All of us have grappled with guilt. Crushing, overwhelming, humbling and lingering; all of these words describe guilt but cannot truly grasp how deep it can cut. As with any form of pain, you can confront it in two ways. You can succumb to it and allow it to overshadow your recovery, or you can plant a garden out of it and grow. Here are 9 ways to ease guilt in recovery and become a stronger, happier you.
1. Consider the Source
Before you can let go of guilt, you have to identify and confront its source. Maybe it comes from estranged relationships, relapses, crime, violations of moral or spiritual standards, or poor job performance. Guilt can fester and spread into every aspect of life unless you’re willing to stare it down, see it clearly and feel it fully. Only then can you…
2. Face the Facts
Does your mind run rampant with “if only’s” and “what if’s”? Are you plagued with a non-stop mental reel of events that went wrong? Do you convince you’re that you would be happy if “that” never happened? This does nothing more than simply rob you of healing. It traps you in the past; life is marching forward beyond your self-inflicted bars. You are as powerless here as you are over the past events you’re obsessing over. You do have power over the present. Refuse to let pain and guilt belittle you; harness it and let it fuel you. Carve it into wisdom. Mistakes are stitches that will sew together the more grateful, more resilient you. It hurts, of course, but pain is a wake-up call. Rise and approach life with more compassion and prudence.
3. Forgive Yourself
You are human. That is both our most harrowing fault and most glorious virtue. We are flawed creatures, so mistakes are inevitable. In fact, mistakes are necessary. How else could we learn and grow? We will always be a work in progress. If you’re in recovery, remind yourself that your behavior under the influence does not have to define who you are now. Make a fresh start. You can chase away the shadows of the past by striving for a present full of light and gratitude.
4. Forgive Others
There will be no peace within if resentment has you shackled. The anger within us does nothing more than taint our lives, leech off our joy and prevent happy connections. It is simply not worth wasting all of that precious energy for. Remember that the wrongdoer is more than just that. They are human; they make mistakes just as we do. Forgiveness is not condoning their actions; it is inviting compassion into your life as well as theirs. It may just have the power to transform them. If not, it will still open your heart to more happiness.
5. Practice Positive Thinking
Guilt reels its ugly head especially when you’re feeling hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or weak. Practice positive thinking in those HALT moments. Remind yourself that you’ve moved forward, that you’ve forgiven yourself and others, and that you’re no longer living in bondage to guilt.
6. Make Restitution
Restitution goes far beyond obliging a legal demand. Steps 8-10 of Alcoholics Anonymous are all about acknowledging who we’ve wronged and making amends. It will take courage and commitment. You must assess whether reconnection is wise in each scenario and that you can maintain a pure and willing heart in doing so. Recovery comes first, so never pursue a situation that may threaten the stability of your substance freedom. That being said, this is a powerful, cathartic process. It will ease the guilt and pain for both of you. If a person is out of reach and must stay that way, try writing a letter to them. Even if you don’t send it, an apology in any form will be liberating for you.
7. Commit to Change
Mistakes can become wisdom only if you commit to learn from them. With this, you have the opportunity to strive to be the child, parent, friend, lover, spouse, and employee you want to be. I suggest you seek professional therapy, cultivate a trusted support group, and keep working on your recovery program as you break free from the past and dedicate yourself to building the happiness ahead.
8. Live in the Present
Today is a new day. Yesterday is over, and tomorrow may never come. Stop dwelling on the past or fearing ways you might mess up in the future. Instead, immerse yourself in recovery right now.
9. Refute Shame
You are a valued, worthy, and wonderful human being. You deserve a happy, healthy mind full of hope. Fight those self-loathing thoughts by volunteering, pursuing hobbies, exercise and more. Find a strong support network, too, of people who affirm, uplift, and value you.
Guilt can be a powerful motivator that induces change. That’s how I hope you see this emotion. Instead of allowing it to drag you down into depression and despair or back into active addiction, reach out to your therapist and support network. With their assistance and these nine tips, you’ll be able to let go and live a guilt-free recovery.