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Dealing With Survivor’s Guilt After Rehab

Survivor’s guilt is most often spoken of in the wake of the death of a loved one. However, it can be a significant challenge for people leaving drug and alcohol rehab centers. Let’s take a look at why recovering addicts experience survivor’s guilt and what you can do about it.
Survivor’s Guilt
Contrary to popular belief, time spent in rehab can be incredibly fulfilling and even enjoyable. You get the space to work on yourself, free from the baggage of the outside world. You’re with a group of people going through the same thing as you. You build relationships that go deeper than most friendships.

Unfortunately, the statistical reality is that many of your peers in rehab will relapse. Some will return to rehab again in the future, and others may overdose and become seriously ill or die. You may even have been to rehab multiple times before and only this time have found lasting sobriety.

As you remain clean or sober while friends relapse, survivor’s guilt is natural. You ask why they are relapsing and you’re not. After all, you know them better than anyone else in the world. You understand what they’ve been through as they’ve shared their journey with you. You know all-too-well that their relapse has nothing to do with them not trying or not being good enough.

While survivor’s guilt is common and perfectly natural, it can be destructive. You may feel ashamed of your recovery and may even self-sabotage.

How do you manage survivor’s guilt after rehab? The following tips may help.

Put yourself in their shoes

The problem with survivor’s guilt is that it is premised on a lie. It implies that you’re somehow letting your friends down by surviving. That it is not fair for you to be thriving while they still suffer. This is not based on their reality, but on the distortions caused by guilt.

Empathy is crucial. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how they would really be looking at you. In all likelihood, they are happy to see you thrive. They don’t want you to be struggling with them and are relieved that you, at least, are doing okay.

There are exceptions. Some relapsing addicts do resent friends who recover. However, that is a projection of their own suffering. You are not causing that feeling – they would feel this way about someone else if you were not there.

Observe the guilt

The reason guilt can be so destructive is that it is a feeling accompanied by a strong impulse to action. It tells you that you can somehow fix things, and thereby resolve the guilt.

However, you do not need to follow these action urges. Instead, observe the guilt. Try to observe where it is in your body. What actions does your body want to do to respond to it?

Once you know how it is impacting you, the guilt loses its urgency. You can acknowledge the action urges and let them go. Instead of trying to get rid of the guilt, you can leave it be, understanding that it is just a feeling.

Discuss your guilt with a support group

Support groups are incredibly important in addiction recovery. When it comes to survivor’s guilt, your support group gives you the perfect context in which to share. You will not be the only one grappling with this guilt, as it is a common experience for recovering addicts.

By sharing what you are feeling, you take away its teeth. It no longer seems so real. The sense that you have wronged your friends no longer feels like a fact. In seeing others grappling with the same guilt, it is easier to understand where it is coming from and why it is not something you have to fix.

After leaving drug and alcohol rehab, survivor’s guilt is a common experience. Try and empathise with those who are still struggling, acknowledging that they are happy for you and that your recovery does not undermine their experience.

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