Those who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction experience a full range of emotions, particularly during the first few months or the first year after treatment. Often chief among these emotions is guilt. Grappling with the actions of our past can a humbling and downright unpleasant experience. We think of the people we’ve wronged and the things we did when we were abusing drugs or alcohol and often say to ourselves: “There’s no coming back from that”; and although we tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do to change the past, we still let guilt and shame dictate our everyday lives and our futures.
It’s perfectly natural to have negative feelings about our period of active substance abuse (if it was a positive experience) we wouldn’t have entered treatment; however, we have to learn to process the guilt and regret we feel in a healthy way if we’re to move forward in recovery. Guilt is a common trigger of relapse among both drug addicts and alcoholics. If we’re left to sink into our heads and wallow in the negativity of our pasts, it’s often only a matter of time before we start once again self-medicating. It can lead to long-term depression and permanently damage the way see ourselves and relate to others.
Dealing with guilt in recovery looks different for every kind individual; however, it always requires a solid support system and a steady and established recovery routine. The 12-Step Process helps us effectively confront malignant guilt by encouraging us to do our best to make amends among and engaging in other redemptive exercises. We should also communicate all feelings of guilt and depression to our therapists and share them in our support groups during and after the rehab process. The more open we are about our feelings and what we’re experiencing, the more avenues we’re giving ourselves to remedy the problem. We can also do things like practicing mindfulness meditation or therapeutic journaling to help us deal with our guilt.
Guilt is a common part of the recovery process; however, so is moving past that guilt and doing what we have to do to preserve that sobriety. It helps to realize the extent to which substance abuse altered our brain chemistry and forces us to engage in behavior we otherwise wouldn’t. Giving ourselves a free pass, or even expecting everyone to forgive us for what we did during our period of active substance abuse, is unrealistic and potentially dangerous; however, if we rely on the mechanisms that are built into the recovery process, we may find that dealing with guilt to be much easier.