Shameless Recovery

By The Fix staff 04/02/19
Letting go of shame over past actions can help people in recovery move forward.
Teen boy in recovery, letting go of shame to recover

When teen boys finally get into treatment at Clearfork Academy, a residential, Christ-centered treatment center in Fort Worth, Texas, many of their families are worn down by the behavior their sons have shown through their addiction. Too often, that weariness is expressed by talking to the boys about what they’ve done that is bad.

However, focusing on the negative behaviors in the past doesn’t do anything to facilitate future healing, said Jaymes Murphy, business development assistant at Clearfork Academy. Because of that, Clearfork has adopted a Shameless Recovery model, an exclusive approach developed by Clearfork’s Clinical Director, Baqi Martin. Under Shameless Recovery, providers help families and patients focus on letting go of shame, guilt or resentment about the past.

“We want to take that away because we believe that addiction is more than just a bad choice,” Murphy said. “We want to take away the shame that says ‘I am something wrong’ and replace it with ‘I did something wrong, now how can I get to other side?’”

By moving away from shame-based recovery, Clearfork Academy empowers its clients, ages 13-17, to become confident and loving toward themselves, things that are essential for long-term recovery.

The Dangers of Shaming

Sometimes parents focus on the negative aspects of their children’s behaviors in hopes that will help change them. However, too often it has the opposite effect, Murphy said.

“It begins to destroy their self esteem. They start to act out with high risk behaviors and ruminate on instances of people putting them down. That fuels self-hatred, doubt and depression, which can lead to self-medication.”

Although parents intend well, they end up driving their teens further away.

That’s why when a client comes to Clearfork, providers help the parents to understand why a shameless recovery approach is better for their sons in the long term. Sometimes, it’s difficult for parents to accept the changed approach.

“It’s hard,” Murphy said. “They want to protect their child. All of the shaming is out of protection and love ultimately, but they’re going at it the wrong way.”

Yet, when parents see how their sons grow when shame is removed from the recovery equation they’re often more likely to adopt the new approach.

Drawing Out The Good

Oftentimes, clients come to Clearfork with their own deeply ingrained sense of shame, embarrassment and guilt. This can take away from the self-belief needed to do the hard work of recovery, so providers start by focusing on the good in each client and getting him to believe positive things about himself.

“We try to lift them up,” Murphy said. “That’s the best way to knock down all of those walls. We call the good out of them. We know there’s good in them, there’s just something that affected that.”

This includes acknowledging when clients have small successes.

“We celebrate every single goal that they meet no matter how big or how small it is,” Murphy said. “It’s not like giving a participation trophy, but we’re celebrating that they achieved a goal, because every time they achieve a goal it instills something in them to grow.”

Even when a child takes steps backward, staff acknowledges the hard work that the individual is doing in therapy and groups, and talks to the client about why they’ve slipped.

“We remind them, no matter how much it hurts, you’re doing a great job. You’re moving forward,” Murphy said.

The Three G’s

Each morning, recovery coaches greet the clients at Clearfork with three questions: What’s good about today? What are you grateful for? What are your goals?

Thinking about these questions at the beginning of the day helps clients focus on the future, rather than dwelling on what they’ve done wrong in the past, Murphy said.

“You can feel guilt because of the things that you did, but that’s not going to change anything,” he said. “What will change is planting the new oak tree today.”

Slowly, this habit builds over time and the boys at Clearfork begin to see their own self worth, and let go of their shame. This allows them to heal the underlying wounds that led to their substance abuse, and begin establishing a sober life.

“Eventually they get to a point where they realize ‘wow, I haven’t felt depressed in a long time and haven’t felt an urge to use in long time’” Murphy said. “‘There’s something filling the God-shaped hole in my heart that I’ve been trying to fill with everything else.’”

Clearfork Academy offers residential treatment for boys ages 13-18 in Fort Worth, Texas. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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