Dealing with Shame after Relapse

stone_small“Look, you relapsed again, you are so bad at this! You might as well just give up, you are worthless. You can never do anything right.”

It happens to all of us, if you are in the process of recovery, you will inevitably experience a relapse. It is actually more likely you will relapse again, and less likely you correct the addictive habits, if you are constantly berating yourself with shame. In Buddhist psychology the major cause of self-harm (addictive habits) is the unhealthy self-loathing and lack of understanding that we hold on to. These mental states actually paralyze us from making meaningful change in our lives while causing us to repeat unhealthy patterns. The more we accept ourselves for who we are in this moment and understand our real situation, the better our chances are of making meaningful change and recovery. We do this by cultivating acceptance, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and healthy regret.

Be Accepting

First, Know that however you are feeling in this very moment, be it shameful, disgusted, anger, or hopeless, it is OK, and perfectly acceptable. They are simply different facets of human experience that deserve our respect, patience, and mindful attention like any other. No body is perfect, life is full of pains and pleasure, ups and downs. To have a life with all pains or all pleasures is simply impossible. You cannot have the beautiful lotus flower without the mud, and vice versa.

An emotion is only an emotion.
It’s just a small part of your whole being.
You are much more than your emotion.
An emotion comes, stays for a while, and goes away, just like a storm.
If you’re aware of that, you won’t be afraid of your emotions.

       ‒ Thich Nhat Hanh

Be Understanding

Understand your brain is currently physically wired for porn. What you have done over many years by using highly stimulating porn, is create and reinforce certain “neural pathways” of unhealthy behavior and coping mechanisms. Physical neural connections that can cause you to act in ways you might not want to anymore. Also, a relapse has nothing to do with you as a person being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Your personality and your addictive habits are two parts of the same brain, one is voluntary and the other involuntary. To take a slip personally is like blaming the bullet for pulling the trigger. Once you become more mindful of these “pathways,” you can start choosing healthier habits. Give yourself forgiveness.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

‒ Lewis B. Smedes

Because of these strong connections in your brain, the process of recovery inevitably includes relapses. And the recovery process is just that -a process, it is not an event. Many quit due to slow progress, never understanding the fact that slow progress is progress. Recovery is about learning to be OK with failures and more concerned with an over arching, long term goal. Failure and success are relative, what’s most important is that we continue our recovery process when we relapse. Give yourself patience.

Be Compassionate

From this understanding, realize that you were causing suffering on yourself for no reason. That in this situation forgiveness and patience are called for, not guilt and shame. And that strong guilt and shame destroy our ability to make real progress in a recovery process. With these realizations I say: My I not suffer now or in the future from addiction, self-hate, or shame. I accept that I have relapsed, and I vow to cultivate understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and patience.

You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.

‒ Albert Einstein

Regret the Action

It’s important to understand the difference between strong shame and regret. Although a little shame can be healthy, a lot of it is not. Strong self-deprecating shame is useless, it’s just beating yourself up over something that you cannot do anything about anymore because it’s in the past.

We cannot do anything about the past, we must be honest and take inventory of our mistakes, and face the full reality of our actions. Regret is a way to understand and reflect on our wrong doings without the unhealthy personalization with the wrong doing. Regret is: “I accept and admit that I have done wrong, and that I wish I had not done that action.” Shame is: “I did something really stupid and I’m a terrible human being for doing so.” You see the difference? Intelligent regret is understanding why it should be regretted and not done again.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

‒ Mahatma Gandhi

Make a Promise

From this new fertile stage of forgiveness, compassion, and regret, we are strong, willing, and capable to create meaningful change in our lives. Simply by getting this far we have already cracked a link in the chain of addiction. It’s up to you now to take the necessary actions towards a new direction.

You can start with a small promise to yourself. ‘I will not watch porn for the next 2 day’, or ‘I will exercise 2 times this week’. Pick something that is accomplish-able, don’t set yourself up to fail. And if you do fail, know again that this is all in the process of recovery, get up, and try again.

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.

‒ Buddha

I hope you enjoyed this article!

For more methods of recover, please check out Identifying Triggers, the Mindfulness Meditation, and Compassion Meditation.

To understanding more about the brain and addiction please check out Gary Wilson’s TEDx talk – “The Great Porn Experiment”.

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