Shame in Recovery: Navigating the Waters of Healing

For many, the physical and mental restoration that is worked towards in recovery is only half the battle; there’s often a lingering effect of guilt and shame that also must be worked through. In 2017, NPR conducted an interview with author Neil Steinberg, whose written several books on addiction recovery. He explained in the interview that addiction in and of itself is a secretive disease – and along with it being portrayed as a “weakness” or a “failing,” it’s not surprising that many in recovery still struggle with shame, guilt and stigma. He stated,

“Nobody says, here, wait a second, ‘Mom, I’m going to go hide in the bathroom and guzzle vodka.’ You don’t say that. You’re used to being secretive and ashamed of it while you’re doing it.”

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame


Dr. Georg Fuerstein told Inner Self that guilt derives from the Old English term gylt, which means “a fine for an offense.” Today, those who experience guilt often experience that nagging feeling of having done something wrong; even once a person is in addiction recovery, they may have great concern over the “rightness” or “wrongness” of their actions. Furthermore, a person in recovery may fear punishment from their loved ones, especially when it comes time to addressing these transgressions in person. Guilt sets that tone that a person needs to “make things right.” While a person can’t change their past, they can work towards changing their present and future, and this is the only action that can be taken when guilt arises.

Guilt is a normal emotion – as humans, we’re built to recognize the mistakes and errors we’ve made and to apply judgment to them – but if this consumes a person in recovery, they will find that it’s hard for them to reach their goals.


This emotion grabs a bit more at the core, and occurs when a person feels “bad” or “unworthy.” Those in recovery who experience shame may feel that their actions are too bad for them to ever come back from – that their family members should no longer include them in their lives, or that they’re basically “bad” human beings. Shame is often much more difficult to heal from than guilt because it’s rooted in a person’s self-concept. Both shame and guilt often serve as “revolving doors” of emotion, peddling back and forth as a person tries to make sense of their life.

A 2017 study published in the journal BioSocieties found that for many, the stigma behind addiction sparks these two feelings; genetic predisposition can even facilitate feelings of shame if a person feels there’s no way out because that’s “just who they are.” There are so many symptoms of mental illness that can stem from both guilt and shame, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and more – but by participating actively in recovery, a person can make huge strides.

A Path Towards Healing

Within researcher Donald Nathanson’s book “Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of Self,” a quadrant model to understanding shame:

  •    Withdrawal – isolating and hiding
  •    Attack Self – self-criticism and self-harm
  •    Avoidance – denial, substance abuse
  •    Attack Other – blaming others and lashing out

No matter which side of the spectrum a person tends to act upon (and this may even include more than one side), there are ways to heal from shame:

  1.     Recognize that you and your needs matter.

Addiction doesn’t define you. Acknowledge that underneath all of the shame, embarrassment and feelings of failure, you have needs. This includes feeling a part of society, feeling important, wanting to have connections – and if this matters to you, it’s important.

  1.     Build relationships that facilitate healing.

Both with yourself and with others, find people who support your need for connection, love, joy and adventure. If you find that you’re being rejected by certain friends or family members for your past with addiction, give them time – and continue reaching out to others who may become part of your social support network.

  1.     Learn to tolerate the emotion.

Many people who feel shame want to avoid it, and that’s natural; however, you can’t let your feelings of shame hold you back from living your life. Every relationship you attempt has the potential for rejection and humiliation – that’s what comes with being vulnerable. However, you can still push forward and recognize that despite shame, you can build healthy relationships.

Begin Your Path Towards Healing Today

If you’re ready to embark on this beautiful sobriety journey, speak with a professional from Burning Tree today. It’s never too late to start building the life you’ve always wanted.



Burning Tree Ranch specializes in treating chronic relapse in people with chemical dependency. We provide long-term support through residential and extended care programs that help our clients break their old patterns of addiction and learn new skills to support a healthier life. Our Dallas residential treatment program is focused on providing premium substance use treatment at an affordable cost. Contact us today for more information.


