Guilt is an emotion that many people in recovery are familiar with.
Once they are free from the influence of addictive substances, they can step back and see how their addiction has impacted their family members and friends in a way that may not have been clear when they were drinking or using.
Feeling guilty is our internal signal that we’ve done something wrong, but it doesn’t have to leave us stuck. It can be used to propel us into action.
Addiction as a Coping Mechanism
An addiction doesn’t develop in a vacuum. People start using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. They’re looking for a way to deal with stressors in their life or strong emotions by numbing themselves or tuning out for a while. It’s a way of trying to maintain control over a difficult situation.
Once someone goes into addiction treatment, their drug of choice is no longer available to them. The way they used to cope with stressors is gone, and they are left to deal with the underlying feelings they were trying so hard to control. Along with those feelings often comes a sense of guilt.
Taking Responsibility and Moving Forward
If someone in recovery isn’t careful, it’s easy to get bogged down in guilt and have it turn into self-loathing. Someone with a substance abuse problem is often unable to see and appreciate the effect his actions have on others, especially during the cycle of active addiction. It’s the nature of the disease.
How to Cope with Feelings of Guilt in Recovery
Part of addiction treatment involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and coming to terms with the past.
Acknowledge the Feeling
People turn to chemicals to turn away from difficult feelings. To cope with feelings of guilt in recovery, it’s important to turn toward feelings that aren’t easy to bear or express. Sit with the feeling, even though it’s uncomfortable. Talk about it to a counselor, in group therapy, or with your sponsor. They will understand.
Examine the Reason for Feeling Guilty
Take a look at the situation which led to the guilty feelings and evaluate them with the benefit of hindsight. Does the reason for feeling guilty still feel valid? If the guilt isn’t reasonable given the circumstances, it may be time to let it go.
Sometimes, we hold ourselves up to impossible standards we would never expect of others. Self-forgiveness can be very difficult, but it’s an important skill to develop to heal guilt. Imagine how you would react if a friend had behaved in the same way and then asked you for forgiveness. Would you move on? Would you continue to hold their past behavior against them?
Make Amends Where Possible
When possible, make amends for past behavior. Make phone calls, write letters, or send emails to apologize as necessary. In situations where it’s not possible, take the opportunity to give back. Show family members and friends that with treatment, change is possible.
English Mountain Recovery’s Family Program Helps Family Members Heal
Healing from guilt is an ongoing process for people in recovery. The exact strategies that will prove successful will vary, depending on the individual circumstances.
Families also need to deal with their feelings after their loved one enters drug and alcohol addiction treatment. One of the topics addressed in English Mountain’s family program is healing emotional scars left from a loved one’s addiction. This part of the program addresses any negativity or hostility they may feel.
Addiction is a complicated disease that brings out a number of emotions in the affected person and his family. With time and professional help, it’s possible for forgiveness to heal guilt and everyone in the family to move forward together.