How to Overcome Guilt and Shame After Addiction in California

Although substance use is a common part of life in some big cities in California, it’s not healthy. And when that “use” turns into “abuse,” it can cause substantial damage to the user and those around them.

When you’re in the throes of addiction, you do things you aren’t proud of. In fact, some recovering addicts claim that the hardest yet most valuable part of getting clean is recognizing and admitting the pain they caused to those they love.

This aspect of recovery is worked through heavily when you’re in a professional treatment center (learn more here at Studio 64 Recovery). The process of overcoming guilt and shame is best approached alongside therapy and a strong support system.

But if you’re doing it alone or trying to handle those feelings when no one is around to help you, there are a few strategies you can use to get through the shameful emotions. Here are some of the most effective tools used by recovering addicts in California and around the world.

1. Ask Yourself What Positive Will Come From Your Thoughts

There’s a fine line between admitting your past behaviors were wrong and wallowing in them. Part of recovery means accepting that what you did wasn’t right and you need to change your actions for the better. You’ve done this already. Now, it’s time to move forward.

When you find yourself stuck in the quagmire of guilt and shame, ask yourself what good those feelings are doing to change your past or future. If you’re looking for atonement or forgiveness, you’ll never find it in the past. You must enter the present and make choices that will help others believe you’re a different person or take actions that mitigate any previous damage you’ve done.

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You’re allowed to feel bad about your past choices. But you can’t continue to let them cause damage by defining your present. These negative thoughts and feelings can set your recovery back and even cause you to relapse and start repeating those previous actions you are so ashamed of.

Instead, put those emotions in a box or lock them in a room deep inside your heart, and give yourself permission to set them aside for now and come back to dissect them later when you’re feeling stronger.

2. Forgive Yourself

Over time, your goal should be to forgive yourself for your previous behaviors. You can feel bad about what you did, but you’re not the same person you were then. That person made mistakes, and we all make mistakes.

As you begin talking to your peers, you’ll hear their stories. Try not to compare their choices to yours, but recognize that everyone has a story. Every addict has hurt someone they care about. Recovery is about recognizing you made poor decisions that had consequences for others and choosing to be a better person in the future.

Don’t wait for forgiveness from the other person, as that may never come. That’s their path to walk. Practice giving forgiveness instead, and eventually, you’ll learn to extend this to yourself.

3. Become a Better Person

The best way to reduce guilt and shame for previous behaviors is to better yourself. Use your story as that of an overcomer who hit rock bottom and then rose from the floor stronger and smarter.

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You are by far not the only person who has struggled with substance abuse and made bad decisions because of it. Adapt your perspective and view yourself as someone who went through a disease, sought treatment, and recovered. Share your story with others who may need to hear your words of encouragement and perseverance.

Those who value you will not hold your past against you once they see you’ve truly sought to break the chains of addiction. If anyone doesn’t see your worth and strength, they aren’t someone you want to surround yourself with, anyway.

When you’re around the right people, your past won’t be a regular topic of conversation. So, if you’re feeling guilty and shameful frequently, take a good look at those you call friends and loved ones. You may need to create boundaries that keep anyone who is intent on making you “pay” for your mistakes away until you are ready to deal with them.

It doesn’t matter if these people are your family or best friends. They should want what’s best for you, and right now, that does not involve staying stuck in the cycle of shameful feelings.


Feeling guilty about the things you did when you were an addict is normal and an essential part of the recovery process. However, it’s also a stage, and like any stage in a process, it’s meant to be for a short time.

That guilt and shame had a purpose — it propelled you forward in your treatment, ensuring you don’t want to repeat the cycle of bad choices. Now, focus on today and how you can continue your journey to be a better person, free from the dangers that came with your addiction.

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