Shame Can Be Debilitating for Women in Recovery.

Although many addiction researchers and rehab centers are working to change the public opinion of drug addiction to reflect addiction problems as mental or social/environmental illness, the general public still views it as a lack of moral character. Women in recovery from addiction are therefore often thought of as weak in character or even criminal. Society is swift to condemn people suffering with addiction as deserving of legal justice and less patient with giving women in recovery the help and support that they need. These women who have suffered from addiction can project these opinions onto themselves, feeling shame for their actions as a moral failure rather than a consequence of circumstance or mental illness.

Shame goes hand in hand with addiction, as it brings feelings of powerlessness and loss of control. With millions of women in recovery from addiction across the country, it is extremely important that they learn how to recover in a safe environment and forgive themselves, beating the shame cycle and being able to integrate back into a normal, healthy lifestyle during or after addiction. While women who have suffered from addiction may not be able to impact the global shift of stigma surrounding drug addiction, they can certainly help their own addiction recovery process in overcoming shame and guilt.

Why do Women in Recovery from Addiction feel Shame?

Being addicted to a substance means that a person is constantly thinking about it, even above survival. Everything in the person’s life is based around the next exposure or consumption to the substance. Compulsion often causes the addict to do things that cause them guilt and shame in the process of fuelling their addiction. This may include stealing, hurting someone or forgoing basic needs like eating or sleeping. The past actions of the person cause shame and the way that they may deal with this feeling of shame is to give in to their addiction again as a coping method.

For people who are no longer relying on their addiction, such as women in recovery, they face the familiar feelings of shame but without the release through their addiction. These women are faced with all the negative memories and emotions of everything that they did during their period of addiction, inducing shame. While guilt may involve remorse about past actions, shame is a negative feeling towards oneself. Shame can therefore have devastating consequences in the lives of women in recovery from addiction.

Why is it Important for Women in Recovery to stop the Shame Spiral?

While guilt and shame can be useful emotions, when women with previous problems with addiction are overwhelmed and unable to move on from their shame, it makes it impossible for them to live healthy lifestyles. While shame is present it is much easier for an addict to relapse, as that was the main coping mechanism used during addiction. If not relapse, shame can lead to other destructive activities such as anger and self-harm. Women recovering from addiction can also isolate themselves from family and friends due to feelings of shame.

Breaking the Cycle of Shame: Exploring past Actions

There are several ways that women in recovery from addiction can combat feelings of shame. It can be a good idea to make a list of things you have done wrong and why they make you feel shame. For each event, make a note of exactly what you did, and those who may have been hurt in the process. Consider why you acted the way that you did due to your addiction and how you could have avoided it by acting differently.

Women in recovery will be taught, usually in a drug rehab center alternative coping mechanisms in rehab, meaning they will have other outlets rather than giving in to their addiction, so they can substitute these options into the place of the original wrong and consider how they will act differently in the future. Fully exploring this process with every action that is causing shame makes it much less likely that someone will repeat the action in the future.

Correcting Wrongs to reduce Shame

The next step is to attempt to physically address the people that have been hurt in the past. This can involve practical steps, such as doing positive acts for a person you have wronged in the past. It may not be wise to even address the person, if you will risk offending them, stirring up past drama or causing feelings of further shame to yourself. You could do something for them without them knowing, such as leaving them an anonymous gift. You could donate money to company you have stolen from in the past, for example.
If it is possible, women in recovery will benefit from seeking forgiveness from people they have hurt during the period of their addiction. Organise a time to meet the person one on one in a safe location. Honesty is extremely important during the conversation. Explain clearly what you did due to your addiction and why it was wrong. Listen carefully to the person talk about their feelings with regard to what happened. The language you use is vital. You need to use the words “I’m sorry” to make it clear that you are giving an apology and expressing remorse for your actions. Offer to do something that will in some way make up for your actions, within reason and your ability.

The Final Step: Forgiving yourself and leaving Shame behind

The cycle of shame is a huge weight for women in recovery. Addiction can leave them in a horrible, self-loathing shame spiral. If you cannot find forgiveness and the ability to let go of your shame in faith through prayer, seek the help of a health professional in addiction recovery counselling or a drug rehab center that offer inpatient services, which is the most comprehensive approach to treatment any bio, psycho, social, spiritual condition, simply based on the amount of time and attention that goes into a client during their admittance.

Therapy, whether through writing, reflection, art or speaking to a therapist can be extremely helpful and beneficial in ridding your life of shame. Without shame, women in recovery can leave the burden of addiction behind and move on towards a healthy and healing life.

Ending the Cycle of Shame from Addiction ©

Written by: Ella Doran