it out all the more. The 12-Step program, of course, has a lot to offer in terms of learning how to forgive ourselves and others. The 12-Steps also take us through the amends process, which helps us right the wrongs of the past and can lead to forgiveness.

If you are an alcoholic or addict who suffers feelings of tremendous guilt, it might be encouraging to know that the solution to alcoholism and addiction can help relieve the burden of guilt as well. Many of the 12-Steps contain useful tools and practices that help us right the wrongs of our past, forgive ourselves and others, and avoid repeating the behaviors and situations that caused us to feel guilty in the first place. The 12-Steps can do all of this while also producing the necessary psychic change and vital spiritual experience that bring about freedom and recovery from alcoholism and addiction. Everything we do at Jaywalker Lodge is firmly rooted in the foundation of the 12-Steps. We believe that recovery is possible for anyone willing to be honest and do the work. Everyone deserves to experience the beauty of life in recovery. Let us help you start today. Call Jaywalker Lodge now 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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