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Overcoming the guilt and shame that you feel from a relapse
First of all you have to realize that guilt and shame are huge drivers of addiction. So if any addict or alcoholic is feeling guilty or shameful about something then that, in itself, is a trigger to drink and self medicate. No one likes to feel ashamed of what they have done–we would all like to forget these things and move on from them. And what better way to forget than to self medicate to the point that we no longer feel shame or guilt about it?
If you drink enough alcohol then eventually it eliminates your emotions. Your feelings. The things that you feel inside, the anxiety, the frustration, the shame, or the guilt. All of that stuff goes away if you drink enough alcohol. That’s a fact, and it is a huge driver of addictive behavior. We don’t like to feel those unwanted emotions.
Now the problem is that when you come to the next day after drinking to excess, your problems are still there, the emotions and feelings resurface, and in many cases they are even worse because now you have the guilt of heavy drinking on top of them. So it becomes a vicious cycle that is very difficult to break free from.
What is the solution to this vicious cycle? One method is to simply “give yourself a break.” Realize that you are just doing the best that you can, and that you need help. You can’t overcome all of your problems alone, by yourself, without any help at all. And that is OK. You have to become OK with asking for help or you are never going to be able to overcome your drinking problems.
At some point the struggling alcoholic realizes that they need to sober up “for good.” At this point if they happen to relapse then the guilt and the shame that they feel from it is enormous. If they are active in a recovery community such as AA then they feel all kinds of pressure to maintain sobriety in front of their peers. So knowing that they have relapsed and have to go back to the group and confess can be overwhelming to some people. They either confess and get relief from doing so, or they hold it in and let the situation create even more shame, which then fuels more of a need to drink. Again, it is a vicious cycle if you are not being honest with yourself and with others, continuously driving you deeper and deeper into your addiction.
One solution: Take positive action to correct your biggest problem in life right this second!
Let’s talk about solutions.
Anyone can start to overcome the guilt and shame of addiction right now, this very second, simply by making an internal decision.
This decision, when you first make it, is not going to affect anyone else. It will only affect you because you will know that you are serious. Think about how many times the typical alcoholic or drug addict has “cried wolf,” telling themselves and others that they are really going to quit this time.
But when you make this decision internally, to yourself….when you make this special agreement with yourself, you will know a new peace about yourself.
This can only happen at the moment of true surrender. When you finally decide that you are sick and tired of fighting against the disease.
This is a moment where you overcome shame and guilt. You transcend those negative feelings because you make a special agreement with yourself.
That agreement is simple: “I am going to get help.”
You need to make a simple agreement with yourself that you are going to go get help.
Now keep in mind that there is only one time that you can ever do this, ever. That time is……Right now.
So you might be thinking to yourself: “Well obviously that is not true, because I might decide to keep drinking for a few more days, or a few more weeks, and then I will decide to get some help at that point, and therefore I would have made the decision in the future.”
And you would be partially right in that thinking. But you are also pretty much wrong too.
Because you have to realize that in a few days or a few weeks, you will still be in the same situation. And the time, then, will still be “right now.” You can only make that decision to get help in the present moment.
Think about it: Haven’t we been telling ourselves all along that “we will quit drinking some day?”
Well, some day never comes. And so we continue to waste our lives in chaos and misery, never taking that critical step to get the help that we need.
That is because it is never the future. Ever. It is only ever…..right now.
You are here, right now, reading this. And so you can make a decision to get help right now, at this very moment, or……not.
But you can’t slate that decision to get help for the future. That is a myth. That is a lie that you tell yourself so that you feel a tiny bit better about drinking today. And “some day” never comes, and you continue to drink until it becomes years, even decades later. Many alcoholics waste their entire life in misery, telling themselves that they will get help “some day.”
Not good enough.
If you want to make a difference in your life, then you have to realize that this can only happen in the present moment.
The only way that you can make that special decision inside of your mind is to do it RIGHT NOW.
