Recovery Workshop: Lesson Seventy

Healthy Guilt and Shame

Early in the workshop, we talked about the need to suspend intense feelings of guilt and/or shame so that you could commit yourself to building a healthy life — rather than getting distracted by whether or not you are worthy of such a life. For instance, someone has too much to drink, gets in their car and kills an entire family. It is easy to see how the guilt and shame could keep them from even feeling like they are worthy of living. That to recover from their alcoholism (we will assume it was an alcoholic) is pointless. They don't deserve to be happy. They don't deserve to feel good.

The damage from many sexually compulsive behaviors can be similarly traumatic. Unwanted pregnancies, life-threatening diseases, devastated marriages and families, etc. In early recovery, you must push past any tendencies to hold back from giving a full commitment to recovery because you have somehow deemed yourself unworthy.

However, you are no longer in 'early recovery' (well, you might be...but we will assume that by this point, you have moved past that stage into at least middle recovery). Just a few lessons ago, you learned about the necessity of building an ongoing awareness to serve as a 'warning system' that is triggered by potential threats to your health and/or values. In virus protection, a screen pops up as a flag that something is wrong and action needs to be taken. In real life, guilt and/or shame are two such flags. Dishonesty is another.

You cannot experience these things without there being a potential threat to your value system and so, just the experience of guilt, shame and/or dishonesty should serve as a flag that 'something is wrong' and that 'action must be taken'. These flags play a healthy, critical role in helping you to monitor your life when they are treated as OBJECTIVE warning signs. They are as important to monitoring your health as a 102-degree temperature or swelling in your knee. When they exist, something is wrong.

What this means is that when they are experienced, you do not try to 'think them through'...rationalize them...minimize them. Instead, you recognize that they exist because your health and/or values are being threatened...and you act accordingly. Or, you consciously choose to ignore these signs and accept whatever consequences may result. There are no other choices.

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