One of the most significant factors in falling prey to the disease of addiction, one of the greatest triggers to relapse, and one of the greatest barriers to recovery is low self-esteem/self-worth. Where there is low self-worth, there is the shame.
In this 3-part series Busting Through Shame, we will break down for you how recovery works to root out the causes of shame to effectively diffuse it and how that makes way for a long time getting and remaining clean and sober.
A huge part of recovery from addiction, no matter which method you choose, involves annihilating shame by digging into the muck of where you’ve been, hosing it off so you can see the truth of what’s actually covered by the muck, and realizing that you are not terminally unique and have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
In talk therapy, this is done by examining your past in detail with your therapist.
In 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and so on, this is known as the 4th and 5th steps. Done individually or working cohesively, these are an essential first part of destroying shame and building self-worth.
It can be a challenging process, but with the right support, you can do it; as so many others have who have gone before you!
It is essential to understand that there is no useful purpose for feeling shame.
Shame is a feeling or place of complete spiritual darkness or depravity. It is often confused with guilt, which can be a useful emotion. Guilt can be a healthy barometer of when you know you have done something wrong and need to make it right.
Where guilt admits you’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, shame declares YOU are what is wrong, and YOU are a mistake.
In other words, shame pronounces you incurably defective, unredeemable, and hopeless.
There’s nothing healthy or helpful about shame. It only serves to keep your light dimmed so low that there’s little chance you will ever believe anything good and right about yourself as a human being. And that is a place from which recovery cannot be attained.
Shame must be dismantled from the ground up to make way for recovery to be received.
Shame is why taking a personal inventory and sharing it with a trusted person and a power greater than yourself (God, the Universe, Nature, whatever works for you) is paramount to shining a light on the truth of who you are and what you may (or may not have) done in your past.
Mold grows in the dark; it cannot survive in the sunlight. The same is true of shame; once it is shared with another trusted being, it cannot survive.
So what needs to be done here; how deep do you need to go? This is an excellent question as some do not dig deep enough and others, due to perfectionism, fear of doing it wrong or driven by enormous shame, dig so deep that they can turn recovery into another method of self-destruction, harassment, or abuse.
An inventory is a simple list. It is somewhat detailed in that it adequately describes the item from every angle, but it is not like writing a novel.
Think about a physical inventory in a clothing store. You would note the part number, type, and style of the item, color, size, brand, price, and location in the stockroom.
You would not include a written history on the origins of a cashmere sweater, describing how wearing the sweater makes you feel, what it signifies to own a cashmere sweater from a societal point of view, etc. See the difference?
So in taking our inventory, you need to be willing to dig, beginning in childhood, adolescence, and then adulthood, looking at events that have taken place, large or small that may have affected you, how you reacted to them, examining your motivations and feelings around them, and identifying all those who are involved.
With the help of a therapist or sponsor, you can identify patterns of defects, or what some refer to as survival tools, used in each scenario. You will begin to see how you developed your unsuccessful coping mechanisms that are no longer working for you so that you can be aware of them and eventually replace them with more healthy and useful tools.
You also openly admit when you’ve been hurt and when you’ve hurt others and willingly process any emotions that surface around this.
It can seem a daunting and incredibly uncomfortable, even painful process, but taken in small, bite-size pieces it can be more natural.
Many addicts, not all but many, have suffered abuse of some kind in their past whether it be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or any combination of these.
Often, the substance addiction developed as a coping mechanism triggered by the inability to process or deal with overwhelming and sustained abuse.
This abuse, no matter what form, often includes elements of criticizing, judging, blaming, and shaming which creates an environment where it is not comfortable or safe to be authentic and vulnerable about who you are or what you think and feel.
In some cases, revealing these truths could open you up to even more abuse. So you learned to hide your true self, stuff your feelings down, and keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself, even believing that they are wrong.
When engaging in truth-seeking, which is what a personal inventory is designed to dig up, it is of paramount importance that you choose someone with whom to share your findings that is safe.
This will not be an object of your obsession, a spouse, addicts not in recovery, family members, a boss or coworker, and, if there is spiritual abuse in your past or present, probably not clergy or religious leaders either.
You are looking for someone who is familiar with the addiction recovery process and is attentive, understanding, and compassionate and is also astute enough to point out your character assets and defects.
Better choices could be someone such as an addiction therapist, sponsor or recovery partner that understands the recovery process and can listen without judgment and to provide useful compassionate feedback.
On the other hand, it is also important not to delay the process trying to find the perfect person.
Most people use a sponsor or their addiction therapist. There is no perfect person to do this work with, but it is important to use someone objective, who hasn’t been involved in or with anyone from your past, who is familiar with this type of inventory, and preferably has done one themselves.
