I have noticed that there are a high percentage of individuals who use the word “shame” when reflecting on their behavior when they were using. Do I feel shame because of my actions and choices that occurred while I was active in my disease? The answer to that is No.
Shame is a useless emotion. Feeling “shame” does not serve you in a positive way. This emotion creates massive amounts of guilt and can induce feelings that in truth are rather self-serving. If I fill myself up with shame for the things that I have done, where is there to go? Shame does not offer a solution, it only offers heartache.
As human beings, we will all inevitably do something that we regret. We all have made choices, made decisions or used our actions and words in a way that, upon reflection, wasn’t the right thing to do. The power that we have is in our ability to not repeat the same action again. We can make amends if it is possible, but we cannot change what is now a cold hard fact that will never change. To live in the land of “what can I do to make it right” or “how do I make it better” or “how can I fix this” is fruitless. You cannot change what you did in the past, even if the past was earlier today or twenty years ago. You live, you learn, you forgive and you move on.
Once you can accept and forgive yourself for not being perfect, you can get down to the truth of what you can control. Addicts live in a land of delusion where they feel they have power and control over their lives. Recovering addicts sometimes fool themselves into thinking they have control of their addiction and power over their disease. Occasionally, recovering addicts suffer from the mindset that they are superior because they have “beat” their addiction. The only control you have is you decision to any given situation. You have control over your reaction and the words that come out of your mouth. You cannot control another human being and you cannot control your past. It simply is what it is.
When we release the outcome of a situation, we realize that we have done our part, made our contribution, added our two-cents and what will be – will be. As we are entitled to nothing in this life, we are not guaranteed our desired outcome. The simplicity of keeping your side of the street clean is powerful. Take care of your business and live your life to the best of your ability. So you screwed up, you hurt people, you committed atrocities that you can barely stomach thinking about. We all have. The weight of our sins is relative. It’s what you do with the knowledge you have gained, by the choices you have made, that will impact the quality of the rest of your life.
I don’t become obsessed with the horrors of my past. I made amends when and where I could. The outcome of whether or not those people forgive me or understand me or commend me for being sober is irrelevant. I can’t control that. I did my part and I moved on. I continue to make mistakes and continue to make amends on a daily basis. The way that I find peace and why I can sleep at night is because I have accepted that I am a fallible, living, walking, and breathing human being with a purpose. I try to move forward and live a life that makes me proud of myself. I answer to God and feel that only he has the true right to judge me. If some people like me along the way, that’s just gravy for the day. There isn’t a soul among us who is better, holier, smarter or superior to any other person. We make mistakes; we pick ourselves up and do our best to not repeat them.
That is why shame shouldn’t be in the vocabulary of a recovering addict. It serves nothing and no one. Be mindful and vigilant of your actions now. Regret and have remorse for some of the actions of your past. Keep your side of the street clean and smile. You should find some sense of peace knowing that you have already won a battle that no one, especially yourself, thought you could. There is power in being a survivor; shame only continues the mindset of a victim. And you are not a victim.