In recovery, it’s important to take responsibility for the ways you may have harmed others during active addiction. This isn’t to punish yourself for having an addiction. Taking accountability can also be part of your own healing.
In my recovery, learning to face the harm I caused without shaming myself has been a long and ongoing process—but it’s worth it. The predominant theory is that guilt can be a motivator, because people who feel guilt are more likely to believe they can change and make other choices; shame keeps people stuck in a defensive place where they repeat similar cycles.
Recognizing the Harm Caused
Often when we are in active addiction, it’s hard to recognize that we’re damaging relationships or hurting people. We might feel stuck and hyper-focused on alcohol or drugs. As someone I interviewed for the Sober Stories series said, you go clear in recovery, seeing things for what they are.
Still, addiction is not a choice. We can hold ourselves accountable without feeling shame for coping with pain the best way we knew how. We are often the ones most hurt by our addictions, so recovery is a process of healing—not a time to berate ourselves.
Taking Responsibility vs. Shaming
How do you tell the difference between taking accountability or shaming yourself? Shaming often looks like equating your mistakes with your whole character, for example “I hurt a lot of people; I’m a bad person.” The reason accountability can be healing is because it allows you to be a full person who makes mistakes. It emphasizes your innate ability to change.
Taking responsibility looks like acknowledging that you messed up and are making changes. For me, this has actually led to increased self-worth; it’s sending a message to both yourself and others that you believe in your ability to grow.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you heal from shame and thrive in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.