Shame v. Guilt

By Bill

One of our difficulties in recovery is that we are confused about who we are.  Our ideas of self have been warped by our experiences inside and outside of our addictions, and by the things that we have done to sustain the “legend in our own minds” that we have built up over the years.

Many of these things involved our being used, abused or neglected by others in our lives.  Some came from our using other people in various ways, most of them not to the other person’s benefit.  Our use of and objectification by others, along with our having used people ourselves — eventually turns into remorse for the things we’ve done.  It becomes difficult to distinguish between guilt, the knowledge that we have done something bad, and shame, the belief that we ourselves are bad.

That feeling, that we must be bad people — that something is wrong with us morally — drives a major part of our addiction.  Until we are able to unearth and expose those feelings to the light of day, looking at them with adult perspective instead of a child’s fears, we are not able fully to experience the freedom of recovery.

Steps 4 and 5, along with professional help if needed, are the tools that we use to excavate and deal with our secrets and shame.  Once we dig them out and take a look, we don’t then find it necessary to bury them again.  A secret shared is no longer a secret.  Shame, once exposed to the light of reality, changes into guilt — sometimes ours, but often that of others.  That transformation is the key to our understanding of the next steps we must take in order to move further down the path toward recovery.

Looking For Love In All The … well, you know …

by Bill

As infants, we thrived on pleasure: eating, sleeping, being cuddled, touched, looked at with love.  These things satisfied inborn needs, and we were always in control, usually contented, and immediately satisfied if we were not.  As we got older we looked for this satisfaction and contentment in other ways, the pleasure of running and playing, delight in our playmates, the scary thrill of discovering that we weren’t really part of our parents, but individuals with our own abilities.

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The Pernicious Pursuit of Perfection

by Bill

Sometimes we get so tired of trying to be perfect that we are in danger of quitting altogether.  This can happen in everyday life, and is one of the major causes of “dropping out” into various addictions, whether chemical or behavioral.  It also happens in early recovery, which by its nature defies perfection.

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Courage and Decisions

Courage is being afraid but doing it anyway.
~ Unknown

Every day we make thousands of decisions: Am I going to shave before or after breakfast; Should I wear this blouse or that one; Latte or mocha; Shall I go to the morning or evening meeting, and so on.

These usually seem like small things, and they often are.  But small decisions can lead to big results.  I might decide to cross the street, and thus meet the love of my life — or she might walk past on the side of the street I just left. Not all our decisions are so momentous.  Nonetheless, we need to be mindful of those that might carry weight.

Generally speaking, good decisions are those that will benefit us, and it’s pretty easy to analyze them: will this further my sobriety, or not; what might be the long-term results, and can I live with those possibilities; am I doing this to help me stuff some feelings, and so forth.

Bad decisions, on the other hand, tend to be focused outwardly: will this please my partner, even though I might get a resentment about it; am I doing that in order to avoid looking at something about my life that I’d rather forget…. These are often more difficult to identify, but if we use the criterion “Will it really benefit me in the long run” we most likely won’t be too far off track. 

This may seem selfish, but we need to remember that we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves! We need to consider our decisions mindfully.

In our addictions we let our minds run free, doing what felt good and avoiding — at all costs — things that made us uncomfortable, or that frightened us.  In order to recover, we need to develop the courage that carries us past our fears and our wants, to actions that satisfy our true needs.

And we need to look carefully at what those fears might be, because that’s what doing the “next right thing” is all about.