During the initial stages of recovery, addicts tend to experience feelings of shame, guilt and resentment. Many beginning recovering addicts walk into a rehab or 12 step group with their head hanging low and shoulders slumped. This is also true when a relapse occurs. Though you may feel horrible about your relapse or addiction, keep in mind that it is fairly normal to feel that way in the early days of recovery.
Guilt can also arise from the shame that you let yourself and others down or from the resentment that you feel towards those who did not support you in your time of need. Guilt, resentment and shame are oftentimes linked to the stigma of being an addict. If they are not attended to, they can significantly hamper your recovery process.
The following are five ways to get rid of guilt in recovery:
1. Recognize the Guilt
Begin by noticing the guilt. You may feel tempted to think of your addiction as something wrong with you, but you are not flawed. Addiction is a disease that can be overcome. Guilt can drive you to feel that you can never recover from your slump and get your self-esteem back. You do not have to regard your guilt as an adversary, but think of it as springboard to a new chapter in your life full of acceptance, hope and peace. Recognize the guilt and then take the necessary steps to contend with it.
2. Do Not Identify with Your Mistakes
Guilt gradually eats up your self-image and this is what makes it very harmful. It pushes you to identify with your addiction and it will last as long you continue to do so. Being an alcoholic, you may feel like a terrible addict. This thought usually preempts any other thoughts that you may have. Try being realistic, as you are not the only person trying to recover from an addiction. Do not identify with your past mistakes or behavior. Start by reviewing all the good things that you've done in the past and all of the good things you plan on doing in the future.
3. Get Out and Socialize
When feelings of guilt cloud you during recovery, you may be tempted to isolate yourself from other people. Spending some time alone may be useful to take a break. However, isolating yourself for days on end is detrimental to your health. This is because you will be tempted to delve into negative thoughts and entertain them. Be sure that you make time to connect with others that will support and encourage you in your recovery.
4. Practice Social Hygiene
It is advisable to stay away from the people who like to cater to your addiction and party with you. This can actually help you tell your true friends apart from the fake ones. Avoid the individuals whose sole purpose is to confer negative energy to you or put peer pressure on you. Good friends will be there for you in case you feel like talking about what you are going through and honor your recovery work. During the addiction recovery process, it is important to identify an individual you can share whatever you are going through with. This individual can also be your source of support and motivation during those times that you just feel like giving up. For some, it is a 12 step sponsor and for others it may be a partner, friend or counselor.
5. Accept and Move On
It is important to accept the fact that you cannot change the past. What you can do is make amends for your behavior whenever it’s appropriate. Apologize to the people around you as well as to yourself and then let go of the thoughts. The more you focus on believing that you have to do something more, the more it will go on bothering you and interfere with the recovery process and with your relationships with the people around you. Accept the past, embrace the guilt for a moment, process it and then say goodbye to it.
Moderate guilt is meant to make you learn from the experience so you are less likely to do it again. Accept what has occurred and then let it go and begin anew. You are not a bad person and your past behaviors do not have to dictate who you are today. If you embrace the feeling of guilt as a tool for change, you will continue to grow and flourish in your recovery.