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Twin Rivers in South Africa

 

A Consideration of Relapse - Shame and Guilt 2:

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A Consideration of RelapseA Consideration of Relapse

It can be said that successful recovery from addiction means finding the willingness to do what someone else tells us to do. In early recovery this is may seem difficult, if not impossible. Why? Because the active addict has survived on a feeling of omnipotence, he has become master of his own nonsensical universe to the point where no one can tell him what to do. If their client shows a modicum of willingness, tenacious Addiction Treatment Centres and persevering therapists will eventually demolish this myth, mystically transforming their client into something completely opposite. For once he does as he’s told, he stays sober, goes to several fellowship meetings a week, preaches the programme at every opportunity, so much so that over time his willingness develops into something almost saintly. Then the dreaded inventory process rears its analytical head and it’s time for him to begin taking a long hard look at himself and his past behaviour. This is the point where willingness takes a dive!

Initially the addict brings with him into treatment, three pots or bags or maybe even shed loads of what the twelve step programme sometimes erroneously terms as, “defects of character.” We’ll call the first pot, pre-existing problems. They consist of primary conditions resulting from trauma, abandonment and abuse and suchlike. The second contains the addiction substance, be it alcohol, drugs or a behavioural addiction, any of which are employed in the first instance to numb the pre-existing defects. The third pot is made up of the consequences of the addiction, its contents often in line with those of the first category. To simplify and to avoid confusion we could call the first pot, shame and the third, guilt. Only they are not necessarily defects of character. With the addict, shame is a primary affect, a disruptive belief that there is something very wrong with who they are. Similarly, guilt means feeling responsible for past wrong doings or antisocial behaviour. God given or not, guilt and shame are true emotions, guilt is about what we have done, while shame relates to who we are.

Defects of character or inherent emotions? Call them what you will but when we take away the numbing agent; alcohol, drugs or addictive behaviour, these two insistent evils remain and without help the addict is left with no efficient or positive way of dealing with them. What happens then is what we call, RELAPSE.

Although guilt and shame are both extremely painful emotions, in terms of reparation, guilt can be seen somewhat as a surface problem. In other words it can, with minimum effort be dealt with by an apology or a positive change in behaviour. Shame however is far more deeply rooted and significantly more challenging to shift. In the long term shame requires the rebuilding of the true self. In the short term it may be more beneficial and rewarding to manage shame rather than attempting to eradicate it completely.

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