Whether in recovery or not, we have all experienced moments of feeling ashamed. Feeling shameful in brief periods, being ashamed of your actions, or further, who you are is an entirely different topic. Individuals with a deep and ongoing shame of themselves are, by nature, isolated with deep and closely held feelings of being unworthy and unlovable. These feelings of shame are linked closely with mental health, and in turn, addiction. As someone in recovery, you’re likely familiar with the relationship between shame and addiction. In this post, we’re going to break this down a bit further. We’ll cover what shame is, how it’s related to addiction and how you can overcome it.

What is Shame?

By definition, shame is a self-conscious emotion arising from the sense that something is fundamentally wrong about oneself. When shame is present, it is often deeply embedded in our self image. Shame is often a result of events that have taken place early in our lives, creating a cycle of shame, a pattern not easily broken out of. For example, you may have had a difficult year and turned to using more often. Feeling that you are unable to “get on” or cope in the same way as others, the feeling of shame likely made itself known. You might think thoughts like, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I do this?”. Feeling this level of shame often causes one to isolate further, and refuse help that is offered. This is the relationship between shame and addiction.

How is it Related to Addiction?

According to research, individuals with a deep and ongoing shame of themselves are, by nature, isolated with deep and closely held feelings of being unworthy and unlovable. This, in turn, is linked to depression, and the use of alcohol and drugs is often initially a form of self-medication. As mentioned above, with continued use of alcohol and/or drugs there is often a heightened sense of shame that increases as the addictive behaviors continue. Again, this leads to a toxic cycle wherein the addiction is feeding the shame and vice versa.

Shame and addiction are closely linked, and a healthy recovery can often only be experienced once shame has been removed from the picture. Once you’ve begun longer-term recovery and are actively rebuilding your life, it’s important to break down any shame that is still present in your life. We’re going to talk a bit about how to overcome this below. Please note that this can be applied at any point in your recovery.

How To Overcome Shame

Firstly, if you are not already, consider working with a licensed or qualified peer or medical professional – such as an LADC – who can work with you throughout this process. Digging into these heavy topics can be difficult to do alone, and may be more conducive to overall success if done alongside a peer or professional. Recommended below is an approach to working through and overcoming shame:

  • Recognize it. Recognize when you are experiencing shame. What triggered this feeling? How long did you feel this way? Investigate it a bit further before moving on from it.
  • Accept and overcome. Acknowledge the shame, and instead of pushing it away, accept it for what it is. Knowing what is causing you to feel this way may help with accepting these feelings. You can begin to overcome this by creating new coping skills that replace what you relied on prior to being in recovery.
  • Reconnect and rebuild. As mentioned above, replacing old coping mechanisms and habits with new skills can help you rebuild your sense of self in a more positive way. It’s also critical to connect with others, and begin building relationships that can support you in not feeling isolated. We recommend working with a Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS) to do this – they have also experienced addiction and can offer indispensable support along your recovery journey. Check out our post for guidance on where to find a PRS here.

It Can Be Overcome

Toxic thoughts and feelings around who we are, the kind that resides within us always, can be difficult to recognize and break away from. Further, the shame cycle that is introduced with addiction can be downright damaging to our self image and worth. Many in recovery can testify to that. While recovery is not easy, it is worth it – and so is recognizing where shameful feelings live in your life and overcoming it.

As with all difficult past and self exploration, it is often helpful to work through these patterns alongside an experienced recovery advocate, or qualified professional. Having someone there to guide you through the, often painful, events of your past can truly assist you in finding the most healthy way to rebuild your sense of self as well as new coping skills. At the end of the day, shame is toxic to a healthy recovery and while it will take hard work, you can overcome it and be free of these detrimental patterns.

Looking For Someone to Support You?

At Kyros, our Peer Recovery Specialists (PRSs) work diligently to develop individualized recovery wellness plans that are tailored to your specific needs. We pair clients with peers that have the best qualifications to relate to or understand your unique life experiences. Because of how emotionally painful this process can be at times, our PRSs can be a critical support system for many individuals who are currently working with them. Working with a PRS is completely free of charge, and can extend to any length of time. Ready to start working with a PRS today? We’ll help you find the right match to guide you through your recovery journey!


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