Shame is a natural and normal human feeling, and it is particularly normal to feel shame when you have an addiction. This doesn’t mean that it is right, helpful or useful to feel this way. The reason you feel shame as an addict is because we all still view addiction as a moral failing. Whenever we fail, we naturally feel ashamed, but there are concrete ways that you can break through that feeling and overcome it. Doing so is crucial. To really heal from addiction and to accept treatment, you must lose the shame.
Shame is such a horrible feeling. It ranks right up there with guilt and fear. It’s gut-wrenching, and when you feel ashamed of yourself, you also hate yourself. Shame is all about failure and disappointment. When you lose yourself to drugs or alcohol, when you try to cut back or stop but can’t, you feel that you failed. It doesn’t matter that the chemical substances have changed your brain and your behaviors in such a way that it is nearly impossible to stop; you still feel like a failure. Not only have you failed yourself but others who count on you. There are few feelings more painful than shame, and most of us will do anything to avoid feeling this way. That avoidance can be a powerful motivator, but when your shame is rooted in the disease of addiction, you are more likely to drown the feeling than avoid it. The intense shame you feel as an addict may lead you to use more just to get away from it. It can become a vicious cycle.
The first step toward losing the shame and getting help for your addiction is to acknowledge this feeling. There is no way to get around painful emotions and experiences. You have to go through them. In this process of acknowledgement it can be tremendously helpful to keep a journal and write about your feelings. As you write, specifically address the shame you feel, what it feels like and why you feel that way. It also helps to talk to someone you trust about it. Writing about your feelings and telling someone how you feel will give you both a great sense of release and relief. Once you have really recognized your feelings of shame, it is essential that you get professional help for your addiction. Part of your treatment will be therapy sessions in which you will learn more about how to recognize your feelings — like shame — what triggers them and how to cope with them in healthful ways. Another important aspect of treatment is to make social connections. Support groups are a great way to open up and release more of your shame. Another great way to ease and release your shame is to help others. Being compassionate, empathetic and useful will make you feel the opposite of shame. Work with other addicts if you are far enough along in your recovery. Volunteer in your community and do nice things for the people you love and whom you hurt while you were using drugs or alcohol. These acts will help you establish a good sense of self-worth and self-esteem and will work toward erasing your shame. As you overcome your addiction and your shame, try to keep perspective. We all feel shame at times, and it is a perfectly normal human emotion. Also realize that you aren’t perfect and that you will slip up and make mistakes, even in recovery. Accept those mistakes and move on without delving into shame again.