You can’t make that decision in the future. Deep down you realize this. Because you have tried that before, and all it leads to is more drinking, more drugs, more chaos and misery.
You can only ever get help in the present moment.
And what does that look like, asking for help? What is the process?
Reach out. Ask for help. Call a help line. Ask someone who cares about you and loves you. Go to inpatient rehab. Go to an AA meeting.
That is what it looks like to surrender and ask for help. And we can talk about it all day long, but the fact is that you just need to do it. You need to get real with yourself, step up to the plate, and swing. Ask for help right now, today, this very moment.
If you want to overcome shame and guilt in addiction then you have to stop doing things that make you feel guilty and ashamed. Pretty simple. And there is no magic wand to be waved, you simply have to sober up, start living right, and the good feelings will follow naturally. Good living leads to good emotions.
If you go to rehab they can show you how to live well. It’s not too difficult actually–again, it’s all about following through. You just have to decide, and then go do it.
How your story becomes more valuable through adversity and failure
Is shame and guilt always a negative thing? Is it ever helpful in any way?
On the one hand, we never really want to seek these emotions out. They aren’t helpful to us in the present moment while we are experiencing them.
But we all experience them, and they can serve us in a unique way. Because then we can share our experience with others, and that might help them to get clean and sober.
In other words, no matter how screwed up your life has become in addiction, you will see one day how that chaos and misery can help another person.
How? Because you share your story with them. You share your experience with them, including how you overcome those negative emotions. How you finally conquered your shame and guilt. How you found hope and were able to turn your life around.
And in doing so you will see that your experience can help others. The failures that you may have had in life do not go completely to waste. They become a part of your story which can then inspire and teach other people.
So in a sense, shame and guilt, while definitely qualifying as being negative emotions, can still have some benefit to us in the bigger picture. They are part of our story and the overcoming of them can then inspire other people to get sober themselves.
How your eventual sobriety will change the entire world
We have all heard the analogy of the pebble thrown into the pond, how it creates these vast ripples that fan out and reach all the way to the shores, how a tiny butterfly flapping its wings can create a huge storm on the other side of the planet.
The same is true when it comes to a person getting clean and sober. You become like that pebble that gets tossed into the pond, and all of the ripples that fan out from you are the positive changes that go on to impact all of those around you.
And it doesn’t stop there. If you become sober then you may raise an entire family while sober. Just think about the downstream effects that may have been prevented across several generations from just one person who raises their child while drunk and abusive. Think about how many families and children that could potentially affect over the next thousand years, just from one person drinking every day and creating chaos and misery for their children.
And instead they could sober up, find recovery, and prevent all of that misery from rippling down through the ages.
And it can be so much more than that. So much more than just the prevention of misery and chaos. For example, consider the person who gets sober in treatment, starts attending AA meetings, and then goes on to stay clean and sober for decades while sponsoring dozens of individuals. So one person gets sober, then they continue to help other people to get sober, while also teaching them how to teach others about sobriety. The phrase is “healed people heal people.” So once you sober up, you become an agent of change, and can have this positive effect on the world. You can make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people.
Just think of all the relationships that are involved with just a single alcoholic. Just think of how many different people that alcoholic might encounter throughout the course of a decade. And they can essentially be in one of two states as they go through their life: They can be drunk (or a dry drunk) and creating pain, chaos and misery….or they can be in recovery, and spreading a message of hope to other struggling alcoholics and addicts. They are either part of the problem or part of the solution. They are either living in fear or they are practicing love and compassion. And so each person becomes like the pebble thrown into the pond, either spreading good vibes through their whole world, or bad vibes.
What some people fail to realize is that when it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction, it is an either or situation. No alcoholic is “sort of” sober. No alcoholic is “sort of” relapsed. Those are both blatant lies. We are extreme people, we alcoholics and drug addicts. Our disease is that we go to excess. Period. So for someone to suggest that we are in a state of moderation is ridiculous. We can fool ourselves sometimes in the short term–you may “control” your drinking for a few days, weeks, or even months. But if you are a true alcoholic then eventually the full chaos and misery will return. And so it is all or nothing. You are either living in the problem or you are living in the solution. There is never an in-between. Any middle ground is always a temporary illusion.
