Shame, Guilt and Addiction

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone, Part 1Did the addiction cause the guilt and shame, or did our guilt and shame cause the addiction? This is like the chicken-and-the-egg debate: the way we lived in addiction weighed heavy on our conscience, we felt compelled to seek an escape from the voice we heard inside convicting of us of our wrongs, our shortcomings and our character defects, but the addictive patterns and behaviors only caused us to behave ever more badly – in ways that were sure to only increase the guilt and shame. It was an endless cycle of fear, self-loathing and the very clear sense that we were not right with God.

Our addictions gripped us firmly. When we could not bear to look at who we had become and when we could not stand to think of how we had failed to live up to God’s ideal for us or to honor his word and his law, we only desired to go deeper into our addictions and the escapes they promised. We sought to be free of a life we felt we simply could not manage; we sought to be free of ourselves.

It is not uncommon for addicts, especially those who would also call themselves Christians, to feel shame and guilt because of their addiction. No matter how we tried to ignore the pull of our conscience and no matter how convinced we were that we were free to live however we wanted, we knew, deep down, that it was wrong. We knew we weren’t just having fun. Whether it was alcohol, drugs, sex or porn, we were mastered by something we could not control.

Many of us knew we wanted to quit. We wanted to live better, to feel right before God and to experience freedom. We believed we desired this. We knew Christ promised it. But the pull back into the depths of our addiction was strong. In the end, if we were to get well, we had to admit that we were broken, that we were powerless, that we had lost all control. And while we often felt additional shame and guilt in this admission that we had allowed our lives to be destroyed, we sensed it was the only way to be well. We understood that if we wanted to be right with God and if we wanted to experience grace, we needed to quit pretending. The façade wasn’t serving us; we had to become honest, humble and real.

Christian drug rehab is often the first place addicts can begin to look at their guilt and shame and the influence it has had upon the progression of their addictions. While the addiction and its accompanying lifestyle caused us shame, we had to dig deeper to discover the original roots of our addictions – often long-buried guilt and shame from the past, things we couldn’t bear to look at, think about or deal with. Rehab was the safe place where many of us could begin to attempt honesty, where we learned we weren’t the only ones who had messed up their lives and where we came to understand that God had been waiting for us with open arms of love and grace. And we started to believe there was hope.

Recovery from addiction is about more than simply quitting a behavior or the abuse of a substance. It is about coming to know God and his power and learning what it means to be free of the shame and guilt that kept us in our addictions. It is about healing, hope and becoming whole.