Shame goes hand in hand with substance use. Often when folks begin to enter into recovery or make changes in their lives, they are overcome with feelings of shame and guilt. Shame is feeling that as a person, you are bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy or less than others. This often results in feeling hopeless, helpless, and unable to succeed or make change.
There is a different between shame and guilt. It’s often described as guilty is “I did something bad” and shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is a feeling that our actions were unacceptable or inappropriate. Shame is feeling that we ourselves are wrong and unacceptable. We can deal with our guilt by changing our actions, however shame can be destructive because we cannot change who we are. We are the same person in active use as we are in recovery. You don’t automatically change because you’ve changed your behaviors around substances.
If shame is left unresolved, it puts one at a risk of returning to drinking, using or other self-destructive ways to cope. Shame is the big bad monster that convinces us that we are no good, cannot get better, cannot be better, and don’t deserve to feel better. Shame is manipulative and conniving. It will convince us that we can’t get better and don’t deserve to feel better. Many people deal with shame by imploding and crumbling into a pile of depression or self-destructive behaviors. Shame holds this idea that if people really saw the true you, they would see a monster. Other people wouldn’t be able to handle your ugly, your mess, your destruction.
Where do I start?
The reality is regardless of what you have been though, done, or seen, you deserve to heal. Here’s a test to know if you are dealing with any sort of shame. Ask yourself, “Am I deserving and worthy of love?” If your answer is yes, congratulations. You’ve likely done a lot of work to combat negative self-talk. If you answer no, shame is lurking in the background and influencing your beliefs about your own abilities. All human beings are capable, deserving, and worthy of love and acceptance.
List your mistakes
To begin to work through shame, list some mistakes you have made and things you’ve done as a result of alcohol and other drug use. Next to that list in a second column, list thing you should have done, but didn’t do because your drinking or using interfered.
Mistakes– Blacking out at a Memorial Day party Things not done– didn’t prepare for a meeting at work after the party because I was wasted and forgot.
Become aware of self-talk
What kinds of shaming things do you say to yourself? We are our own worst bullies! What are the messages you tell yourself? Make a list of these. Examples include I’m bad, weak, stupid, an asshole, lazy, etc.
What messages do you want to repeat to yourself about the things listed for the first question to replace some of those shaming messages? If you’re having a hard time with this think about a good friend and what they would tell you to help you feel better. For example, in reference to the example above, you could use the replacement thought of “I messed up at that party, but I am a responsible person. In the future I will complete my responsibilities for work and choose to drink responsibly at parties.”
Practice, practice, practice
Practice this new self-talk everyday for the next two months. Say the message to yourself over and over again. You will likely not believe it at first. That’s normal. You’re changing the narrative about yourself and that takes time to adopt. Our brains are very flexible and can accommodate new positive messages of change. Believe that your brain is not the exception to this fact. Try to put these new shame combating messages everywhere as a reminder. Maybe put a new background on your phone or a sticky note on the dashboard of your car. Make it readily accessible and easy to remember. You tell yourself the negative messages all the time, you’ll need a lot of practice to begin changing that. You can do it. Healing is possible.
If you’re ready to work through shame and change these negative patterns therapy can help. Let’s get you started on the healing path.