Denial is when you believe that you have found a middle ground. And eventually the alcoholic will always crash and burn, to the point where they can look back and say “I guess I was just fooling myself, I really am an alcoholic of the hopeless variety.” If you can admit that to yourself and be honest then you just might have what it takes to get clean and sober. That is the point of honesty that we must achieve in order to move forward in recovery.
The typical alcoholic is not putting a big enough value on their own sobriety, and for good reason–they believe that they will be absolutely miserable in recovery. I was terrified to sober up myself because I was afraid that I would be so unhappy without drinking every day. How would I be happy if I could not get drunk? Sobriety, I believed, would be miserable.
But eventually I had to admit that I was miserable in my addiction. I finally got honest with myself and admitted that I was miserable anyway, even while drinking as much as I wanted. I could no longer get happy. I used to drink a few and be happy and cheerful, but now I could drink excessive amounts of liquor and I was just miserable the whole time. Where had all the fun gone? This is how I broke through denial. I had to admit to myself that I was no longer happy in life, even when I was drinking as much as I wanted.
There had to be another way.
And there was. But I did not believe it at the time. Which was OK–I did not have to believe in recovery. I really did not think that going to rehab or AA meetings would ever make me happy. I thought that was a fantasy. Maybe going to rehab and AA will make some other drunk happy in life, but it will never work for me! Or so I thought. That is really what I believed, that I was not destined to be happy in life, that I was cursed to either die drunk, or just to live in sobriety and be miserable forever. But I thought that happiness was impossible for me. I was truly dejected.
And that was the turning point. From that moment on, things got better and better in my life.
And do you know why? Do you know what happened?
I surrendered. I gave up. I stopped trying to figure out how to be happy.
I repeat: I stopped trying to figure out how to be happy, and instead I asked for help.
You cannot chase happiness in sobriety and find it. That won’t happen. If you chase after happiness then it will remain elusive, just as it remained elusive to you while you were drinking.
This is because the solution is counter-intuitive. We find happiness in sobriety by helping others, eventually. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to heal. It takes time for it all to come together.
So you surrender. You go to rehab. You ask for help. You go to AA. You go to therapy, groups, see a therapist. Do meetings every day. Get a sponsor. Work the steps. Read the literature. Push, push, push. It takes a whole lot of work and a whole lot of commitment.
And you have to dive in and face the fear. It is scary to get sober. No one wants to admit that, but of course it is true. Why do you think alcoholics continue to drink? It’s simple–they are too scared to get sober. They are too afraid to ask for help, to face the world sober, to face themselves sober and to acknowledge who they have become in life. We may start self medicating for a variety of different reasons, but the reason that we stay stuck is because we are afraid to change. It is fear that keeps people drinking.
No one wants to admit that. They don’t want to appear weak, so they will give you a million and one excuses why they keep drinking. They won’t admit that they are afraid of sobriety. But that’s what keeps them stuck.
And so there is no trick to this. The person just has to become miserable enough in addiction and get to the point where they no longer care about the fear of sobriety. You have to be so sick and tired of addiction that you just want it all to go away, at ANY cost. And that “cost” is to face your greatest fear, to face life sober, to give up your crutch of alcohol or drugs. That is the price that we pay for our sanity. That is the price that you have to pay in order to get your life back. You have to face your greatest fear head on. You have to dive right into the pool, right into the cold water, knowing that it just might kill you, and you close your eyes and grit your teeth and you dive in anyway. That is the leap of faith that you must make in order to get sober.
Because you don’t know if it will work. There is no promise that going to rehab will make you happy. Instead, you could drink again tonight, and get a tiny bit of happiness from that, right? And so the cycle continues.
Or you can dive in, ask for help, seek out treatment. Change forever.
Become truly free.
Learn to fly.