The initial steps which are taken on the road to recovery are the most vital. It is important that our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are carefully monitored, and that the input that we dwell on is full of hope and encouragement. Much like an infant who is learning to walk, progress is dependent upon support. Allowing ourselves to have our feet kicked out from under us through experiencing shame is not an option.
Shame Comes From the Outside
As humans, we have evolved to value the input, assessments, and opinions of other people. Without this ability to sense what others are thinking about and intending for us, we would not be able to survive within communities, cities, or nations. In order to thrive, there has to be a common mentality which is shared by the group. We tend to refer to this common mindset as the culture in which we live.
It is through this development of culture that the concept of shame emerges. If we do not behave in a way which contributes to the group, we are in danger of becoming ostracized and outcast. In more primitive times, this type of rejection could mean the end of our life. If pushed out of the community – beyond the safety of the city walls, and without means to food and shelter – we were left to face the wilderness, alone. Starvation, wild beasts, and dying from exposure to the elements was a very real fear in those scenarios. Shame was developed to stop us from engaging in certain behaviors which were frowned upon by the group, before this consequence of ostracization became our reality.
Though it has moved slowly, there has been quite a shift in our cultural approach toward addiction in these recent years. We are slowly catching on to the idea that people do not become addicted because they are bad. They do not become addicted because they want to be addicted. Addiction is most often a side effect of a person’s attempt to escape some type of physical, mental, or emotional pain. It is a trap which people fall into, and not one that they seek as an end.
There is less cultural shaming surrounding addiction, and a growing segment of people who understand that a person in recovery needs love, support, and positive regard. Rather than pushing people who are suffering from addiction out of the fold, we are learning to bring them in for support, comfort, and conveyance of hope. If you are feeling tempted to dwell on any shame surrounding your failures in life, up to this point, you will likely benefit from surrounding yourself with people who hold this more positive, culturally evolved, outlook.
You Are Not Alone
Part of the reason that there is increasingly less shame involved with addiction is because it has become a rather common occurrence. Numbers don’t make things right, but they do make a scenario more normal. During a 2013 survey, it was discovered that over 22 million Americans were suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. It can only be imagined how much that number has increased over the past several, years.
One of the major factors which has contributed to the prevalence of addiction is the nature of prescription medications. Unbeknownst to the trusting public, pharmaceutical companies have a long history of bringing products to the market, promising that the new medications are the answer to the woes which plague a population. It is only after many years – and after many lives are sabotaged – that these manufacturers will admit that they have made a mistake. These wonder drugs often have a hidden side effect of causing people to become severely addicted, and many have fallen victim to this tragedy.
Other factors which contribute to the growing amount of people who find themselves trapped in addiction include biological and psychological tendencies. As the science of what makes us human increases in its ability to discern matters on a microscopic level, it is increasingly discovered that a portion of what we do comes from our very genes. Those of us who share the genetic makeup of ancestors who were prone to become addicted are more at risk for such, ourselves. We cannot change this risk factor any more than we can change our height or the color of our eyes.
Psychologically speaking, our environment is also found to have an effect on our tendency to abuse and misuse substances. Much like monkeys, humans learn through observation of those around them. Growing up in a household where substances are abused – and proper coping mechanisms are not practiced and taught – puts us at risk of following a similar path of addiction. We cannot practice healthy coping if we do not know what it consists of.
Guilt Versus Shame
Though many tend to confuse it, the concept of guilt is different from that of shame. While shame is the result of considering our past behaviors – and imposed by ideas of what the surrounding community desires from us – guilt exists to motivate us in the present. Without any sense of guilt, we would have no motivation to cease our self destructive behaviors, and to make changes for the better.
The easiest test of whether you are experiencing guilt, as opposed to shame, is to ask yourself the following question: Is what I am feeling bad about something I can change, right now? If your answer to this question is affirmative, there is a good chance that your conscience is attempting to get you moving in a better direction. If the answer to your question is no, then it is likely self-defeating shame which is at work.
Shame prompts us to feel bad about things we cannot change. Don’t let inability to change the past drag you back down into a pit of despair. Learn to be kind to yourself. Keep your focus on where you are heading, and not where you have let others down, in the past.