Addiction recovery takes a lot of hard work emotionally, physically and spiritually. Getting clean is very liberating, and most addicts hit the ground running in early recovery. As time wears on and real life starts to creep in though, it can be hard to stay motivated. A lack of motivation can derail a recovery program, but it can be overcome.

Losing Motivation

There are many reasons you might lack motivation at times during recovery. Part of it may simply be because you lose steam when fighting a long battle against addiction. Reaching your recovery goals may be more difficult than you think, or you may let your guard down as you get further into recovery.

Becoming static in recovery can cause a loss of motivation, too. What was working for you in the beginning may not be working for you anymore, which can really slow you down. Unresolved emotions like fear, guilt, and anger can keep you from moving forward as well.

Having Realistic Expectations

Losing motivation during recovery can slow your progress, which can leave you open to the risk of relapse. One of the biggest reasons people in recovery lose motivation is their life isn’t turning out exactly how they expected it to once they get clean. No matter how great your progress is, there are still going to be difficulties that come along, and every day is going to require hard work.

Some may think that by a certain point, in a month, or in a year, they won’t have to struggle against their addiction anymore, but this isn’t usually the case. Healing from addiction takes time, and there are going to be setbacks. Having realistic expectations regarding recovery can help you overcome setbacks and stay motivated to do better.

Finding Joy in the Journey

When working toward a new, sober life, it’s tempting to focus on the big goals you’re hoping to reach in the future. Long-term goals can really help to keep you on track, but it’s the small successes along the way that will help you stay motivated.

Take the time to celebrate each accomplishment you make in your recovery process, whether big or small. Finding reasons to be grateful and even keeping a gratitude journal will help you to stay focused on everything you have, rather than what you don’t have. Look for reasons to be happy, and remind yourself daily about the things that are really important to you, and why you want to keep working hard for recovery.

Many people list issues with “guilt and shame” as a critical factor related to substance abuse issues and addiction. Therefore, learning to cope with guilt and shame cane be an integral part of the healing process for many individuals. Interestingly, the words guilt and shame are often used interchangeably.

However, in reality, the two similar feelings can be based on opposing view points. Here we review ways to view at guilt and shame in the recovery process.

What is guilt?

Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

Another simple way to explain guilt is that guilt is the uncomfortable feeling we often experience when we have done something wrong. And believe it, or not, guilt can be positive and even necessary during addiction recovery. Features of guilt include:

  • Guilt is commonly based on a failure of doing, which often is a direct result of our behaviors and choices.
  • Guilt is based on values, morals, and standards, all of which are necessary and important with regard to guiding our behavior in a positive direction.
  • Guilt involves a violation of standards.
  • Guilt can be a motivator for positive change. In other words, when we do something wrong, then we feel guilty about it, those feelings can motivate us to change our behavior so we don’t make the same mistake or negative choices

How to consider guilt in addiction recovery

When looking at guilt as a violation of standards, it is important to think of the conditions of this feeling. It is completely normal to feel guilt on occasion because we all make mistakes and incorrect choices. But remember, one person’s standards can be very different from another’s, which can result in very different ways people experience (or do not experience) guilt. Consider the following:

  • Whose standards were violated?
  • Where did these standards come from? (Our family, our experience, our beliefs, peer group, society, media, politics, our own ethics, etc.?)
  • Is it possible never to feel guilty?

10 Tips for how to cope with feelings of guilt in addiction recovery

1. Face it.

Face the feelings of guilt. Release feelings of guilt by talking about them, sharing, confessing, getting honest.

2. Learn to forgive yourself.

Do you judge yourself too harshly?

3. Examine the origins of your guilt.

Is the reason that you feel guilt rational and reasonable? Inappropriate or irrational guilt involves feeling guilty in relation to something that in reality you had little or nothing to do with or in relation to something that in reality was beyond your control.

4. Change.

Change the related behavior so that the action or actions triggering feelings of guilt and remorse cease. Simply put: If something you are doing is causing you to feel guilty, then stop doing it and you will no longer have a reason to feel guilty any longer.

5. Clarify.

Clarify new values for yourself and take realistic action in the present instead of dwelling on the past. Think about positive action you can take in your life now to feel better. You are never too old to reevaluate your goals, values and priorities for the better.

6. Practice.

Practice forgiving others, helping others and doing good for others. Learning to empathize and forgive others can help you to learn to forgive yourself.

7. Apologize or just seek peace.

Is there something you can say or do in order to try to show that you are willing to make peace where there has been hurt, conflict, or disagreement?