We can’t always control what happens to us – and sometimes we’re caught in unfortunate, devastating, downright traumatic situations that leave marks on us- physically, mentally, or both. In some instances, these traumatic incidents occur during childhood – when we feel helpless and vulnerable. In others, we’re adults – but we still feel the pain of not being able to change what’s happened. Traumatic events happen to so many of us: war, assault, accidents, natural disasters and so much more can make us feel as though we’ll never heal again. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines trauma as when,

“…A person experiences, witnesses, or is confronted with actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.”

Trauma and Addiction

In many instances, trauma can leave so many emotional wounds that a person develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be incredibly distressing to endure a variety of symptoms such as: flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, irritability and others. Earlier this year, an individual shared their story of living with PTSD via the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA); they explained that after the traumatic incident they experienced, they were never the same. Their PTSD caused them to feel panic in even leaving their apartment – and every time they closed their eyes, they envisioned the traumatic event they survived.

Many people who struggled with addiction have also survived at least one traumatic event. In fact, the aftermath of trauma can leave some individuals abusing substances like drugs or alcohol just to mask some of the distress they’re experiencing. A 2017 study published in the Canadian Journal of Addiction assessed 132 individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse, and discovered links between severity of addiction, severity of life trauma and number of stressful life experiences. This means that trauma does have a significant effect on us, and the greater the severity of this – along with stressful life events like the loss of a loved one, or divorce – the more likely we are to struggle with addiction.

While it may feel like things will never get better, they will. Research is showing that although there are many people battling to overcome the effects of trauma everyday, there are also many people who are pushing past what’s been holding them back – and they’re becoming stronger because of it.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Science of People, a website that provides information on how humans behave, shared some enlightening news related to trauma:

  •    Many survivors of trauma have reported becoming closer to their friends and family, which has strengthened their relationships.
  •    While trauma can certainly make a person feel like a victim, there are many people who have come to find added wisdom, personal strength and overall gratitude for the people, places and moments in their lives that have brought them joy.
  •    Trauma can radically change a person’s life – and many find that because of this change, they’re forced to reassess what they want out of life. When this happens, a person’s life can become even more fulfilling than it was before.

The UNC Charlotte Post-Traumatic Growth Research group defines the term as,

“A positive change experience as a result of a struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.”

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse surveyed 51 counselors who work with adults seeking help with substance use disorders (SUDs), and found that many counselors were able to witness their clients develop strength, even from the most traumatic of incidents. Does this mean that those who go through post-traumatic growth never feel pain moving forward? Of course not! It simply means that alongside the aftermath of trauma, they were also able to find strength, solidarity and courage to move forward with their lives in the best ways possible.

Applying This To Your Own Life

Not everyone in addiction recovery who has experienced trauma achieves post-traumatic growth, and this due to a number of factors:

  •    How dedicated a person is to their program
  •    How hard they work on their mental, physical and spiritual growth
  •    The work they complete in therapy
  •    Their attendance and participation in recovery-related activities, such as 12-Step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous)
  •    The level of hope they have for the future
  •    Whether or not they hold onto core negative beliefs or whether they choose to form beliefs that are more beneficial to their happiness and health
  •    And more

Everyone has the opportunity to achieve post-traumatic growth, but it’s all a matter of how you pursue recovery. Zig Ziglar, an American author, once stated,

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”

Don’t give up on your recovery. Continue working with those who love and support you. If you’re ready to take the leap towards healing and restoration, speak with a professional from Burning Tree today.


Burning Tree Ranch specializes in treating chronic relapse in people with chemical dependency. We provide long-term support through residential and extended care programs that help our clients break their old patterns of addiction and learn new skills to support a healthier life. Our Dallas residential treatment program is focused on providing premium substance use treatment at an affordable cost. Contact us today for more information.

