Coping with the Shame of Addiction – Tips for Christians

Coping with the Shame of Addiction - Tips for ChristiansWhen it comes to human emotions, shame may be one of the strongest and most deeply felt. Unlike guilt, which is the knowledge that you’ve done something you can atone for, shame is connected to a deep feeling of inadequacy.  It is also often tied to self-loathing. Whether you’ve been through substance abuse treatment, such as a Christian drug rehab program, or you haven’t had any treatment at all, you probably feel at least some shame as a result of your addiction.

The Pain of Shame

One of the most painful aspects of shame is the feeling of separation. You may feel that your addiction has made you unworthy to be part of your family. Perhaps you feel that your substance abuse problem has made you unfit to enter God’s kingdom, or even unworthy to talk with God through prayer.

Shame can be so painful that it can feel as though you can’t talk about it with anyone. You may have convinced yourself that everyone – including your family and friends – will be quick to judge you for the actions or thoughts that triggered your shame. In some situations, it can feel as though you can’t even express it to a neutral third party, like a therapist or pastor. Instead, this intense negative emotion may trigger other painful feelings, such as anger, sadness, or frustration.

Acknowledge the Shame of Addiction

The danger of shame for recovering addicts is that the emotion generates so much stress and loneliness.  This increases the likelihood of relapse both during and after drug rehab. The result can be a vicious cycle of shame and addiction that’s incredibly hard to break. You feel shame over the substance abuse, which leads to relapse, which generates more shame because you’ve relapsed.

The only way to find and maintain sobriety is to confront the negative emotions that trigger substance abuse. The first step is often acknowledging the shame. Confronting your actions or thoughts is a painful process, but a necessary one.

In addition to admitting what happened, it’s essential to view yourself with compassionate eyes. After all, isn’t that how you would react to a friend who’s struggling with shame? Ask yourself: wouldn’t Jesus act with compassion toward someone in your situation?

It may be helpful to share your emotions with a caring pastor or other religious counselor. He or she may be able to provide insight into the spiritual aspect of what you’re feeling. Remember, however, that a spiritual counselor should be supportive and compassionate – not judgmental.  If you find yourself feeling even more ashamed after consulting one, look for counseling elsewhere.

You should also express your feelings to your therapist or addiction counselor at a Christian drug rehab program or other qualified treatment facility. This is an important step because it allows your treatment provider to understand that you may be particularly vulnerable to a relapse. He or she can help you examine the shame you’re experiencing.  Together, you can find healthy, empowering ways to cope with it so you won’t end up resorting to substance abuse once again.

Focus on Your Strengths – Not Your Addiction

In school you may have read The Scarlet Letter.  The book is about a young pregnant woman accused of adultery. She is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her dress to show the world her shame. When you’ve struggled with addiction, it can feel as though you’re also wearing a big scarlet “A” – but instead of adultery, the “A” stands for addict.

The good news is that you are not your addiction. You are a person living with a disorder – one that almost always requires professional treatment, either at a secular treatment facility or Christian drug rehab center. Your addiction doesn’t make you less of a person or unworthy of love or compassion. In fact, in spite of your addiction, you are a still a person who has strengths (even though you may not feel like you do). Focus on your strengths and use them to redefine yourself as the child of God you are. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

There are so many ways to use your God-given strengths.  For example, you might volunteer your time mentoring children, help build a new house for a struggling family, or spend a few hours each month helping out at your church’s soup kitchen. Identify your strengths and put them to work. You might be surprised at how much healing can come from giving of yourself and sharing your gifts with others.

Find Others Who’ve Walked Your Path

You are not alone in this. Reaching out to others who have struggled with addiction can be an important step in healing from shame. Finding supportive people, whether it’s through a 12-step sponsor or a friend who struggled with addiction in the past, is invaluable.  This helps chip away at the sense of profound loneliness that burdens people who struggle with shame.

Forgive Yourself

Sometimes shame arises out of situations over which we have no control, but often it stems from mistakes we have made. Make peace with yourself for those mistakes. The past is the past – it’s time to let it go.  Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Just as you would forgive others, extend that same gift to yourself. You’re no less worthy of forgiveness than anyone else.  Keep in mind that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you need to forget or condone what happened. It does mean that you no longer allow those emotions or actions to dictate your destiny.

Don’t Let Shame Overwhelm Recovery

Feelings of intense shame can lead to a relapse if they’re not addressed.  You owe it to yourself, your loved ones, and God to take the necessary steps to build a sober, healthy foundation. Speak to someone about your shame and other painful emotions, whether it’s a therapist at a Christian drug rehab program or a 12-step sponsor. You will find a caring ear to listen and a supportive shoulder to lean on. It’s an important first step toward the healing you deserve.