8. Let go.

The past is the past, so at some point, even if there are things you have done to hurt others, if you are sorry now, you need to let them go. Or, if you are truly remorseful over something you have done wrong in the past and you tried to make peace or amends, you can still forgive yourself even when others do not forgive you. By the same token, if someone who hurt you is sorry, learn to let it go yourself so you can forget about the hurt and then focus on moving forward

9. Commit to the present.

Was there a legitimate cause for your past actions that was beyond your control at the time? For example, perhaps you hurt others while you were experiencing untreated mental illness or as the result of active drug or alcohol addiction that you are now making efforts to properly care for. Instead focus on behavior change which will influence better decisions in the present and future.

10. Avoid shame.

Shame is a basic feeling of inferiority. Shame involves the perception of oneself as a failure or feeling unacceptable to others. Shame can involve feeling “flawed” “unworthy” or “not good enough”.

Shame often involves forgetting or disregarding the fact that we are human and we make mistakes but that alone does not make us less of a person. Shame is about self- blame and is directly linked to low self-esteem. Shame often comes from the negative messages we may have received as children from our family of origin. (People who were put down or insulted as children, either directly or indirectly, may end up much more prone to shame-based thinking as adults, although this does not always have to be the case).

Getting past guilt

Irrational thoughts and beliefs can fuel shame and inappropriate guilt. These untruths can perpetuate negative feelings we have about ourselves. Take a look at these statements, and check your own beliefs regarding them.

  • I must get everyone’s approval.
  • I must be perfect.
  • Mistakes are bad.
  • If I am not like ________ then I am not a valuable person.
  • Everyone can see my faults.
  • I am not worthy of forgiveness.

Put it into practice

Think of the rational and reasonable alternative for each of the above shame-based thoughts. For example, for the first one, “In must get everyone’s approval” the more rational alternative might be something like, “I can still feel good about myself even if some people do not approve of me”. Try this for the rest of the statements above. It is worth it not to give up on working through your guilt and shame issues.

It’s the kind of telephone call that every therapist gets and every therapist hates to get.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you on such short notice, but I can’t come in today.”

It was a patient who had come only once before, the week prior, and though he was articulate about what troubled him, one could discern that he was deeply conflicted about whether he even wanted help at all to solve his problems or even ease his difficulties. So it was no surprise to me when he attempted to cancel.

But here he was, live on the phone, the morning of his appointment, his words saying one thing, I’m not coming—but his voice full of conflict and ambivalence. One could sense the pulse of life in him, fragile and quivering.

Patients cancel with painfully short notice or sometimes with no notice at all. That is the way of the world. It’s a loss for them, for you, a loss of money and time. Most often there is little to be done. You put the receiver down and regrettably, you write them off. People will be people, you tell yourself. But every once in a while, you get a feeling that someone who ordinarily might cancel, ought to be encouraged, encouraged that is to keep the appointment. Was this one of those people, I wondered.

“Is there anything keeping you from making your appointment today?” I asked.

“Well, it’s just that as I explained last week, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come at all…”

“Yes, you are in conflict, that’s true. But you know it is customary, usual and customary that is, to keep appointments unless they were cancelled with 24 hours notice. You’re aware of that custom, aren’t you?”

“Hmm…it’s a custom? I suppose it is,” he said haltingly, sparingly. Okay, I will keep the appointment.” And so it was.

What is it about customs that seem to excite less resistance while “laws” and commandments appear to excite more resistance?

From my own experience it would seem that “customs” act in some sense seem to lubricate the traumatized psyche to negotiate the torturous demands of id and superego while “laws” further tighten an already overloaded, cramped psyche.

It’s easy to find a counsellor but perhaps more difficult to know if you’ve found one who is right for you. There are a number of questions you can ask that will help you to choose a counsellor. This short article outlines 13 of these questions, in no particular order (please note, the words “therapist” and “counsellor” are used interchangeably).

1. What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist?
Do you feel safe and comfortable? Is it easy to make small talk? Is the person down-to-earth and easy to relate to or does he or she feel cold and emotionally removed? Is the counsellor “stuck in her head,” or overly emotional and empathic? Is the therapist a “know-it-all” or arrogant? Sure, for many of us, going to a therapist for the first time is a bit anxiety provoking, and it’s important to tease out our own “stuff” from the actual counsellor. But, if a counsellor doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s okay; there’s absolutely no contract or rule requiring you to continue working with any counsellor. However, it’s important to check to see if there’s a part of you avoiding therapy through a dislike or judgment of the therapist. If you find yourself reacting negatively to every counsellor you see, then the issue could be yours and may warrant your sticking it out with a counsellor in an effort to work through your fears of beginning therapy.

2. What’s the counsellor’s general philosophy and approach to helping?
Does your counsellor approach human beings in a compassionate and optimistic way? Does he or she believe humans are born loving and lovable, or does the counsellor believe people are genetically deficient? We at believe that good therapists and counsellors adhere to the elements of good therapy.

3. Can the counsellor clearly define how he or she can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy?
Experienced counsellors explain how they can help, are able to give you a basic “road map,” to their approach, and can even give an indication of how you will know when therapy is finished.

