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Ask a coach

Shawna has a passion for helping those impacted by addiction, trauma and mental health issues.

Q: What’s your advice for overcoming guilt from things I did during my addiction?

A: Last month Shane wrote about coping with poor behaviors from the perspective of a loved one. It's also important for those recovering from addiction to overcome the guilt or shame they still carry from things they did while active in their disease.

This certainly isn’t easy, but dealing with those emotions will help you move forward. In my own experience, and from what I’ve learned as a coach, guilt can lead to recurrence, or at least hold people back in their happiness.

Guilt and shame are pretty common among those who suffer from addiction, but they can look a little different for everyone. For some, shame can lead to self-defeating thoughts. Others may bury bad feelings or act out because of unresolved guilt. Maybe you stole, lied or weren’t there for people in your life who needed you. Maybe you did none of these, or all of them. The behavioral symptoms of addiction are hard to understand and even more difficult to forgive yourself for.

In my case, I used methamphetamine during two of my pregnancies. This resulted in an open child welfare case, years in jail and other consequences.

I don’t know if I can ever truly forgive myself for my use while I was pregnant, but I can’t change what happened. I’m truly sorry for what I did, but I know I’m a different person now. I can’t beat myself up forever; it’s not healthy or productive. Today we frequently have honest conversations about addiction and the past at our house. I’m open about my mistakes and want my kids to learn from them.

If you’re feeling guilt from things you’ve done in the past, know that it’s totally normal. Also remember that the past doesn’t define you now; you can use those experiences as motivation for the future.

You may be tempted to avoid or ignore these bad feelings, which is also normal. But taking the time to reflect and work through them will benefit you in the long run. It’s hard work, but you’ll feel so much better once you’re able to let go of that guilt you’ve been carrying.

If you’re unsure of where to start, try to focus on the good things you’re doing now. And if you feel like you’ve let people you love down in the past, talk to them about it. It might be really helpful to hear their perspective.

Working through feelings of guilt takes a lot of time, and it’s often helpful to draw support from a therapist, peer coach or some other support system. If you need or a loved one needs help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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