It is hard to get past an addiction if you are busy feeling shameful and guilt ridden rather than solving the issue. Our ideas and beliefs about our substance use issues are what drive our destructive habits. Unfortunately, the baseline for behavior change – any behavior change – is to know why we do the things we do. This fact holds true for drinking or drugging heavily and habitually. You have to know why you like getting drunk or high to then be able challenge how much you still actually like those behaviors and then abandon and move past them. But sometimes we struggle to make that analysis because our guilty and shameful feelings about the behavior cloud that process. In chapter 15 of The Freedom Model for Addictions, we talk about the shame and “shoulds” that distract us from directly looking at our preference for heavy use and challenging it. Take a look:

“While many people feel cornered into quitting by others, this isn’t the case with everyone. Sometimes nobody is breathing down your neck to quit. There are no ultimatums, no probation officers, no nagging spouses. There is just you and your own thoughts nagging at you. You tell yourself things such as:

  • I shouldn’t be using cocaine at my age.
  • I should be successful by now. I shouldn’t be wasting my time partying.
  • I can’t keep smoking. I’ll get emphysema. I have to stop.
  • I shouldn’t have a drink at lunch when the kids are almost out of school. I am a bad father.
  • I can’t keep getting high like this. What will people think of me if they find out?

The problem with this thinking is the same as with ultimatums. Positive motivation is noticeably absent. You can keep smoking, getting high, or drinking. You don’t have to stop. Furthermore, the shoulds you’re entertaining are empty. They contain no positive reasoning for why change would be good and attractive. Again, this is important; without a positive motivation, the changes you make will only be temporary. Greater happiness provides positive motivation in the new direction and is the fuel that keeps the changes you’re making moving forward. Without that positive motivation, the fuel of said change will run out to a return to the benefits of your old habit. Without any positive reasoning behind a change in use, the changes are all avoidance based – avoid disease, avoid shame, avoid stigma, avoid a negative self-image. When you direct these kinds of statements at yourself, they are an attempt at self-deterrence.

“If we do something stimulated solely by the urge to avoid shame, we will generally end up detesting it.” -Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

Is it any wonder that your previous attempts at quitting or reducing your substance use with this kind of negative start ended in failure? You know full well that you can keep on doing the very things you’re trying to demand, shame, and should yourself out of doing. So you stop for a while, hating it and feeling deprived the whole way, and that deprivation becomes so unbearable that you go back to your habit. Why do you go back? It’s no mystery; you go back because you think it’ll feel good or satisfy some kind of need. You think you’ve been missing out. You never really found moderation or quitting to be more attractive. If you’ve been powering your quit attempts with shame, shoulds, I cant’s, deterrents, and avoidance based strategies, then your mental state upon quitting is exactly like that 19 year old who’s been told he has to quit smoking pot. You really don’t want to make this choice, you feel as if you’re cornered into making it. There is some motivation, but it’s minimal, and paired with an equal or greater sense of loss.”

In short, anytime we try to push ourselves with shame or some sense of obligation as a means to force behavior change, it simply fails. You might pull it off for some period of time, but eventually like the old-timer who “relapses” after 25 years of AA, you fall into the habit you see as more fun or beneficial. Among all the varied things we feel, shame is especially fleeting in its ability to facilitate changes in habits and behaviors. In reality shame blocks us from seeing why we like and find value in the high, and second, challenging these old beliefs that keep us trapped in a use cycle. In these two ways shame is actually a major barrier to positively motivated behavior changes. It’s acts like a mental blindfold to the truth, and stops all productive trains of logic and problem solving. Feeling “bad” is not an effective motivator, nor are “the shoulds”, feeling obligated, or any other negative means of forcing ourselves to change and behave differently.

If you want to move past your substance use habits for good, you must first take off the blindfold of guilt and shame, let go of the “I shoulds”, reject feeling obligated or forced to change, and then decide:

  1. Why do I like getting drunk and high so much (chapter 4 of The Freedom Model)
  2. Challenge those reasons for your use (chapters 17-20 of The Freedom Model)
  3. And allow yourself to move past your old patterns and thoughts with new opportunities and dreams (Chapters 8-10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23 and Life Movements)

If you want to learn more about how to move past an addiction for good, and do it without meetings, painful deprivation, or the endless trappings of a recovery lifestyle, call 888-424-2626.