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.

1 thought on “Shame v. Guilt

  1. Phoenix

    I think it’s time for me to pick up The Book. I’ve had it since my first week of sobriety but one year later, I am yet to open it. Thanks for the reminder.


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