Relapse leaves an aftermath of hopeless discouragement and devastating defeat. Ringing in the ears of every addict who relapses is “I know I didn’t have to do it but somehow I just couldn’t stop!” Other addicts in recovery say, “I get it but there’s something about me that can’t! I am destined to fail!” Then there is the tide of thought that tells you to “Just give up!” The voice of shame says “Addicts like you are destined to fail! It’s part of your legacy to be flawed. You will never get it!” And so it goes.
The 5th tool in relapse recovery is well-known but sparingly utilized. Addicts in recovery know about shame. They have heard sponsors and therapists talk about shame reduction. Maybe they have listened to or read some of Brené Brown’s thoughts about shame. I have written about shame many times. Yet, shame continues to dominate addicts in recovery.
Education about shame is important. The more written about shame the greater the insight and instruction about how to manage it. We live in a golden era of enlightenment. However, what is critical to shame management is consistent action. People won’t rid themselves of shame simply through insight and understanding. It requires taking consistent action steps to manage. Shame is a dynamic that every person must regulate. It is not a dynamic that goes away with maturity, recovery, or spiritual growth. It is a life experience to be supervised and maintained with healthy choices.
Addicts who relapse find themselves in a gulf of shame. Negative cognitions pepper their brain like an unrelenting hurricane. Battered by a toxic chatterbox within, the likely choice is to continue the destructive acting-out behavior. At least, you will have some relief from the numbing experience afterward. Yet like the eye of the storm in a hurricane, the backside of the storm of shame is wicked and devastating. It ravages self-esteem while addicts wallow in the mud of misbelief. For some, this blitz of battering has ended in fatality. A category 5 storm of shame is serious business and requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to manage and regulate. Here are my suggestions:
- After you have relapsed, practice doing the next right thing no matter how you feel inside. Absolutely, force yourself to get back on track. Make yourself dinner. Finish the project at work. Go to a meeting. Make a phone call. Focus on one thing you can do that represents self-care. Tell on yourself. No matter what or how you feel, take one step in the right direction and then build on that. You will feel phony. There will be a tremendous war inside to wallow in self-pity. Practice taking one step uninspired. When your insides scream at you to quit, just take one more step in the right direction. Stay the course. It will get better. You will feel different in time. There will be no reduction in shame without this process.
- Cocoon yourself with affirmation. This is difficult when your inner chatterbox is telling you what a screw-up you are. That said, write out positive affirmations about your being, not so much about what you do. “I am an unrepeatable miracle of the universe”. “I am worthy of love”. “I am doing the next right thing” etc. Your negative chatterbox will want to swat you down when you affirm yourself. There will be a war inside. You must win the war by regularly training your brain with positive affirmations. Most addicts in recovery overlook the value of repetition and visualization of positive affirmations. It takes work. Greatness comes from consistency. This work will bring you back to center. It is the greatest tool I know toward establishing long-term sobriety. Don’t underestimate its power and efficacy.
- Practice ignoring your inner negative chatterbox. You can sit in a room full of people and be very lonely. You can sit in a room full of people and be battered by your inner negative chatterbox and no one will ever know. This is your battle. To overcome your chatterbox, it is not necessary to eliminate the negative voices. What you must do is practice and train yourself to ignore its message. Right now I have a hundred different messages screaming hurtful, discouraging messages about my inadequacy, helplessness, and inept ability to create inspiration and positive outcomes in my life. The key is not to escape these negative cognitions. Rather, what is important is to practice ignoring what they have to say to me. There are times that I will need to address each cognition. However, throughout my day-to-day life, I practice ignoring their suggestions. It is similar to an athlete ignoring the negative booing or derisive catcalls that are screamed by fans in the stands. You simply ignore and focus on the task at hand by immersing yourself in the positive belief that comes from inspiring affirmations that you have learned to feed your spirit.
Take time to grieve your loss and refuel your visions. When failure is experienced most of us don’t take time for effective grieving. When you are in the middle of the intersection and a bus is barreling toward you, it is not the time to sit down and grieve. I am always amazed at how many addicts hunker down and let the bus run over them again and again. No, this is the time to get up and move your ass out of harm’s way. However, once you have gotten out of harm’s way, it is important to grieve. Anger, sadness, regret, misgivings, disappointment, and even despair are all hallmark feelings that characterize appropriate grief. Learning to grieve deeply is critical to refueling your dreams. There is a time to act and function and a time to grieve. There is a time to not mix the two together and a time to function while you grieve. Both are important. You don’t have to feel 100% to be 100% committed to necessary action and function. As you grieve, it will be necessary to step back and refuel your visions. Every mistake provides an insight for future destiny. Be gentle with yourself. Be determined that you will extract meaningfulness from every mistake in recovery you make. Transform your fear of abandonment and nagging self-blame to unconditional confidence that comes when you allow yourself to go down and grieve the losses. You will come back up. Trust this process. This is the place shame recedes, and unconditional confidence rules, not in control of outcomes but within your spirit. You will know that no defeat, no disappointment, will be experienced that you cannot come back up from with greater strength.