No one ever intends to become addicted. It is not as if during their teenage years they say, “You know what- I’d like to be a heroin addict when I grow up,” yet many people fall into addiction every year. Despite knowing the risks of chemical dependence, there are millions of people who begin experimenting with substances each year and over time, and with continued intake of the substance, the body becomes dependent on these substances for natural processes. In particular, the brain significantly reduces its production and activation of important neurochemicals to compensate for the spike in neurochemicals caused by substance abuse. When this occurs, the individual has become physiologically dependent. This dependence carries over into sobriety as guilt.
After becoming physically addicted, many people then begin to experience a complete change in their personalities, thought processes, and behaviors. This is why they seem to be so much more willing to resort to destructive and harmful behaviors than they ever were before becoming addicted. As a result, many people feel guilt in sobriety from their time in active addiction, which frequently puts a recovering addict at risk for relapse. Therefore, it’s important for those in recovery from addiction to know how to manage that guilt, allowing them to better sustain their sobriety for the long-term.
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Why Guilt in Sobriety Can Harm You
Before we discuss the specific ways a person can manage guilt in sobriety, we should review the specific effects of self-reproach on one’s recovery. This is a very powerful and highly motivating feeling. When a person is experiencing immense guilt for their actions during active addiction, he or she will naturally be more inclined and more willing to find ways of alleviating those kinds of feelings. Since an addict develops a habit of alleviating any negative feelings they might experience in life with alcohol or drug abuse, experiencing these intense emotions in recovery could cause people who are still new to sobriety to relapse. As such, it’s incredibly important to know how to assess and address these feelings.
5 Ways to Manage Guilt in Sobriety
Work the Steps of Sobriety
One of the best ways to manage guilt in sobriety is by working the 12 Steps. This will not only allow you to deal directly with the guilt that you may be experiencing, but it will also give you an outlet for any unwanted guilt you may still be carrying around. Working the Steps allow you to address your guilt, and it will also give you the mental boost you need in order to manage guilt in sobriety because you know that you are working towards becoming a sober-minded individual.
Identify the Origins of Your Guilt
When experiencing feelings of culpability, the first and, arguably, the most important thing you need to do is determine what is making you feel that way. In other words, you must identify the specific behavior you exhibited previously that are presently causing you to feel as though your actions are so worthy of reproach. Some of the most remorseful and shame-inducing behaviors are those that bring some type of harm to other people, particularly our loved ones. Therefore, this is a good place to start, looking back on previous interactions with family members and friends over the course of active addiction. After identifying the source of shame, you are in a much better position to be able to address and overcome it.
Recognize That You’re Not the Same Person in Sobriety
Addiction is a disease that turns even the most good-hearted, good-natured people into mere shadows of their former selves. It all but strips people of all their virtues and renders them slaves to alcohol and drugs. After becoming addicted, substance abuse is the primary motivator in one’s life, like the center of a person’s universe. Addicts become willing to do basically anything and everything that they need to do in order to sustain their substance abuse problems. Once sober, it is important to understand that you are not the same person who was out there using. Understanding this is a great way to help manage guilt in sobriety because you can deal with the guilt you are feeling from an objective and not emotional point of view.
An integral part of the 12 Steps is to take an inventory of any actions that you have committed against others over the course of your addiction, and then make amends whenever and wherever possible. Perhaps the best thing about making amends is that it makes it allows you manage guilt in sobriety by giving you the opportunity to go back and talk to the people whom you have wronged. Many times our guilt in sobriety is centered on the things that we have done to others, but by going to them in the spirit of the amends allows you to a) see that many people do not feel as poorly about you as you feel about yourself and b) lets you make things right with those you have harmed. Furthermore, once you’re experiencing much less guilt in sobriety over any wrongs you’ve committed against others, it will be much easier to forgive yourself, which is another crucial step in managing feelings of remorse and shame.
Give Yourself a Break
Another great way to manage guilt in sobriety is giving yourself a break. Often times we are entirely too hard on ourselves and the result of this is an overabundance of guilt for real and imagine transgression we have done. It is important to remember that you are human and you are doing the best you can, so give yourself a break and take a break from the guilt for a while.
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