Shame and guilt are big emotions that we have to deal with when we get sober. Veronica and Chip discuss how these emotions can fuel a lot of our drinking and what happens when we get sober and we have to face them.
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Guilt and shame are two difficult emotions that play a massive part in our drinking.
At their core, guilt and shame exist to signal to us what behavior is acceptable, or not, within our social groups.
The problem arises when they’re weaponized as a tool for conformity and unquestioning obedience to arbitrary codes of conduct.
That’s toxic shame.
Navigating through guilt and shame, I think is a real skill. – Veronica Valli
Guilt and shame are both uncomfortable emotions but, like fear, they’re also an important part of us that we can never get rid of. So what is the difference between the two?
Guilt is “I did something bad” and shame is “I am bad.”
One of the times this becomes the most apparent is when we stop using substances to escape our feelings and we have to face the fact that while we were drinking we caused harm, pain, and hurt. That’s what I would call healthy guilt. That’s our conscience.
With that, we can face our harmful behavior, take responsibility, seek forgiveness, and change the destructive patterns of behavior and attitudes that created the behavior in the first place.
On the other side is toxic shame. From a very young age, we can be made to feel guilty and shameful, often because we’ve displeased an adult. Those feelings lead us to punish ourselves and often we find unhealthy coping mechanisms to tolerate them.
When I think about my life and my clients, everyone has some degree of toxic shame and it comes mostly from our early childhood, how we were parented, or religion.
That toxic shame becomes deep feelings that we are inherently unworthy and deeply flawed which then leads us down a spiral of depression and substance abuse.
These thoughts are so deeply ingrained in us and are such a part of our identity that it requires intentional work to begin to unravel them.
That’s part of doing the work of sobriety that we always talk about and it means developing the tools to filter out the harmful, toxic shame that was imposed on us.
This is where getting help and joining a recovery program is so helpful. For Chip and I, we truly believe that 12-step programs and therapy helped us through our toxic shame – it would have been too difficult to change those patterns on our own.
I want you to know that when you stop drinking, it’s natural for the feelings of guilt and shame that have been hidden inside of you for years to surface.
Making sense of them and shifting your perspective in early sobriety is part of the work that will set you up for a successful recovery.
The great news is once you have those tools, when guilt and shame show up you’ll have a process to make the situation better as quickly as possible and restore your sanity and balance.
You don’t need to be trapped and alone in shame and guilt. People and connection are two of the five pillars of sustainable sobriety so don’t try to go it alone.
Tune into episode 113 as we dive into the red flags you can use to identify healthy versus toxic shame and guilt in your life and the steps you can take to face them head-on.
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