The Importance of Self-Forgiveness In Recovery

Forgiveness in Recovery

Forgiveness in Recovery


Self-forgiveness in the recovery process is essential.  

If you can’t forgive yourself in the recovery process from drug or alcohol abuse, you aren’t going to be able to move forward in a healthy, positive way. 

When you can’t forgive yourself, you’re going to get stuck in a cycle of shame and guilt. Shame and guilt fuel addiction and addictive thinking.

Forgiving yourself is easier said than done, however.


The Role of Shame and Guilt In Addiction

Shame and guilt are powerful emotions. They can slowly erode you mentally and spiritually if you don’t find healthy ways to cope with them.

  • Shame is a complex feeling that can occur when you’re the perpetrator of wrongdoing, but it can also be something you experience as a victim.
  • For example, your cycle of shame could have started when you experienced abuse, leading to PTSD. Untreated PTSD could then fuel your substance use. Guilt would then become part of the cycle if you felt that you were letting your children or family down, which could bring you deeper into the cycle of addiction.
  • According to empirical evidence, feelings of guilt and shame both create and feed an addiction whether it’s an alcohol addiction or drug addiction. 
  • When you feel these two emotions, you experience distress about your actions. They can cause you to hate yourself. Both feelings also relate to other mental health conditions, including depression.

The terms may be used interchangeably in many situations, but there is a subtle difference between guilt and shame. Guilt relates more to particular actions, while shame can define who you are as a person, or at least you feel like it does.

  • When you have deep-rooted feelings of shame, they become part of your story, and you begin to believe you’re a bad person and can’t do good.
  • Both shame and guilt increase the risks of unhealthy substance use, which can lead to angry outbursts and unhealthy relationships.
  • There are links between these feelings and substance use and other addictive behaviors such as binge-eating and sexually risky behaviors.

Along with fueling addiction, guilt and shame can be an obstacle to recovery, and studies show higher rates of these feelings lead to worse recovery outcomes. Having unresolved and distressing feelings can shorten periods where you go without using, increase relapse rates, or be a reason why you don’t seek treatment.


What Is Self-Forgiveness in the Recovery Process?

When you’re in treatment for addiction, you may hear a lot of talk about letting go of resentment. We tend to first associate this with resentment toward other people without realizing we may have persistent grievances against ourselves.

It can be much harder to forgive yourself than someone else.

  • When you’re in active addiction, many of your behaviors hurt people or cause regret.
  • You then internalize these active addiction behaviors and start to think you’re a bad person. 
  • In recovery, it’s important to work toward the realization that addiction isn’t who you are, and everyone makes mistakes.
  • When you’re stuck on feelings of shame or guilt, then you’re keeping yourself in the past.
  • When you work through the process to forgive yourself, you’re able to move forward and become “unstuck.”

Self-forgiveness in recovery doesn’t mean you aren’t taking responsibility for the harm you’ve inflicted on others. Personal responsibility can be part of self-forgiveness. The best way to move forward is to acknowledge your actions and impact and then move forward with mindfulness.


Women and Shame

There’s a particularly complex relationship women tend to have with shame. Shame in women affects how you view yourself and your self-esteem. 

  • According to organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, it’s also more common in women than men, largely because of cultural and societal expectations and standards. 
  • Women have higher levels of shame than men in many cases, and they tend to have a harder time with different aspects of forgiveness for themselves, according to empirical studies. 
  • Outside of addiction, when women seek treatment for mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, they often have to work through complex and crippling feelings of shame.
  • Having these feelings prevents many women from seeking a mental health disorder or substance abuse treatment.
  • Women often experience shame as they’re forced to meet society’s standards as partners, mothers, and more.
  • When women are victims of sexual or physical abuse, they may internalize their shame and feel like they deserved what happened to them.
  • Women from different cultural backgrounds may also experience more shame than others. 

These are all things that have to be part of treating mental health disorders and addiction.


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How to Practice Self-Forgiveness In Recovery

While every situation is unique, some general ways that people and women, in particular, can begin to practice self-forgiveness in recovery from drug or alcohol use disorders include:


Acceptance is essential to recovery. We have to come to terms with who we are and what happened throughout our lives and addictions.

