Letting Go of Shame

Table of Contents

Shame is a common emotion associated with addiction because of a strong stigma attached. If you feel ashamed of your addiction or things you have done in the past because of your addiction, it is vital to learn how to let go.

Recognizing Inner Shame

Shame is not always an easy emotion to identify as it can feel a lot like guilt. You might find yourself feeling awful for things you have done in your past. You might wish that you could go back and change those actions. You might even view yourself entirely in a negative light.

This emotion can affect your self-image and make you feel less deserving of love and empathy. Shame is an uncomfortable emotion and can cause you to internalize your feelings. To move on from shame, you must first identify where and what it stems from.

Combating the Stigma

When using substances and suffering from addiction, it is common to develop shame due to the stigma surrounding addiction. Even though addiction is a disease, there can be a feeling of personal responsibility attached to developing an addiction. This sense of responsibility can occur if you have experienced trauma or untreated mental health disorders.

While you are responsible for your actions while under the influence, it is not necessary to loathe yourself for developing an addiction. Addiction should be viewed in the same light as heart disease. A person might develop heart disease because they have not eaten well in the past, but that does not mean they do not deserve medical treatment or empathy for the pain that heart disease causes.

Owning up to Past Mistakes

Making a list of your past transgressions associated with addiction can help you understand how substance use has negatively affected your relationships and life. Having the consequences of your actions on paper can make it easier to let go of their weight. Letting go of shame does not mean letting go of responsibility—you should still hold yourself accountable. Clinging to shame by internalizing guilt and resentment for the pain you might have caused will not help you move forward.

Letting Go of Yesterday

Shame can be challenging to shed if you are stuck in the past. There is not anything you can do to take back what has already happened. The only thing you can do is move forward, but you need to let go to accomplish this feat. This process is not easy, and it will not happen overnight.

If you have a counselor or a therapist, it might help to talk with them about the guilt you are still holding onto. A therapist can help you work through this remorse, identify the feelings, and understand how to let go.

Making Amends

The final step to letting go of shame is apologizing for your actions. This particular step is a significant one in 12-Step programs. Steps Eight and Nine focus on making amends with others. Step Eight states, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Focus the list on those you have hurt in the past due to your addiction.

Then, follow Step Nine, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Your list may prove to be extensive, and there might be some people on the list with whom you cannot make amends due to extenuating circumstances. The list of people is not an end-all-be-all solution to fighting shame, but it is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Most Importantly, Forgive Yourself

When writing that list, do not forget to include yourself. Out of everyone, there is an enormous chance you have harmed yourself in the process of addiction. You might have neglected yourself. You probably have made destructive choices that resulted in self-harm. There undoubtedly have been times when you were unfair to yourself. You may have looked in the mirror from time to time and thought unkind things. You might not have allowed yourself grace when you needed it most.

Make amends with yourself. Think of the ways you have harmed yourself. You might feel disgusted with the way you have treated yourself in the past. Just like the actions you harmed others with while under the influence, you need to apologize to yourself and then forgive. It might feel silly to look in that same mirror and apologize but give it a shot—you may be pleasantly surprised with the results. Try writing yourself a letter apologizing for the harm you have caused yourself, and then release it.

Shame only leads to isolation. When you allow inner shame to rule your life, you are only holding yourself back from your true potential. The past is in the past. Forgiving yourself and making amends is a critical step in the direction of long-lasting recovery. Let go of the mistakes you have made and learn to love yourself fully and authentically. Letting go of shame will not happen overnight. It takes work to make amends with your loved ones, including yourself, but once you have confronted your past and let go, you can fully embrace the future.

At Jaywalker Lodge, we focus on the 12-Step philosophy through our very own 12-Step groups. Letting go of shame is best done by making a list of those you have wronged and making amends, if possible. This step allows those in recovery to reconcile with their past and move on to a better future. To learn more, please call (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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