Shame and addiction — what a tragically intertwined pair. These two often seem to walk hand in hand, making it difficult for an addict to see their potential and purpose through a fog of lies that say, “You’re not good enough” or “You’ll never be free of this.” Shame also makes it harder for the words and care of a loved one to pierce through the darkness. Here we’ll explore the concepts of shame and addiction — and how you or a loved one can find healing from shame throughout recovery.
How Do Shame and Addiction Interact?
Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably but are in fact not the same. While guilt acknowledges negative feelings over an action taken, shame tells you that as a result of this action, you’re not a good enough person.
Shame can be caused by a wide range of factors — such as trauma or challenging social environments — and often causes feelings of deep inadequacy, lack of worth and the need to hide. It can trigger a dependency on alcohol or drugs as a method of escape. The shame-addiction pairing can find an addict in a precarious cycle, as their addiction may lead to increased shame and a growing need to hide their reality from others and even from themselves.
The Impact of Shame
Shame is something that everyone experiences differently. It can come from a variety of life events, milestones and activities. Nevertheless, one thing remains the same in every case — shame can deeply affect a person. It can make you feel like you’re a failure, unlovable or that you don’t deserve to be happy. It infiltrates your thoughts and makes you think you’re a bad person, or that you’re defective.
People cope with shame and addiction in different ways. Some turn to perfectionism, trying to ensure that everything they do is without fault and above reproach. Others struggle with low self-esteem and may seem to have an incredibly people-pleasing personality. Shame is often accompanied by guilt.
This emotion is also closely linked with depression and other mental illnesses, as well as substance abuse. In some cases, it can lead individuals to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with or drown out their shame. In other cases, people may feel ashamed that they’re living with a drug or alcohol addiction.
How Shame Can Keep an Addict From Getting Help
Shame manifests itself in many ways that can make it harder for an addict to seek the help they need. It can:
- Keep you quiet: It can bury your voice and make you avoid people because you don’t feel you have a space to share your struggles.
- Destroy your self-worth: You may feel like you’re not deserving of help or worth the trouble it will take to recover.
- Make you hide the truth: If you’re not proud of your choices and lifestyle, you likely want to cover them up. But how can you work on a problem that you won’t acknowledge exists?
- Make your dreams feel impossible: You may think that you lack the strength or ability to truly recover. You may feel like your life will never amount to anything more than your addiction.
- Hinder your relationships: You may feel unworthy of another person’s attention and affection. You may think you have to hide your true self.
Shame also plays a role in the comorbidity of mental illness and substance abuse. These two diagnoses often go hand in hand, and both are surrounded by a cloud of negative stigma that often prevents individuals from seeking out the help they need. The pairing of shame and alcoholism means that even if you admit that you have a problem that needs to be addressed, you’re too ashamed of what other people might think to seek out the help you need.
Even without an addiction, people who seek out treatment for mental illnesses such as depression are often portrayed in popular media as weak or dangerous to themselves and others. In the U.S., around 6.7% of adults — 16.2 million people — live with depression. However, shame and stigma prevent many from getting diagnosed and receiving the help they need to manage their symptoms.
This situation becomes even more dangerous when substance abuse is a factor. Guilt and shame in addiction recovery are some of the biggest hurdles that addicts will face.
These struggles are valid, but it’s possible to break through the lies that shame tells you and find healing on the other side.
Healing From Shame
We’re here to tell you that there’s healing that can lead you through and away from shame. It may not be an easy 1-2-3-step solution, but with a little guidance, you can overcome shame in addiction recovery. Start by:
- Facing the root of your shame: As uncomfortable as it may be to dig through these roots, it’s essential to understand your feelings and how your shame is linked to your addiction.
- Making amends, then letting go: You may feel shame for certain relationships or how your actions have affected others. Burying these feelings with substance abuse will never lead to wholeness. Acknowledge the broken relationships, apologize and start letting go — whether or not you receive forgiveness on the other end.
- Being kind to yourself: Speak to yourself like you would a friend. Pay attention and call yourself out for negative patterns of self-talk. Write out your thoughts in a journal so that you can re-read them and see how your own thinking is shaping your self-worth. Write your truths for yourself, and put them where you can see them.
- Finding a safe space: Whether it’s with a friend, family member or professional counselor, give yourself a place to unpack your shame. Take yourself out of hiding and put your words in the light. You’ll find that once they’re spoken out and reflected upon, you’ll be more able to break down the lies and replace them with truths.
- Developing a support network: Surround yourself with people who will lift you up, not knock you down. If you’re facing a spiral of negative emotions, talk to your network about your thought process. Having this support reduce your stress and increase your overall sense of belonging.
Remember, the more your practice overcoming shame and other negative emotions, the easier it will get. If you’re feeling ashamed and alone, don’t let addiction have the final say. Reach out to Gateway today to receive help from a place and team you can trust.