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  • Writer's pictureDavid Hampton

Breaking the Shame Cycle in Recovery

Updated: Mar 10, 2019

The Shame Cycle

As I continue to walk the road of recovery with my clients, I am more and more convinced that we are as addicted to our shame as we are our substances and compulsions.  In this post, we continue to look at the legs of the stool of addiction and particularly the leg of shame and how it can become a shame cycle.

One Woman’s Shame Cycle

I spoke with someone recently about shame and the way shame impacted not only her life and life choices, but the way people in her life would be challenged once she came to a place of releasing herself from the grip of it.

She eventually made the connection that her shame was justifying her resentments and even causing her to take a very self-centered view of her pain and ability to connect with others. When she realized that these resentments were fueling her entitlement, which she used as a means to justify her using, it was a day of reckoning for her shame cycle. As her awareness of this pattern became clearer to her she began to make huge changes in her life and relationships.  I even suggested that she write a letter to her shame as if it was an abusive relationship and express to it that she was no longer willing to be defined by her past, her mistakes, or the perpetual accusing voice that played in her head daily.

As she began to put distance between herself and her shame-based thinking, she realized she was no longer as easily manipulated. She spoke of how freeing it was not to be constantly preoccupied with whether a relationship would end, a job would disappear, or whether there was always going to be “enough” for her.

As she began to embrace her own truth and acceptance, joy began to manifest itself. She recounted how much freedom she had begun to experience in the reality that she had nothing to prove anymore; fear began to take a backseat. The old paradigms of certain relationships no longer held the power over her that they once did.  Family members that were used to encountering the shame-based version of her couldn’t always accept her new way of being simply because they no longer had the leverage over her that they once had.

Breaking the Shame Cycle

Letting go of our shame is an act of courage, especially when shame has become part of our identity. To step into recovery and leave the shame behind is as bold as letting go of our attachment to our substance itself. Making peace with our shame is the beginning of accepting ourselves for who we are which eases the load as we walk the path of recovery into freedom. This rarely happens on our own, however. We need help seeing the patterns and addressing the messages. We often require the guidance of a professional to help give ourselves the permission to identify what is true separating our feelings from facts. Once we take that step of removing the leg of shame from the stool of addiction we will begin to experience the joy and freedom that comes not only from leaving behind our substances and compulsive behaviors, but from embracing a new way of being and defining ourselves.

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