Moving Past Shame in Addiction Recovery: Choosing to Move Forward

Shame is defined as, “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame is a powerful emotion that can cause people to feel worthless, defective, and damaged beyond repair – and for those in addiction recovery, shame can be quite a common feeling. One fundamental area of recovery – and a principle that 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) uphold – is the notion that we must take responsibility for our actions and recognize that as humans, we alone don’t have the power to overcome our trials and tribulations. We need a strengthened sense of spirituality, either through our connection with God or through another Higher Power, to move forward.

12-Step Programs and How They Combat Shame

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Religion and Health assessed long-term members of addiction recovery along with their 12-Step program involvement to see how the 12-Step program influenced their recovery. Researchers found that feeling God’s [or another Higher Power’s] presence daily, believing in a higher power as a universal spirit, and serving as an AA sponsor were positive predictors of success in recovery. As it turns out, 12-Step programs advocate against shame and towards self-responsibility and help-seeking. With so much stigma surrounding addiction, however, it’s natural for people to think they must essentially “punish” themselves for their wrongdoings – but that’s not the best route to take.

12-Step programs address shame by leading those in recovery to recognize that they don’t have as much control as they think they do. So many people in recovery believe they can “control” their substance use, but how realistic is that? Addiction makes it virtually impossible for a person to only have one drink, or only take drugs one more time, because that’s the nature of addiction. It’s a powerful, vicious cycle that has hardwired the mind and body into thinking that’s what it needs – and that’s where cravings and triggers come from.

One person shared their personal story with recovery via Here is an excerpt from their story: “…It was once I completed a year or sobriety that I could successfully navigate the world…within weeks of my 1-year anniversary I tested the waters again. Self-control worked for short periods but gradually I began to lose fortitude…after a few months, I started frequenting dark bars that I would never be seen in…Disconnecting…Just like that…Shame.” highlights that this is often where shame steps into the picture, because a person believes they can control their substance use, only to find that they’ve taken it much further than originally anticipated. What happens next is often where those in recovery tell themselves how much of a failure they are, or how they’ve sabotaged their recovery and much more. Since the addiction is so powerful, this pattern continues – and it’s only once a person seeks help that they’re able to find ways out.

There are many ways that 12-Step programs provide support to break the cycle of addiction:

A Shift in Perspective

  •       Submission to a Higher Power
  •       Accepting reality as it currently is, rather than how we’d like for it to be
  •       Accepting responsibility for how we’ve affected others


  •       Attending 12-Step meetings regularly
  •       Participating in meetings
  •       Connecting with a sponsor
  •       Developing connections with peers in recovery


  •       Avoiding places that may trigger relapse
  •       Choosing to allow no compromising in sobriety
  •       Distancing oneself from old friends we use to abuse substances with
  •       Other lifestyle changes, such as through diet, sleep, daily structure and more

Strengthened Spirituality

  •       Giving back to the community (through being an AA sponsor, volunteering, etc.)
  •       Strengthening one’s sense of purpose in the world
  •       Accepting what we cannot control
  •       Daily devotion through prayers, reading, meditation, etc.

Don’t Give Up

Once we acknowledge that we have much less control over our addiction than we think we do, we can hand over our worries to a higher power who does have the power to help us work through our trials and tribulations. Sobriety becomes much more manageable because we have the help of a higher power, of others, and of the resources that have been provided to us in recovery, such as through 12-Step sponsorship. Our perspective slowly shifts from one of self-centeredness and shame to one of otherness, giving, love, light, healing and hope. With the help of 12-Step programs, we can create a life that is filled with meaning and purpose – both of which are neglected when addiction is active. “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

Don’t wait any longer to begin the journey towards recovery today. Hope is not lost, and healing is right around the corner.

This is the year to change your life from suffering due to the disease of addiction to thriving in the sunlight of the spirit of sobriety. As the world’s first 12-Step treatment center, established in 1939, High Watch Recovery is dedicated to educating patients on 12-Step principles, actions, philosophies, and lifestyles, preparing them to live a happy and healthy sober life after graduating. For information on our continuum of clinical care and our compassionate approach to treatment, call us today: 860.927.3772.