Shame is one of the most painful parts of addiction. In our best moments, we look back and see how much harm we have caused to those we love. We see the wreckage that our behavior has left in our wake. We recall the lies we have told; the thefts we have committed; and the hearts we have broken. For a person entering into recovery, this shame can be a terrible burden. We worry about having to deal with those we have harmed in one way or another. We are ashamed of how much others have suffered because they love us and care for us. The more we remember the harm we have caused, the more we can feel ashamed of ourselves.
It is very important to realize that this shame will make recovery that much harder. Remember that one of the benefits of getting high is that you don’t have to deal with painful stuff. Indeed, many addicts began using because they were already suffering from mental or emotional pain. As this new pain of shame begins to grow, our natural impulse will be what our response to pain has been in the past: getting high. We may know intellectually that getting high again will only create more problems, but drug use is the habitual way we have learned to handle life’s challenges. “What worked before,” we think, “will work again.” The more that shame finds a place in our lives, the more likely it is that we will not be able to sustain recovery.
The path to recovery does not lie in the past. Pondering the sorrow of the past does not bring healing. Wallowing in our failures will not solve our current problems. It has been said that yesterday is past; tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet, so all we have is today. It’s true. We can’t change the past, but we can make decisions today that may help us have a better tomorrow.
This does not mean that we get to simply ignore the past. We must be accountable for what we have done and seek to make amends. We must recognize the harm we have caused. It is the feeling of shame that is the problem. In a way, shame is just another name for self-hatred. Hating yourself won’t make you a better person. Admit your failures, but don’t dwell on them or they may very well lead you back into drug abuse.