What did your addiction take from you? How much did you lose before making the decision to begin recovery? For many of us, the loss spans a long and colorful path. A trail of broken relationships, ruined finances, missed opportunities, and wasted years. The courage needed to stand in the wreckage of the past and hope for a better tomorrow is not for the faint of heart. However, for those up to the challenge, a beautiful gift is waiting in the remains. For in that moment, when the last bit of your old life has slipped between your tightly clenched fingers, you will discover the one thing you can never lose. You.
Me? But I’m the one who got myself into this mess!
Right now, you might not be so excited about being… you. Addiction of any kind, whether it be to a substance, gambling, or any number of behaviors, often serves as an ineffective band aid for the problems in our lives. You may be dealing with the stark reality of past unresolved trauma, dysfunctional relationships, your own perceived shortcomings, and any number of issues that you have tried for so long to run away from. On top of that, you are reconciling the additional suffering and chaos that the addiction created. What, you may say, could possibly be so exciting about being me?
Let it go
If you are reading this today, as a sober person working through the process of recovery, you are not longer the person you were in the past. If you are getting the help that you need, and have committed to continuing this journey, breathe a sigh of relief and forgive yourself.
Guilt vs. Shame
But what if you can’t forgive yourself? What if you feel too guilty? The truth is, you can still feel guilty and forgive yourself. Guilt allows us to look objectively at our past actions and realize that we did something that was wrong and hurtful. Guilt motivates us to accept our past wrong doings and commit to not making the same mistakes in the future. There are times when it is OK, and in fact appropriate to feel guilt.
Unfortunately, there is a sneaky, evil twin to guilt: shame. Where guilt allows us to see that we did something bad, shame tells us that we ARE bad. Shame whispers in our ear and tells us that we are defective, worthless, rotten, and irredeemable. Shame is a lie and there is no reason for it. All of us can look back at our past and realize that our actions were not perfect, and neither were anyone else’s. However, we can also begin with a renewed motivation to behave in ways that are healthy and productive. Nothing is irredeemable when every moment presents an opportunity to begin again. No one is worthless because nothing can take away our worth.
The Looking Glass Self
Sometimes, the shame we feel spans deeper than our own experiences, even when we don’t realize it. The “looking glass self” is a concept developed by a man named Charles Horton Cooley in 1902. According to his theory, our sense of self grows out of society’s perceptions and expectations of us. For example, a child that is regularly viewed by their parents as less intelligent than an older sibling may come to believe that, and in turn achieve less in school than they are capable. Those struggling with addiction often face family, friends, and a society that is not understanding of the disease. Mainstream attitudes towards addiction often portray addiction as a moral or willpower failure; an attitude which further alienates and shames those with the disease of addiction.
It is important to note that this theory states that not all opinions are created equally, and oftentimes these internalized views are an illusion that does not reflect reality. Throughout history, marginalized groups have risen above the false beliefs of their culture and proved themselves to be more than the burdens that society placed upon them.
Starting over again in recovery allows you the freedom to choose the opinions that resonate and discard the ones that don’t.
If you’re sitting here today feeling that all is lost, I challenge you to get excited for what is to come. Get excited about learning who you are and learning that you are so much stronger than you once believed. Get excited about learning to love yourself without the need for the approval of anyone else. No matter what happens, you will always be there for you. And you are enough.
If you or a loved one are currently struggling with a substance abuse or gambling addiction, we here at Williamsville Wellness are here to help.