  • With the acceptance of responsibility, you admit mistakes and acknowledge and recognize your feelings of guilt and shame.
  • There’s no value in continuing to dwell on your mistakes, but there is in acceptance and moving forward.
  • Acceptance is a key part of 12-step programs. The serenity prayer that’s recited at the end of each 12-step meeting highlights the importance of acceptance.
  • You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it, reflect on it and use it to make progress.
  • You can also start recognizing through acceptance that you aren’t the same person as you were in active addiction.
  • Mindfulness can be helpful in acceptance because it encourages you to move your thoughts back to the present rather than the past or the future.
  • When you go to rehab, a personalized treatment plan will often start with acceptance as part of the ongoing process to forgive yourself. 


Stop Putting Yourself Down

Don’t speak to yourself like your own worst enemy. Our self-talk can be incredibly damaging. You need to remember that you wouldn’t speak to another person in some of the ways you might talk to yourself.

  • Treat yourself like you would others—with patience, kindness, and understanding.
  • You can come to a place where you develop the fundamental belief that you are good, but it takes practicing how you speak to yourself.
  • Know that you’re doing your best.
  • You also need to speak to yourself with compassion. You aren’t making excuses, but you recognize the trauma you’ve gone through.

The more you can practice developing positive attitudes toward yourself, the stronger you’ll feel in your recovery and the higher your levels of forgiveness toward yourself. 


Take Care Of Yourself Physically

Practicing self-care and doing positive things for your physical health can help reinforce that you are worthy and valuable, leading to increases in forgiveness for yourself. 

Self-care is integral to recovery from addiction as well.

Find healthy habits and ways that you can show yourself you care. This might mean doing yoga, taking a walk, or practicing meditation instead of relying on the influence of alcohol or drugs. 


Creating a Physical Ritual of Self-Forgiveness

When you have a physical element of self-forgiveness that’s tangible, it can help you. One example is writing a letter to yourself on a piece of paper, expressing your forgiveness. This lets you process what you’re feeling, develop a sense of closure, and move forward.

Addiction treatment is when you can focus on forgiving yourself and creating a new path forward past difficult times. Please reach out to our team to learn more about treatment programs for women beginning a journey of recovery and self-forgiveness.

Our team can help you learn more about alcohol abuse treatment program options and treatment for drug addiction to help facilitate a lifelong recovery, promoting decreases in shame and an increase in forgiveness for yourself and others. 

The Anchored Tides Recovery abstinence-based outpatient program is specifically for women in Southern California. We offer evidence-based treatment and outpatient group psychotherapy, and individual treatment plans; to learn more call 866-600-7709

Breaking the Habit of Justification

Breaking the Habit

The number of addicts in the United States increases with each passing year. Nearly 25 million Americans age 12 and over suffer from some form of addiction, which represents about 10 percent of the population. Although one reason for the growing number of addicts is the addition of new addicts, another reason we see an increase in the number of addicts is the difficulty many addicts have in breaking the habit.

The physical craving combined with the serious health consequences of withdrawal makes stopping cold turkey nearly impossible to do. For example, the withdrawal symptoms of an opiate addict breaking the habit can place the addict in a seriously harmful medical condition. However, physical addiction alone does not explain the rapidly rising number of addicts aged 12 and over in the United States.

Drug counselors and therapists also deal with a phenomenon called justification. The habit of justification represents a long list of reasons addicts justify using their drugs of choice. Whether it is an alcoholic or someone who cannot kick a heroin habit, justification remains a powerful reason why many addicts remain addicted to a harmful substance.

Talking with an addict is not enough for breaking the habit of justification. Addicts need a combination of group and individual therapy sessions and close monitoring that includes making the slow transition between using and staying drug-free.

What Are the Most Common Types of Justifications?

The likelihood of breaking the habit of justification depends on the type of justification.

I Cannot Live Without It

This type of justification deals directly with the harsh withdrawal symptoms associated with minimizing the intake of an unlawful substance. For example, many opiate addicts justify their use by claiming that they will experience debilitating side effects if they stop using. The most effective strategy to defeat this type of justification is to explain an addict can ease into a life of sobriety by implementing one or more intervention strategies.

For example, an opiate addict can take a drug called Subutex or Suboxone to mimic the euphoric high of a drug such as heroin. Taking either drug can help an addict slowly stop consuming an opiate pill or injecting an opiate substance. Drugs that mirror the feeling of harmful substances such as opiates defeat the justification argument of “I need to continue taking this drug because withdrawal might kill me.”

