November 28, 2023


I’m sure you have all heard the adage “Sometimes Good People Do Bad Things”, there have been several variations of the quote, but this captures the gist of them all. I have found this to be very true in the substance abuse field. In fact, it’s true with any addiction.

In active addictions we become people we no longer recognize. We do things that we never would have done before our addictions. We sometimes lie, cheat, steal to get what we need, the fix. Our shame and guilt compounds as the days, months, years go by. It is a very sad state to be in and one we often feel we cannot get out of. It consumes us and swallows us up. We find ourselves in very dark places. But does it mean we are bad people? “Sometimes good people do bad things”.

When people are caught in the world of addictions, they often act badly to say the least. But does that mean they are “bad” people? I don’t believe so, but I do understand the other side of that argument. We are all responsible for our own actions, and those actions do have consequences. We have hurt many people who have attempted to help and love us. We have pushed loved ones to the brink of cutting us off, and who sometimes do! We have embraced the dark side of our personality and lost our way.

In the recovery world of Alcohol’s Anonymous and other recovery organizations they have adopted steps and principles that do encompass your actions during active addictions and the need to make amends. This clearly recognizes that sometimes good people do bad things. Does this mean we have to forgive ourselves for doing things we were ashamed of? I surely believe so, and that is one of the more difficult challenges to getting your lives back on track.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are also bad people who do bad things. Fortunately, those people very seldom wind up in treatment unless it’s to avoid some societal consequence. Remember this, to experience shame and guilt means you have a conscience! It means you feel the pain and anguish of your deeds. You just don’t know how to stop it!

In my Resolution Focused Therapy model and treatment centers, I address the issues of shame and guilt. I address the shoulda, coulda, woulda, syndrome. I also address the distorted beliefs we have come to painfully embrace. For example, beliefs such as “I am a bad person”, “I am no good”, and “I will never amount to anything”. I believe it is necessary to unravel the months and years of active addiction and help clients understand how they came to be unrecognizable people.

The ultimate goal is for all of us is to forgive ourselves for our past thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that have hurt us and others. This is easier said than done. Many of us carry past unresolved trauma/life events that have fueled our addictions and behaviors. It’s just not enough to just say “I forgive myself”. I wish it could be that easy. It takes hard work to face our past demons and conquer them. It took me years to recognize the difference between saying the words and believing them. Until past issues have been brought to resolutions the words just don’t carry enough weight. Forgiving ourselves for doing “bad things” during our active addiction is a journey in and of itself.

After three decades in the mental health field, I’ve learned that all of us have pasts that include activities or behaviors that we are not proud of. The problem is many of us have come to be oblivious to our own imperfections and have tried to bury our pasts without accepting responsibility for it. Since straightening my life out, I must constantly check my tolerance level to others who have yet to reach that point. Simply put, too many people have forgotten their pasts and have become intolerant of others who are still in turmoil.

Liberals have become conservatives and conservatives to liberals. If you were brought up with strict tendencies, then you may be lenient in your disciplines. The point to be made is stop and remember things accurately and you will see the error in that swinging pendulum. How many times have you seen people who once indulged in excessive drinking and drugging suddenly become intolerant of those still in active addiction. Those who harshly judge seem to separate what they did in the past from what current people do.

Let’s take a moment and remember we have all been guilty of doing some “bad” things in our lives. Some more than others. Nevertheless, there is always hope and resources out there to help those in need of straightening out their lives. If you see someone struggling with an addiction, offer them a hand instead of a stick. At least try to understand that “Sometimes good people do bad things”.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Balance!

Vinnie Strumolo, CEO, CCO, LMFT