Shame in recovery often leads to the blame game

Do you feel shame in recovery? You’re not alone. Most people who enter recovery have a bunch of behaviors and events they wish had never happened. It’s human nature to want to shift the responsibility for bad behavior to others. Who wants to carry the heavy load of regret? But shifting responsibility ends up in a constant game of blame.

Placing blame on someone else is a deflecting behavior as old as time. Today, it is more widespread than ever — we see it everywhere. The mainstream media is drowning in politicians, celebrities, and organizations placing blame on others. Social media has given us platforms to air out other people’s dirty laundry (fact or fiction) to take the focus off ourselves. It almost seems that taking responsibility and dealing with shame is a thing of the past — we hide behind our screens or in complete denial — however, these acts will eat away at a person’s character.

How does shame in recovery turn to blame

For those suffering from drug addiction, displacing blame seems like a pretty solid option. When dealing with shame as an addict, we are struggling with an abundance of it with no coping skills. At the height of my opioid addiction, I consistency blamed family members and friends for misplacing pills, money, and jewelry. It became second nature to deny my actions so deeply that sometimes I even believed myself. I thought I was protecting myself and was convinced others believed me, but they did not. Instead, I used more drugs to numb my shame and was trapped in constant cycle of lies and deceit.

The bottom line is that we do a lot of stuff in active addiction that we do not feel good about. The list is never ending, but then we get sober and have to deal with actions and consequences. This continues to feel uncomfortable and now we don’t have the drugs to numb the feeling of shame. Baby steps! This is why we have 12-step programs and professionals to assist us with taking care of the wreckages of our pasts. Although it may feel like we are alone, we never truly are.

When you have shame in recovery you may fall back on old behaviors

So how about those of us who are recovering addicts, but do things in recovery that we feel shameful about and blame on others? Of course this is a thing — especially with having emotions and a conscience again. As we evolve into functioning members of society, we will error and potentially fall back into old behaviors. It may feel safer to blame your coworker for an error than take responsibility yourself. Wouldn’t want your boss to think you’re dumb, would you? Maybe you find yourself in an affair with a married woman, but it’s so much easier to put the blame on her husband and justify why your behaviors are okay. Here’s a classic. You relapse and blame your house manager, the UA lab, your significant other, your job … or just the fact that there was a full moon on a Tuesday. Ironically, we place the blame elsewhere, but all the consequences come back on us.

End the shame and you’ll stop the blame game

There is a pretty clear problem here, so how do we learn to deal with shame? Let me say that conquering shame can be incredibly powerful. It builds self-esteem, establishes trust, and motivates growth. Saying: “I made a mistake, that’s on me. It won’t happen again,” is one of the most powerful ways to develop your character. Take it a step further and back those words up with actions … the results are astounding.

Bring shame to light

Bringing shame to light takes the power away from it. It needs to be normalized, because the more we talk about it, the less control it will hold over us. By acknowledging and owning shame, we refuse to let it define us. Try to identify what you’re feeling and why you are feeling it. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Utilize your support network or a professional to help you work out your shame so you don’t feel the need to displace it onto someone else.

Separate your identity from your past

We want others to appreciate what we bring to the table, but what happens if they don’t like our contribution? If our self-worth is linked to what we produce or offer, the answer is that we can be devastated by feelings of shame that can cause us to withdrawal or lash out — this can occur far after the drugs are out of the picture. When your whole identity isn’t on the line, you’ll find that you feel free to grow and be yourself. Therefore, it is important to separate ourselves from what we do, whatever the context may be.

Recognize your shame triggers

Lastly, recognizing your triggers and connecting the pieces will be very helpful in dealing with shame. Shame is super sneaky and will hit us when we are feeling most vulnerable. It is important to recognize these times and shut out shame with positive self talk and embracing who you are. Shame is a fear of disconnection — so stay connected! Being kind and honest are important ways to enrich the connections you have with family, friends, supports, professionals, and coworkers. According to Psychology Today:

“That sense of connection also boosts our compassion for ourselves, meaning we are more likely to handle our shame without resorting to measures such as masking the pain with drugs or alcohol, or lashing out at those around us, or giving in to shame’s message that we are indeed bad.”

Check out this resource to build your self esteem.


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Alexandra Ashe
Alexandra is a sober woman who loves animals, writing, nature, horror movies, fitness, and self-improvement. After suffering a relapse in late 2016, she revamped her lifestyle and has been sober since March 2017. She is also the CEO and founder of Kinkatopia, which is the only kinkajou-specific organization in the world. Alexandra literally lives and breathes kinkajous — in addition to working a full-time career, taking care of her health, and giving back to the world in other ways. She is a woman on a mission ... the Mother of Kinkajous. Follow Alexandra’s articles to relish her experiences staying sober and running a kinkajou sanctuary. There is never a dull moment, that’s a promise. Kinkatopia.org

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