Restorations Therapy Blog

Moving Past Shame While Healing in Recovery

by on Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor, defines shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Shame is a sincerely powerful emotion that can haunt us our entire lives – and for those in addiction recovery, shame can be experienced by many. In 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), there is a key principle that is highlighted – and that’s that, as humans, we are going to make mistakes – but we are still worthy of love. Spirituality is an aspect of healing that is strengthened for people who attend 12-Step programs, because they help them understand that shame only occurs when we focus on what other people think as compared to what a Higher Power thinks.

How 12-Step Programs Help Us With Shame

Previous studies have found that many aspects of 12-Step programs – such as embracing a Higher Power’s presence each day, believing in a higher power as a universal spirit, and serving the greater community working as a 12-Step sponsor are wonderful predictors of success in recovery. As it turns out, 12-Step programs advocate against shame by giving people the tools, support and resources they need to not only accept responsibility for mistakes they’ve made in the past, but also to push forward and focusing on becoming a better person. With so much stigma surrounding addiction, however, it’s natural for people to think they must be “bad people” – but life is much more complex than that, and no human is purely good or evil.

At the heart of shame comes this feeling that we’re bad people, but really all we need is to rely more on a Higher Power to help us feel more fulfilled. Even in recovery, people will feel shameful because they’ve relapsed – even though as humans, we’re bound to make mistakes and, as previous research has shown, relapse is a normal part of recovery. Addiction makes it virtually impossible for a person to only have one drink, or only take drugs one more time, because that’s the powerful pull of it. When addiction is taking place, the mind, body and spirit are tied to something that becomes a vicious cycle of craving more and more substances – and while shame can derive from this at the beginning of recovery, there’s still plenty of room for healing.

Quite often, people in recovery will explain that it took them about a year to feel more comfortable navigating their path towards sobriety. Of course, it takes a lifetime of learning and practicing to understand concepts like self-control, but we can’t expect ourselves as human beings to be perfect. Even if we take a few steps backward, we have to work through the shame of thinking that we’re bad people – because we’re not.

Shame often steps into the picture, because a person believes they can control their substance use, only to realize that their addiction has more control over them than they’d like to believe. What happens next is often where those in recovery tell themselves how much of a failure they are, or that they’ve completely ruined their healing journey even when they haven’t. Since the addiction is so powerful, this pattern continues – but it’s once a person seeks recovery and a Higher Power, that they’ll learn they just can’t be perfect.

12-Step support groups really help those in recovery combat shame in a number of areas:

Changing Their View of Themselves and Life

  • They submit themselves to a Higher Power
  • Acknowledging the reality of their situation and recognizing their part in it
  • Accepting responsibility but also realizing they can never be perfect as humans


  • Attending 12-Step meetings regularly
  • Participating in meetings, which helps them to learn more about spirituality
  • Connecting with a sponsor, who can guide them in life circumstances


  • Getting strategic about what places/people/situations harm their recovery
  • Setting boundaries and sticking to them, which brings greater self-confidence
  • Aiding one’s recovery by understanding their role in their recovery

Strengthened Spirituality

  • No longer feeling alone because they’re part of a larger network of people who understand
  • Strengthening one’s sense of purpose in the world
  • Learning to accept life as it is, and working with what one has

Keep Trying

Once we acknowledge that we have much less control over our addiction than we think we do, shame can subside because we can fully grasp the notion that we’re going to make mistakes, but we can always keep trying to be better. Sobriety becomes much more manageable because we have the help of a higher power, of others, and of the tools and resources provided through Restoration Therapy. 

Located in Centennial, Colorado, Restoration Therapy works with patients who are struggling with addiction, intimacy disorders, and trauma who are seeking treatment. In order to offer patients a more holistic view on recovery, Restoration Therapy offers individualized and group therapy, workshops, psycho-educational classes, and more to restore the harm brought on by addiction and the shame surrounding it. For more information, please call us at (720) 446-6585 as we are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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