Impulse Control

Once we’re on the path towards recovery, we’re able to start learning of the many ways addiction affects our mind, body and spirit. When addiction is active, we’re more likely to say and do things that we wouldn’t otherwise do when we’re sober. For example, we may lie to loved ones about our substance abuse, we may skip getting together with friends who don’t use, or we may become angry if we’re unable to drink or use drugs for a brief period of time. Addiction, in a sense, can hold a strong power over us – one that’s hard to break free from – and that’s why it’s important that we go through detoxification as well as learn techniques for managing withdrawals.

What is Impulse Control?

Impulse control is the ability to control a person’s urges – but those with impulse control disorders experience difficulty holding back from a feeling of tension that builds up prior to acting out on it. An impulse could be towards a number of things – gambling, substance abuse, sexual gratification and much more; in 2015, The Fix, a website that publishes information related to both addiction and recovery, explained that impulse control issues tend to go hand in hand with substance use disorders (SUDs). They stated,

“One has to fight the initial urge to drink and do drugs in the first place. Then once you get clean, the impulse to pick up again is going to come up, again and again.”

There’s often the argument that those with addiction have a “lack of willpower,” and a lack of impulse control could seem, on the surface, just like this. It’s important to note, however, that impulse control has much more to do with a person’s brain chemistry – and while a person is partly responsible for becoming involved with substance use in the first place, it’s their brain chemistry that make them incredibly more susceptible to abusing substances when they may otherwise have not done so.

For example, a study published in the journal World Psychiatry explained that those with “behavioral addictions” – such as gambling – have abnormalities in the reward processing center of their brain. Furthermore, the study emphasized that there are genetic similarities between those with behavioral addictions versus those with SUDs, which only further supports the idea that addiction isn’t reliant upon a “character flaw” – but the commonly asked question of whether or not impulse control comes before addiction is still quite complex.

The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior denoted a study that was previously conducted in England; researchers assessed 50 pairs of siblings, with one person in each pair addicted to cocaine and the other showing no history of drug abuse. Brain scans were conducted on all the participants, and researchers found that different sensory mechanisms appeared between siblings’ emotional center and control center in the brain.

Identifying Issues with Impulse Control

There are three main ways that impulse control appears in individuals:

Behavioral symptoms: such as lying, stealing, becoming aggressive, etc.

Social and emotional symptoms: socially isolating oneself, low self-esteem, experiencing drastic shifts in mood, guilt or regret, etc.

Cognitive symptoms: obsessive behaviors, irritability, suddenly entering into rage, difficulty concentrating, etc.

For those with impulse control issues, tension builds up until they feel they can’t resist the urge to act any longer – and once they become angry, use substances, dive into depression or something similar, they experience a brief period of relief. The difficult aspect of impulse, however, is that it comes back – and for those who feel the urge, addiction can easily develop if certain precautions aren’t taken.

According to Very Well Mind, a website that publishes information related to disorders, self-improvement, and psychology, there are quite a few risk factors that can make a person more susceptible to developing an impulse control disorder:

  •    Being male
  •    Having a genetic predisposition towards any type of impulse control issue
  •    Having experienced trauma, abuse or neglect
  •    Exposure to violence or aggression

Furthermore, mental health issues – such as those with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others may certainly increase a person’s chances of having impulse control concerns.

Recovery & Impulse Control

Impulse control is something that can be worked on over time as a person develops more strategies for managing the urges they experience on a day-to-day basis. Relapse prevention, for example, is a common part of addiction recovery – and it addresses topics like impulse control as a way to help clients find newer and more productive ways to relate to their thoughts and feelings. In many instances, there are people, places and actions that can help a person slow down their thought processes before they act in a way that could otherwise set them back in recovery.

If you’re ready to begin your journey towards healing and restoration, speak with a professional from the Burning Tree today. It’s never too late to seek the help you need.


Burning Tree Ranch specializes in treating chronic relapse in people with chemical dependency. We provide long-term support through residential and extended care programs that help our clients break their old patterns of addiction and learn new skills to support a healthier life. Our Dallas residential treatment program is focused on providing premium substance use treatment at an affordable cost. Contact us today for more information.