Also, if you feel reasonably safe with this person, you will be much more open to hearing honest feedback, whether it’s that you appear to have a pattern of destructive behavior that you may want to change or that you were taking the blame for something that wasn’t yours to carry.
It’s important to be able to hear and receive both constructive feedback as well as compliments, which for someone with low self-worth can be much harder to accept.
One of the most amazing gifts of this phase of the recovery process is the development of real intimacy with another human being.
When we hear the word intimacy, most of our minds immediately jump to sex. But this is not what intimacy is.
Intimacy is truly connecting with another human being from the most vulnerable of places, allowing that person to see all of us, the shining light and the most profound darkest hidden flaws and secrets, with full acceptance, love, and compassion.
Ideally, we would all have this kind of intimacy with our romantic partners, but that is not always the case.
But we can have this with any human being without being sexual at all if they and we are open and willing to be vulnerable and show our true selves.
When you go through the inventory process in earnest and willingly open up to a trusted therapist, sponsor, or the like, the response you will likely receive is one of acceptance, love, compassion, understanding, and often camaraderie.
There is usually nothing you can share that this person hasn’t done or experienced themselves or already knows someone else in recovery who has. Most addicts are shocked by this, believing they are the biggest piece of scum ever to crawl the earth.
Even those they put on airs of self-righteousness, arrogance, and false confidence almost always have this belief at the core of their addiction. By going through this part of recovery, you will experience real intimacy with another human being, possibly for the first time in your life.
And this gift of intimacy can open the door to your recovery, not only from addiction but to heal and be able to develop much more meaningful relationships with others going forward.
Sadly, too many addicts either stall out or complete quit recovery and relapse during the inventory process.
It is the false and overwhelming shame that is usually to blame.
The fear of being discovered and seen for the false perception of who they believe they are through the tainted lenses of shame sends freezes some in awe and sends others running back to the familiar dissociation of their drug or drink of choice.
That’s why this is said to be a fearless and courageous inventory, not that you won’t feel fear or a whole lot of other unpleasant emotions, but that you will have the courage to face your fears, feel your feelings, and trudge through the muck to come out better for it on the other side.
It can also become too much for some to do the entire inventory before sharing any of it. This is known as “sitting in the muck,” and some addicts can become stuck here, believing themselves not worthy of recovery.
In this case, a good therapist or sponsor will suggest working the process of doing the inventory and sharing it with them concurrently to get the addict out of the muck. It can provide much-needed relief to a challenging process.
The path to recovery is not an easy one, but it can be massively rewarding. This is why it is critical to work your recovery program surrounded by supportive people including counselors, support groups, and other recovering addicts.
With the support of others who have walked this path before you, you can do the inventory and reap the benefits!
One of the most profound and unexpected results from the inventory process is discovering that you are a good person who has made some mistakes in life, just like everybody else.
This realization is the first part of the process in dissolving shame. When you realize you’re not hopelessly defective, shame must by default loosen its grip over you.
Once you’ve made it through the inventory process and shared it with another, identifying character assets and defects, what you’ve done wrong (and right!) do something nice for yourself.
You completed a process that moved you forward in your recovery tremendously, and the shame will have begun to dissipate. You should be starting to feel a little lighter and better about yourself. If you’re not, don’t worry.
Some addicts in recovery are still processing at this point, and this is entirely normal. It may take time for you to accept the truth of who you are. After taking a brief pause to celebrate, keep going.
There’s more shame busting to do in the next big part of the process we will delve into in Part 2 of this series – making amends!
Our Recovery Center has talented and skilled professionals that deal with shame every day in the recovery and treatment of addicts. They can help you with your recovery efforts and to understand shame and now to develop skills to deal with it.
The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with all of your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment. Call anytime.
Please call our toll-free helpline which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by experienced and caring professionals who can answer your questions and help you navigate through the process of evaluating and securing a treatment program.
If you or someone you love has questions concerning the rehabilitation process, call our free helpline Phone: +1 888-971-2986 for more information. Calls are always confidential, private, and secure.
Guilt & Shame In Addiction Recovery are some of the biggest obstacles and relapse triggers in addiction recovery. Especially when you’re new to recovery, feelings of embarrassment and shame can be devastating, even paralyzing. They also feed the cycle of addiction. Facing this shame without self-medicating with a substance or behavior can feel impossible, but it’s crucial to your sobriety that you do so. Learning to cope with these feelings is an integral part of the healing process. Active addiction puts people in survival mode; it leads them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. It does not matter how they get it or who is hurt in the process. All that matters is meeting the need of the addiction, no matter what the cost. Many addicts start feeling more and more guilty as they reach the late stages of recovery.
Toxic shame is different from guilt and undermines mental health and recovery, … progress, invites and underlies most addictions, and can present formidable challenges.