Extinguish Shame

  • I keep making mistakes
  • I feel inadequate
  • I am unworthy 
  • No one really likes me
  • I am far from being a good person

Have these thoughts ever come across your mind? It’s normal to feel this way when heavy drinking and other substance use are surrounded by negative stigma. With society commonly painting these challenges as a ‘moral’ problem or as signs of weaknesses, feelings of shame and guilt often build up, and it can be hard to differentiate them and address them correctly.

What is shame?

Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” In other words, we feel shame because we feel that we are innately wrong.

Shame is not a feeling that stands alone, it is often accompanied by feelings of loneliness, guilt, depression, inadequacy, and low self-esteem. It is an emotion that can stem from childhood, different life events such as marital conflict, or challenges with parenting. Shame is sometimes used to create guidelines on how to behave well, but it is generally counterproductive and causes us to seek ways to escape this feeling. In turn, this can lead to using drugs and alcohol in harmful ways.

What is guilt?

While shame is defined by being wrong, Brené Brown describes guilt as “adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” When we feel guilt, we recognize that our behaviour or actions were hurtful to others and it acts as a stepping stone for us to change those behaviours. It’s an integral and normal part of evaluating our actions and how it affects others. 

Sometimes, feelings of guilt come from reflecting on the time wasted on your consumption of substances or the damage it has inflicted on your health. When you experience feelings of guilt, it is an indicator that a current or past behaviour could benefit from change. Moving forward from guilt looks like acknowledging the behaviours that hurt you or others and making amends to move forward. If those around you choose not to accept your apology, this is a boundary that they are setting and that you will have to accept. If you have done everything you could to repair the relationship, then perhaps you can focus on re-building other more accepting relationships, with others or even with yourself.

Mistakes are common during changes in our lives and having the right support system around you through this process is important for your recovery.

What can you do about these feelings of shame and guilt?

  • Let go of things you cannot control. When you hold onto things that you can’t change, including your past actions, it adds to a pool of negative feelings that affect your relationships and recovery. 
  • Forgive yourself. This is a long process and it is not easy. Take steps to move forward, even small ones. The choices you make today are more important than what you did in the past.
  • Start a list of gratitudes. Set some time in the morning and evening each day to reflect on three gratitudes. These could be things you acknowledged during the day, something positive, or things you are thankful for.

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ALAViDA is a virtual care treatment program that helps people get back to a healthier relationship with substances, thanks to the combination of therapy, medication and technology. On our blog, you will find stories, testimonials, evidence-based information and useful tips on how to prevent and overcome substance abuse, while sustaining a healthy body and mind.