Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 9/7/2021
Dealing With Shame and Regret in Recovery
An essential part of recovery is making peace with the past.
It’s easier said than done.
Just like people’s experiences in active addiction are unique, each person’s path to recovery and healing experience is also unique. Addiction can take any person to lows in their life that they didn’t know possible.
The tools provided to process these experiences vary from person to person.
Means to process are provided for some and not others, but they can be learned and applied by anyone in recovery.
If you are still dealing with shame and regret, which bubble up in memories of the past, you don’t have to be affected by those intense feelings forever.
You can (and must) learn to look back on the things you did and the events which took place with compassion, love, and grace towards yourself. Forgiveness is key.
Read on to learn more about regret, shame, and how to change your perception of past experiences to optimize your mental health in recovery.
If you’re still struggling with substance abuse, help is a phone call away at (888) 906-0952.
Get The Answers You Need
- Early Recovery: Facing Reality After Addiction
- Why Are My Memories so Painful?
- Resolve to do Better
- How to Gain the Tools to Process Regrets and Forgive Yourself in Recovery
- You are Human, Remember That
- Moving Forward: Taking it One Day at Time
Early Recovery: Facing Reality After Addiction
Healthy recovery from addiction requires a large amount of honesty and objectivity.
Running from reality is something that we can become experts in while we’re using.
The fact that we are the ones who are being destructive to ourselves and others is not something we want to think about.
Life exists in our tiny bubble where we perceive things on our own terms.
Changing that mindset to more in tune with the truth challenges everything we have told ourselves.
It challenges the wall of lies that we have built to protect ourselves from seeing the truth.
When those walls are torn down, it also comes with exposing mistakes you’ve made, the way you’ve hurt yourself and others, and the things you deeply regret.
It’s no surprise that tearing those walls down is painful.
Those walls are built to protect ourselves, our addiction, and what ultimately lies under it.
But recovery isn’t about being harsh on yourself in the process. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
People who struggle with addiction are usually already hard enough on themselves.
It’s a process that requires patience, grace, teachability, and love towards ourselves and others.
Why Are My Memories so Painful?
When the memories of our actions cause emotional suffering, it is usually because that action went against our core values. Core values are the things that we care about and hold in high esteem.
A few examples of values are:
Every person on this earth has done something that goes against their values, but addiction puts a person in a highly vulnerable state where we become so far removed from who we are at our core that we begin to go against our values every day.
It doesn’t get better as the addiction progresses; it always gets worse. It is almost impossible to fully live out our values in a meaningful way in active addiction. Some of us have gone to deeper lows than others, but we have all done things in active addiction that we would never dream of doing if it weren’t for falling into drug and alcohol use.
Regretful mistakes could be something like stealing from your family, physically hurting someone you love, or abandoning your kids. When these memories cross your mind, and you feel emotional pain, it’s likely because there is still processing that needs to take place.
Even though it may not feel like it, it’s a good sign. It provides evidence that you are slowly becoming more in tune with your values and who you are as a person. Your conscience is alive and well.
Resolve to do Better
Recovery is not just about stopping the use of drugs.
I mean, sure, if you remove the drugs and/or alcohol from your life, there are sure to be improvements, but what each person in recovery should also do is focus on changing themselves from within.
Drug abuse doesn’t just happen in a vacuum.
We often have gone through things in the past, character defects that sabotage our lives, and other things that we need to find healing and acceptance with.
There’s a lot of baggage that comes with addiction.
Remembering all of the things that you have done and the people you have hurt can be heavy.
All that can be done from here on out is slow and consistent change.
You must resolve to become the best version of yourself. Many individuals look to outside help and call on God to help build and restore them into a new person.
How to Gain the Tools to Process Regrets and Forgive Yourself in Recovery
If you feel you do not have the tools to help you through this sensitive stage of recovery, you must seek them out.
The tools for recovery are out there, and many ways to learn are completely free.
The first option is to join a support group.
The 12 steps emphasize the importance of letting go of old baggage and include it in the 12 step process.
If the 12 steps are not for you, an individual therapist or a SMART recovery group could help.
The idea is to try as many options as you can and see what works. You will never know if you don’t try.
Having the support of others in recovery who have walked down the same path as you is absolutely crucial to the success of your recovery.
Do not ever underestimate the importance of human connection in recovery from drugs and alcohol.
You are Human, Remember That
You know how they say, “you should never meet your heroes,” well, there’s a reason for that.
When we put other humans on a pedestal and believe that they are perfect, we will be let down more often than not.
Why? Because humans are imperfect. It’s a good idea to start understanding that and approaching life with humility.
There are a lot of areas in which you will need help in recovery.
Learn to look upon your mistakes with compassion for yourself as a human, knowing that you are not perfect and making mistakes.
For me personally, I know that no one is harder on me than myself.
When I was in the early stages of recovery, I looked back on things that I did in active addiction and felt like I would never live it down.
Never mind what others thought of me. I was upset with myself.
It wasn’t healthy, of course, but I was dipping my toes, so to speak, in the waters of recovery. I was trying to make sense of all that had occurred as a result of addiction. I was experiencing a lot of realizations.
I didn’t know this then, but I was coming face to face with my own unhealthy perfectionism and with my own self-esteem.
I was so far from perfect yet held myself to an impossible standard that even a person struggling with addiction probably wouldn’t be able to meet.
You’d be surprised, but many people in active addiction subject themselves to these distorted ways of thinking.
In fact, perfectionism leads a lot of people to addictions and, consequently, keeps them stuck.
In recovery, it’s important to get in touch with our humanity. We are human. We stumble, we fall, and we get back up again.
Take it One Day at a Time.
Addiction takes you to places of great despair and causes you to hurt the people you love the most.
It is critical to keep watch and ensure the things you have yet to process and work through don’t lead you to relapse in early recovery.
In my own process of early recovery, I just needed another 24 hours, and there wasn’t much more I could do but push forward with that goal in mind—one more day.
The same goes for others in recovery. We need to focus on getting through the day and slowly processing our past.
There’s no way to rush your healing. It would be best if you gave it time.
However, you must also seek out the tools for your recovery toolkit to help you get through the rough days.
Find those tools, learn how to use them, and seek to apply them to your life.