Do The Best You Can With Ethics + Shame

by Joshua Hoe

Been quiet for a while. I apologize.

I was posting at a pretty frenetic pace and the well just ran dry.

Hopefully, I can post more regularly here again starting now. It helps me to write my thoughts on recovery out because writing is another mechanism of surrendering control and letting go and letting God.

As I have mentioned before, I also feel sharing is part of my amends process. It is my hope that through sharing what I am feeling, I can help others and keep myself honest, accountable, and sober.

Sometimes, in recovery, you get hit hard by life no matter how hard you are working or how long you have been sober.

The Unintended Consequences Of Moral Behaviors

Recovery road sign

A few weeks ago, I was sitting and minding my business in one of the coffee shops that I like to work in and someone walked in and sat next to me. Pretty normal occurrence and I thought nothing of it at the time.

About an hour later, it seemed pretty clear that he had taken something and that it was not setting well. I tried to help, asked him how I could help and if there was anyone I could call. I asked if I could help get him to medical attention.

Instead of agreeing, he made to start leaving (almost falling over himself) for his car (car keys in hand).

I made the decision to let someone at the store know so that they could call the authorities and get the man help. They arrived in time, and he did receive medical attention.

But, this made me very sad as well. I kept struggling with trying to come up, even at the time, with a better solution.

I knew I should not ethically allow the gentleman to get in a car, and I wanted very much to make sure that he was okay, but I was also very sad to have to involve him in the legal system.

At the end of the day, I know I likely did the best possible right thing given bad options. But I am still sad that instead of just getting help, he might also have to deal with the legal consequences of whatever he was doing.

I am referring to the lawyers and the record and the stigma, not the help. I believe that the rule of law is necessary to protect society from the bad decisions that people take. But, I also know, from personal experience, that the consequences rarely stop at protecting society and getting people the help that they need.

Even doing the “right thing” is often a choice between bad options.

I truly hope that only good things came of this. Many people suggested that this intervention could have been life-changing for the person. That is both my hope and my fear. I hope that it helps him see this as a sign that his life was becoming unmanageable.

I hope and pray that if he needs recover, he finds recovery.

Encountering the Random Slings and Arrows of Shame

shame cycle

Another end of this is trying to correctly process shame.

As someone who has been through the entire legal system (arrest through prison), I have spent much of the last six years trying to get better at processing shame.

I can not tell you the number of times I wake up only to find out I have been verbally attacked online by someone who learns about my crimes. It never fails, no matter how difficult repaying my debt to society was, no matter how much I lost (career, friends, freedom), and no matter how much I have done to be a better person or to help others – the shame still returns.

So far, I never even know the people. I certainly have never done anything to them personally. Odd how people find you even when you are doing nothing but trying to be positive in the world.

It has been over six years since I did one thing that I feel was immoral or unethical and I have been sober for 5 years, 11 months, and three weeks. I try to help myself and others through pro-social behavior every single day and I am very involved and committed to my program of recovery and my community of recovery.

But, despite all of this, when the shame hits, it still comes back in terrible waves.

Dealing With Shame

I tell people all the time that it is important to learn to process shame differently. That we should accept the shame that helps us become better people (or moves us from engaging in bad decisions) but that we should be gentle with ourselves about any of shame that we are using to confirm our cycle (shame that is not being used in either a productive or prophylactic manner).


Because 9 times out of 10 that is the shame that fuels our cycle. Embracing that shame becomes proof positive that every part of our internal self-loathing engine is justified and that we should just give up and act out.

* Should I feel shame for what I did, of course, what I did was wrong

* Should I wallow in that shame in ways that prevent me from being a better person in (and with) the world, of course not

But, obviously, the biggest danger is accepting that what they say about me is true and returning to being that person.

The biggest danger is allowing that shame to define the person I am now and revert to the person engaging in shameful behaviors.

Shame, when functioning correctly, tells you what not to do. It does not empower you to be bad in the world.

It is important to remain vigilant when I am confronting shame feelings.

I guess I just try to deal with the feelings more productively every time and always remain very vigilant and very conscious of my moods and my feelings.

I try to call people and talk to them. I try to share how I am feeling as often as possible.

And, I try – as hard as it can be – to keep being positive. To keep doubling-down on the good things I am engaged in. To take my negative triggers and use that energy in positive activities.

I am trying to live that in my own life today (despite getting hit really hard this morning).

I guess what I am saying is:

Don’t live down to your shame, try your best to shine through your shame.

I hope everyone is having another great day in recovery!


2 thoughts on “Do The Best You Can With Ethics + Shame

  1. Thanks Josh for your thoughtful post on this moral dilemma. Morals and ethical directions are so hard to decipher. I appreciate your heights on them. When I am in doubt, I find the more difficult or less comfortable decision is usually the right one.


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