Why did I say that to them while drunk? Why did I constantly have to lie to everyone who cared about me? Can you imagine what my girlfriend, boyfriend, or partner went through due to my drinking or substance use? Why did I keep acting that way? What did I put my children through? I’m a terrible person.
These are all statements we, as addicts or alcoholics, have thought of at some point or, at the very least, myself and most other addicts and alcoholics have felt. Guilt is one of the overarching feelings we have when we enter recovery. Our drinking or use drives us to do things we wouldn’t normally do, even violating our moral code in pursuit of the next high. When we sober up and enter recovery, we inevitably feel guilt and regret.
Writing about how you can overcome self-hatred takes longer than just writing something in an introductory statement. In this article, we’re going to discuss overcoming self-hatred in recovery.
Addiction and Self-Hatred
Addiction causes us to do things we may otherwise not do. In normal circumstances, we wouldn’t have humiliated our friends. We wouldn’t rob someone for drugs. We wouldn’t constantly lie to the people we love and care about. We wouldn’t neglect our children to focus on our drinking or substance use. That list goes on. The point is our disease causes us to do things we may otherwise not have done.
When we enter recovery, we must find healthy ways to deal with this guilt. Otherwise, it may be a factor in relapsing.
Overcoming Self-Hatred in Recovery
As the title of this article implies, there are several ways to overcome self-hatred in recovery. As you might also guess if you read the other articles on this website, they are almost all going to involve a few key things:
- Working the 12 steps with a sponsor
- Going to recovery-based meetings (AA, NA, etc.)
- Being of service to others
At my home group, at the end of our meetings, we have someone read the ninth step promises before saying the serenity prayer. There is a line that I immediately thought of when I got the prompt for this article, it was:
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it
If you’re new to sobriety, that line probably sounds ridiculous. The promises, in general, probably sound ridiculous. Contrary to the line towards the end of the promises, those seem very extravagant when we enter the rooms.
When you’re new, you’re filled with regret, or at least I was. But here’s the thing: you can’t change the things you did or said in the past. Time traveling is impossible. You can’t go back in time and take back things you said to your romantic partner. You can’t go back and stop yourself from getting behind the wheel of a car that time you got a DUI, you can’t go back and stop yourself from doing any of the embarrassing things you did. You can’t go back in time and give a five-year-old Shakespeare the entire written works of Shakespeare, thereby creating a paradox because that would mean the information had no origin, it came into existence when you traveled back in time and give it to him.
The point is, we can’t go back in time. We can only change our behavior in the future.
Go through the steps with a sponsor
It’s a cliché answer for recovery questions: “work the steps.” But, as with all cliched answers in recovery, there is a good reason it’s cliched. Not only is a sponsor someone who helps guide you through the steps, but they are also someone who has been through similar things as you. They’ve also done the things addicts/alcoholics do to those around them. They understand how your crazy addict/alcoholic brain works, and they are someone you can bounce ideas off of and talk openly and honestly about your past. They understand the feelings of self-hatred that all too often go hand-in-hand with early recovery.
Then we get into the 12 steps. You’ve probably heard about them, read them in the Big Book, or seen them on the wall of every AA group, well, every AA group that meets in an AA-exclusive facility and doesn’t meet after hours in a school or religious house of worship. The steps can be divided into four sections:
- Knowledge: Admitting that we have a problem, understanding the severity of our problem, and acknowledging that we can’t do it alone.
- Self-Reflection: Looking at our resentments, what part we played in them, and what character defects have affected our behavior. After this, we look at how we can control these defects of character
- Clearing the Wreckage: Making amends to people, we have harmed. This involves an extensive list of people we have harmed and working with our sponsor to determine the best way to keep our side of the street clean.
- Changing our behavior: Started a daily process to keep us level-headed, keep track of our part in resentments that flair up, and serve those around us.
The latter three are the most important for clearing self-hatred. Going into more specifics for each of them, I’m not complicating them, I promise:
This consists of steps 4-7, also known as the “resentment and character defect steps.”
