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Addressing guilt feelings in addiction recovery

answered 12:50 AM EST, Mon February 27, 2012
I am a crystal meth addict trying to stay clean. I have done some really terrible things when high and to get money and to be honest it’s hard to look at myself in the mirror and feel very good about myself these days. I feel a lot of remorse for what I have done but I really believe that God forgives me. The problem is I just can’t seem to forgive myself and it is causing me a lot of pain to feel this way. And the only really good way that I know how to deal with pain is go out and score some meth. It feels wrong to let the past go but I feel like unless I do I’ll never be able to do right (if that makes any sense). If God can forgive me for all that I have done why can’t I forgive myself?

Penny Bell Says...

Penny Bell P. Bell
Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, MACA
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Congratulations for making the decision to begin your recovery! It probably took quite some time and courage to get to this point, and now you're realising that the hard work you've put into getting here is not finished yet! So the decision is made, now it's a matter of addressing the patterns that helped you to arrive at addiction in the first place.  The typical addictive loop of pain/relief/remorse/pain/relief etc needs to be changed.  And for you, it seems that your guilt feelings are at least part of what is perpetuating the cycle.

It's great that you realise that God forgives you!  That's an important beginning.  Jesus died for our sin, and also for our guilt!  And our guilt feelings.  One thing we must do in order to find that same forgiveness for ourselves is to release ourselves from our own expectations of ourselves.  When we violate our own values we also disappoint ourselves and blame ourselves, and we need to let that go on a continual basis.

And I'm wondering, is there also some shame in there for you?  Guilt says "I've done a wrong thing" but shame says "I am wrong, there's something wrong with me".  And the Bible tells us that on the Cross Jesus took our shame (Isaiah 50:6, 53:6). Paul instructed us to renounce the hidden things of shame (2 Cor 2:4, Amp) and "renounce" means to "speak away".  To do this requires acknowledgement - of the shame and of what caused it.  What we tend to do instead is cover our shame (just like Adam and Eve did) with performance, but underneath the pain is just looking for new ways to bubble up to the surface - then we blow it trying to anaesthetise it, and thus reinforce the toxic shame.  Psychologist and author John Bradshaw says ...each addictive acting out creates life-damaging consequences which create more shame. The new shame fuels the cycle of addiction (John Bradshaw, Healing The Shame That Binds You).

A 12 step program is a must for dealing with the guilt and shame that accompanies addiction, in that one is encouraged to "take a moral inventory" of oneself, and "make amends", among other valuable things.  As well, it's important to make sure you are occupied with work and hobbies, that you have supportive people around you, and that you reach out to others in need - studies show that helping others can have a very positive effect on recovery.  As well, keep up your church attendance so that you can continue to be aware of and receive God's forgiveness.

I hope this has helped you to overcome your guilt and shame feelings, and that you will be able to put the "old you" to rest whilst you recreate the "new you" (Col. 4:22,23).  Keep in mind that recovery is a process which takes time!

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Page last updated Feb 28, 2012

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Penny Bell - Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, MACA
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