4. Does the counsellor seek regular peer consultation?
An important professional activity for any wise counsellor is regular consultation with peers or consultants. Consultation serves a number of purposes, such as, but not limited to, reviewing cases, receiving advice, getting unstuck, discovering one’s own blind spots, and noticing how one’s own “stuff” may be getting in the way. Consultation provides a counsellor with a necessary reality check, a degree of objectivity, and feedback. Even the best therapists benefit from the help of others.

5. Can your counsellor accept feedback and admit mistakes?
A healthy counsellor is open to feedback and to learning that something he or she said hurt or offended you. Good therapists are willing to look at themselves, to check their feelings, and to honestly and openly admit mistakes.

6. Does the counsellor encourage dependence or independence?
Good therapy doesn’t solve your problems; it helps you to solve your own. Likewise, good therapy doesn’t soothe your overwhelming feelings; it helps you learn to soothe your own feelings. Like the old proverb, therapy is most powerful when it helps people to learn to fish for themselves rather than rely on another to feed them. If your counsellor provides wisdom, answers, or emotional support without encouraging you to access your own resources, it is more likely you will become dependent on your therapist to help you feel better, rather than learning to depend on yourself.

7. Has your counsellor done his or her own therapy?
One of the best ways to learn how to help someone to heal is to do your own therapy and to experience the healing process first hand. Thus, therapists who have been in their own therapy benefit from this as a learning experience and are probably better equipped to help because of it. Most good healers are wounded healers—those who, in the process of healing their own wounds, have developed the know-how to help others to heal theirs.

8. Does the therapist have experience helping others with the particular issues for which you are seeking therapy?
The more experience therapists have addressing a particular issue, concern, or problem area, the more expertise they have developed.

9. Does the counsellor make guarantees or promises?
It’s important for a therapist to provide hope but not absolute unconditional guarantees. If you have the will to change and put in the necessary time and energy, healing is possible. Most of our wounds and defences are the result of what has happened to us and to those around us. Healing can happen quickly in psychotherapy, but only after getting safely through the layers of protective gate keepers, which understandably can take a long time. So, although everyone is capable of healing, changes can take years to happen for some people; unfortunately, because time is limited, some may never achieve the level of healing they desire in this lifetime. In addition, people are not always at a time and place in their growth where they are ready to heal, and a given therapist may not be the right person to help them. Overall, there are numerous factors at play in the therapy process that may contribute to or interfere with healing; we are conscious of some of these factors and unaware of others. And so, there are no guarantees without conditions.

10. Does your counsellor adhere to ethical principles in regard to issues such as boundaries, dual relationships, and confidentiality?
There are numerous ethical guidelines designed to keep counsellors from harming clients. Most importantly, there is a guideline barring against dual relationships. When a therapist enters into a therapeutic relationship with a client, he or she should not have any other relationship with that person, such as teacher, friend, employer, or family member, although there are some exceptions to this rule in villages or very rural communities. The principle behind this guideline is really about whose needs are being met. A therapist should be there to meet your counselling-related needs for empathy, understanding, support, guidance, unburdening, and healing. When a counsellor gets his or her own needs (emotional or otherwise) met by the client, he or she has crossed a boundary, and the therapy process can be damaged or ruined. This is one of many ethical guidelines, and it’s important for a counsellor to adhere to these.

11. Is the counsellor licensed?
Licensure implies that a counsellor has engaged in extensive postgraduate counselling experience which, depending on the state of licensure, may include up to 3,000 hours of required supervised experience. It also means the counsellor has passed a licensing exam. There are many unlicensed therapists who have years of experience and do excellent work, but licensed counsellors have (generally but not always) jumped through more hoops and have undergone more extensive supervision than unlicensed counsellors. You can contact your state professional licensing board to verify the licensure of a provider.

12. Does the counsellor have a graduate degree?
There are numerous people who call themselves “counsellors” or “therapists” because they have taken a weekend seminar or have learned a certain therapeutic approach. But without a graduate degree in counselling, psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy, or another related field of study, such a person lacks the education, training, and skills to provide safe psychotherapy and counseling. It is highly recommended to only work with counselors and therapists who have graduate training. People without graduate-level education in a mental health field may lack the necessary skills and know-how to properly diagnose and treat issues, and there is a great danger in misdiagnosing and mistreating. Psychology is an enormous field, and human beings are multifaceted and complex. It takes years of education and training to effectively help people. Without the proper training, there is great risk of causing harm.

13. Does the counsellor have postgraduate training?
Many new counsellors fresh out of graduate school have had excellent book learning but lack enough actual counselling experience to claim expertise and feel totally confident. Postgraduate training in a particular approach to psychotherapy is often the next step in a new counsellor’s career and is helpful in getting a new counsellor to the next level, where he or she will have more confidence and know-how.