Secrets Behind Relapse: Why Some People Struggle to Recover

It can be incredibly difficult to take that first step towards recovery, but once you’re in it, what about relapse? A commonly feared term, relapse occurs when a person takes a few steps back towards addictive behaviors after having practiced abstinence in recovery. Misconceptions surrounding relapse indicate that a person is a “failure” or that they’re “weak” if they revert back to drinking or using substances again, but research has shown us that relapse may be quite common in recovery – especially during the first year, when a person is most vulnerable to cravings.

There are some instances, however, when a person truly doesn’t return to treatment after a relapse; and in these cases, the important question would be, “What is the marked difference between someone who relapses and returns to treatment, versus someone who doesn’t?” Various factors are what indicate the difference between these two scenarios, and knowing them could very well prevent you – or a loved one – from going down a path that doesn’t lead to healing and restoration.

Differentiating Factors

Jason Wahler, one of Lauren Conrad’s love interests in the reality show “Laguna Beach,” told Insider just last year that he’s been 39 days sober after having previously relapsed from 3+ years of sobriety. He explained,

“…I became complacent and I was blindsided.”

Even still, with having had a brief stint in relapse, he was able to return towards his goal of sobriety – but for those who relapse and never return, it’s often because of one of the following reasons (as elabroated on by Medium):

  •    They’re not being honest with themselves about the level of severity of their addiction
  •    A person is unsure whether or not recovery is even for them
  •    An individual is unwilling to change their life altogether

The reality is that everyone is different – and while one reason may be strong enough for a person to never return to treatment, another may be just a brief stage at which the person isn’t ready to seek help quite yet. Last year, The New York Times Magazine suggested that some people in recovery have mental health concerns alongside a substance use disorder (SUD), and this makes it even more challenging for them to stay in treatment because they’re battling the symptoms of two conditions.

Altogether, recovery is a complete lifestyle change – and those in recovery must be willing to ride the ups and downs that go along with restoration of their mind, body and spirit in order to build a life of sobriety. In some instances, the change towards recovery is so drastic that a person simply can’t imagine enjoying their life without substances; of course, this perception can be changed over time, but in the “thick” of changing lifestyle habits, it can certainly be difficult. Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told U.S. Health News,

“Humans have a host of self-destructive behaviors; we do it with food, with lack of exercise, with smoking. How many of us haven’t resumed behaviors we pledged to stop? Changing your behavior is hard.”

Hope for the Future

Research is now showing that even if a person isn’t voluntarily wanting treatment, they can still recover; motivational enhancement therapy (MET) can greatly help a person weigh out the “benefits” and “costs” of seeking help, and detoxification in and of itself can even help a person gain clarity on the scope of their addiction. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing found that while there are several factors that can hold a person back in recovery, there are many more benefits that can motivate individuals to continue seeking help, even after a relapse:

  •    Having the support of family members to reinforce recovery goals
  •    Identifying positive role models to connect with and rely on in troubling times
  •    Connecting with others in their recovery program, including addiction recovery leaders and their therapist
  •    Building spirituality through 12-Step programs as well as holistic practices, such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, massage therapy, equine therapy, etc.

Networks are incredibly important, and supporting a person who has relapsed could be just enough to encourage them to get back into treatment and push harder than ever before towards their health and wellbeing.

No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone. There are so many people in recovery who have relapsed and gotten back up again – because recovery is much like life; it’s a learning process. You’re going to go through so many different emotions as you learn how to balance everything, but you have to continue pushing forward even when you feel uncertain about where your life is heading. Don’t give up on yourself – because there are many people out there who believe you can succeed.



Burning Tree Ranch specializes in treating chronic relapse in people with chemical dependency. We provide long-term support through residential and extended care programs that help our clients break their old patterns of addiction and learn new skills to support a healthier life. Our Dallas residential treatment program is focused on providing premium substance use treatment at an affordable cost. Contact us today for more information.