I’m Not Taking a Lot

Some addicts justify using an unlawful drug based on the amount of the drug they consume. “I’m not taking as much of the drug as other people” is a common statement made by addicts that live in denial. The key to defeating this justification is to educate the addict about the harmful effects of a drug, even if it is taken in small doses. This requires an honest discussion between an addict and the addict’s primary healthcare provider.  An addict who uses this justification also might benefit from individual therapy sessions.

Although resorting to scare tactics should not be the primary strategy to help an addict get clean, simply educating an addict about the possible damage resulting from the continued use of a controlled substance might be enough to break the habit of justification. Another term for this type of justification is called minimizing.

Minimizing is associated with several types of justifications like “It’s not that bad” or “I can stop anytime that I want to.”

I’m in Control… I Can Stop Whenever I Want

An addict who uses this justification has no idea how much not in control the addict is when it comes to using an illegal substance. One of the trademark characteristics of an addict is not having any control when it comes to using a controlled substance. If an addict has demonstrated a record of getting clean in the past, then maybe the addict has some control over getting clean now.

However, refraining from using an addictive drug requires a multi-step approach based on the understanding an addict is not in control. An addict that admits a lack of control has taken the first positive step on the road to shaking a highly harmful drug addiction. The intense craving for using a controlled substance is reason enough to admit an addict cannot control an addiction.

I Just Use it Once in Awhile

Addiction does have to happen daily. In fact, some addicts use it a few times a week or maybe go binging over the weekend. Overdoing the use of a drug is a common element of turning into an alcoholic. Binge drinking represents one of the most prominent signs of an addiction. For example, an alcoholic can binge drink over 48 hours and then not consume a drop of alcohol for another ten days.

Just because someone only occasionally uses does not mean the person is not considered an addict. This type of justification can be dealt with by educating an addict about the definition of addiction.

Breaking the Habit

How to Break the Habit of Justification

Breaking the habit of justification, such as the act of minimizing the impact of addiction, starts with trusted friends and family members of the addict. Written instructions provided by a licensed and certified therapist written instructions can help an addict come to grips with the reality of making excuses for an addiction. Trusted friends and family members should always use the first person “I” when discussing addiction issues with an addict. An example is “I think what you just said sounds like you are justifying using drugs and alcohol.

Justification is one element of the disease called addiction. It blends in seamlessly with other elements, such as deceit and the inability to hold down a job. After trusted friends and family members intervene, the time has come to enroll in an outpatient therapy program that provides an addict with support from a licensed and certified therapist. An addict also has the option to enroll in an in-patient program to ensure the provision of emotional support 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

Finally, respond consistently to every justification made by an addiction. The more an addict hears about how a justification represents a sign of addiction, the more likely an addict might take the disease seriously and seek help.


If you’re interested in learning more about maintaining long-term sobriety with a group of women peers in Southern California, contact Anchored Tides Recovery at 866-600-7709.

Externalizing Questions in Addiction

questions in addiction

questions in addiction


Addiction has a specific style of thinking that allows the addict to keep using drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences. According to research, there may be a cognitive difference in people with addictions. There may also be more impulsivity in the brain of people with addiction disorders. Here are some questions in addiction answered.

These cognitive differences may benefit from something called narrative therapy.

Narrative therapy is a behavioral therapy that centers around externalizing questions in addiction, facing the problem head-on, and learning how to make room for new stories. The Dulwich Centre in Australia specializes in this type of therapy and offers training on facilitating it to help with various mental disorders. 

Practitioners in the U.S. and around the world also use this approach. 

Narrative therapy is also useful for a variety of other mental disorders and substance use disorders. Bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, antisocial behavior, defiant disorder, and borderline personality disorder may benefit from collaborative counseling. 

Along with adults with mental illness, this therapy may help young people with conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or symptoms of depression in children. 

Below, we talk more about the implications of narrative therapy and how externalizing questions in addiction can be part of this approach.


What is Addictive Thinking?

Addiction thinking is a set of patterns of thoughts encouraging and enabling your addictive behaviors and substance abuse. When these patterns persist, they become obstacles to sobriety and recovery. Getting back into a cycle of addictive thinking can also lead someone to relapse.


Specific addictive thoughts include:


Denial is at the core of all addictive thinking patterns, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Psychiatric Association. 

When you’re trapped in a cycle of denial, you justify, minimize or normalize substance use. You are unable or unwilling to accept that you have an addiction and need to stop using substances.