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings
“But wait, how will I stop hating myself if I go through people I resent and find out what I did wrong? How is acknowledging character defects going to help me get sober? I just want to stop hating myself right now, I don’t want to wait for it.” Well, we can’t change our character defects if we don’t know what our character defects are. We also can’t change them overnight, which flies in the face of our innate desire for immediate gratification as addicts/alcoholics. These steps aren’t about self-flagellation. They’re about self-awareness.
Clearing the Wreckage
This consists of steps 8 and 9, probably the first steps that pop into your head when you hear the phrase “forgiving myself.” These steps consist of:
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.
This process is fairly straightforward. If you are an addict or alcoholic, there are probably people you owe amends to, be they family members, friends, romantic partners, children, or others. In the past, you may have ignored them, lied to them, embarrassed them, betrayed them, stolen from them, or some combination of those. It’s highly likely that the guilt you feel over these things sometimes dominates your mind.
Trust me, as someone who has gone through the steps, the ninth step feels like a gorilla being lifted off your back. Now, to add to that point, when I gave my ninth step, most were forgiving, which I consider myself very lucky for, but some didn’t want to hear from me at all, and they have every right to feel that way. I can’t go back in time and stop myself from doing the things I did. I can’t go back in time and stop myself from saying what I said. I can’t go back in time and prevent my grandfather from meeting my grandmother, thereby creating a paradox because that would mean my father was never born, which would mean I was never born and never able to go back in time and prevent my grandparents from the meeting.
I can only try to keep my side of the street clear going forward. Another name for these steps could be the “keeping my side of the street clear” or the “monkey off my back” steps. Let’s just go with “clearing the wreckage”, that’s better and more concise.
Changing Our Behavior
This consists of the final three steps, all centered around continuing our growth in the program. They are:
- Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening due to these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all of our affairs.
What is the point of good behavior if it doesn’t last? These steps help us keep track of our behavior, limit resentments, and be of service to others. The 12th step is explicitly about service to others inside and outside the program.
When we continue to behave in a way that helps others, we can keep self-hatred at bay. Being of service to others is so important that it gets its own section.
Being of Service to Others
Gain self-esteem by doing esteem-able acts. In AA/NA, this can mean getting a service position, like secretary or coffee person. These are fantastic opportunities to meet other people in the program, build a routine around attending a specific meeting, and generally be helpful to others, which always feels good. As you get more time in the program, service positions can include General Service Representative- GSR, meaning you give updates on your group at district meetings, yes there are AA districts in each state, intergroup rep, General Secretary- the position I currently hold in my home group, which sounds fancy but is basically just leading the business meeting, etc.
Beyond a service position, being of service to someone else can be as simple as listening to them when they want to talk about something they’re struggling with, answering the phone when someone from the program calls you, helping someone out with something they need help with, etc. If you’ve been sober for two weeks, talk to someone on their first day of sobriety. If you have more sober time than them, you can tell them how you got there.
This applies to helping people outside of the program too. Being there to help a family member going through a health issue, helping your child with a homework problem, being there to listen to your loved ones when they’re going through something painful and not just physically there, but mentally there, volunteering with a charity organization in the community, etc.
Beyond building some level of self-esteem, helping people just feels good. That’s ultimately, what we want, is to feel good.
Get Professional Help
Oftentimes, self-hatred goes hand-in-hand with mental health, and mental health conditions often go hand-in-hand with addiction. For deeper problems like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, professional help can be lifesaving.
As I’ve mentioned several times in this article and others on this site, I am in recovery. I also have struggled with anxiety and depression. Getting a therapist was a massive help, as was getting a prescription for Zoloft. I am not ashamed of seeking help for my mental health, the same way I wouldn’t feel any shame for seeking help for a heart or stomach condition. You shouldn’t feel any shame in seeking outside help, either.
Some people in the program are against seeking outside mental help, and I vehemently disagree with them. I find that it’s not a coincidence that most of the people against seeking outside help aren’t doctors themselves. Neither am I, but I do trust the opinion of doctors on medical issues. They literally went to school for years to learn medicine, something I did not do. So, they most likely know more than me.
OTR Can Help
OTR can help you get a foothold in recovery, helping you begin to tackle the self-hatred and regret so common in addicts/alcoholics. Call us today to start your recovery journey.