Denial makes it easier to overcome feelings of regret or guilt you might otherwise feel about the effects of your drug or alcohol use.

If you’re dealing with denial, you might say to yourself and others that you have a lot of stress, or you can stop any time you want.

Without recognizing a problem, you don’t have the motivation to get help.



Expectations can be an engrained part of addictive thinking. 

These are beliefs about what you think something should be like. 

For example, you might continue using drugs because you hold the expectation they make you happy. You could also have expectations about what recovery looks like. You could expect that recovery is boring to provide one example. 



Conditions are the belief that you need something external to feel happy or at peace.

You may believe that you’re unable to function or feel normal without drugs or alcohol.

Conditions can also lead to relapse. You might tell yourself that you got sober for a particular person, for example, and if they were to leave your life, you’d have no reason to continue in your recovery.



The false idea that your circumstances control you underlies the victim mentality. You may feel that you’re not able to control the circumstances in your life, and people or scenarios are to blame for what’s going wrong.

When you’re an addict, and you have a victimhood mindset, you are protecting yourself from having to take responsibility for your actions or make changes.


Self- and Pleasure-Centric

If you’re an addict, you may entirely focus your thoughts on whether or not you feel good at any given moment and, if not, what you can do to change that. You want to feel the pleasure of drugs or alcohol no matter what.

If you’re feeling bad, you think about how you can get drugs or alcohol so that you feel good once again.


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Narrative Therapy for Addiction

Narrative therapy is a type that separates an individual from their problem. You learn how to rely on your skillset to minimize your problems.

  • What you experience and environmental factors become your story or narrative as you go through life. You give meaning to your stories. 
  • These stories then are the basis of your identity.
  • In narrative therapy, you become the narrator of your story.
  • This form of therapy is empowering, and it helps you understand that you have what you need to guide change in your own life regardless of what psychosocial stressors or outside factors you may be dealing with. 
  • When you externalize an issue through narrative therapy, it can lower your sense of resistance and defense mechanisms, so you can productively address issues, including addiction.
  • As you move through narrative therapy, you tell your story to drive change. 
  • You objectify your problems, frame your issues within a larger context, and make room for other stories.


Creating an Alternative Narrative

Working with a therapist, you can start to create an alternative storyline. This storyline becomes a contrast to your problem, and you are taking the reins to rewrite your story. You move away from what you know, the problematic addiction narrative, to what’s unknown.

You can start to find a connection between your actions and choices.

This type of therapy helps you also develop a sense of agency to deal with problems in the future.

You are putting space between your issue and yourself as an individual.


Techniques and Exercises

Some of the specific techniques and exercises used in narrative therapy include:

  • Putting together a narrative. You work with your therapist to explore the events in your life and the meaning you’ve assigned to them. You’re an observer in your own story. You can then begin to identify the problematic story and patterns of behavior. 
  • As you compile your story, you can observe yourself. When you put distance between the individual and the problem, it’s externalization. When you externalize the problem, you can focus on changing behaviors that aren’t serving you.
  • This aspect of narrative therapy helps you create clarity in your stories. You can break down a larger story into more approachable elements.
  • Unique outcomes. If you have a rigid story, then there’s the idea it could never change. That then removes the opportunity for alternative narratives. You get stuck in your account, and it influences every part of your life, including your relationships, behaviors, and decision-making.


Externalizing Questions in Addiction

In addiction, as you work with a therapist to externalize the problem, you start to learn you are not the problem. The problem is the problem. Then, as you understand this and externalize the issue, you can begin to change your relationship to the problem of addiction.

So much of addiction is rooted in addictive thinking and negative thinking patterns. Negative thinking patterns are also known as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions amplify our problems.

Cognitive distortions can become all-or-nothing thinking. You focus on everything wrong, which perpetuates the cycle of addiction.

Examples of externalizing questions in addiction can include:

  • What do you do that give more space to or become a risk factor for addictive thinking?
  • Are you dishonest with yourself because of addictive thinking?
  • Does addictive thinking lead to lying about how much you use?
  • Is addictive thinking changing your relationships?
  • Is the way you see yourself different because of addictive thinking?

Narrative therapy is just one form of therapy with potential benefits for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Future studies are likely to continue looking at this protocol from the Dulwich Centre and how it can help questions in addiction and a variety of mental health disorders. 

If you’re ready to change your narrative, please reach out to Anchored Tides Recovery today by calling 866-600-7709.