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Anyone who has struggled with, or loved someone through, a drug or alcohol addiction knows that recovery is not an easy process. The emotional strain of addiction doesn’t lift immediately when recovery begins. Instead, new feelings of guilt and poor self-esteem often begin to arise. For a recovering addict these feelings can be crippling.
To conquer the self-defeating thoughts and negative self-talk that is common during recovery, it’s important to not only continue to work with your recovery team, but to also keep a few techniques in your arsenal that can help you improve your self-esteem during the process.
Extend Forgiveness to Yourself
One of the most crucial steps to overcoming addiction and learning to love yourself is to give yourself the freedom to forgive. Not just to forgive others who have played various roles in your life story, but to forgive yourself when you misstep. Not every day in recovery is going to be a good one. There may be times when you fault yourself for everything that’s gone wrong in the past.
Consider what kind of role you really played in past situations and actively make a point of forgiving yourself. Do it aloud in the mirror, if you have to. Recognize that you cannot change the decisions you’ve made in the past – you can only do your best going forward. You’ll begin to understand that continuing to resent yourself will only make your recovery more difficult. Then, try your best to let it go.
Every Little Step Counts
Know that even though you’ll have your emotional ups and downs throughout the recovery process, feeling low (or even depressed) is a normal part of your journey. Don’t give in to the thought that slow progress or a blue mood means you’re somehow failing. Every tiny success, every day of sobriety, every little moment of peace should be celebrated as a step toward healing from addiction.
Learn to Accept Your Inherent Self-Worth
Think about someone you love for a moment. Do their past mistakes change how much you love that person, or do they still retain a certain value that can’t be taken away? Chances are, you view them as worthy of love regardless of past decisions. When you’re going through recovery, it can be hard to believe that you, too, have a value to others that cannot be tarnished.
When we’re in a dark place, we tend to place our self-worth in the wrong places. For those addicted to drugs or alcohol it’s common to place self-worth on the things that they’ve done or not done in the past. Instead of focusing on what you think you should have done or accomplished, focus on those things you value in others. Do you try your best to listen? Do you spread kindness? Are you generous when it comes to giving love to your family, friends and/or partner?
Once you are able to shift the basis of your worth away from material things and past decisions and onto the things that make you inherently valuable, you’ll begin to let go of much of that guilt and shame you carry as a result of addiction.
Actively Practice Being Kind to Yourself
Kindness is often easier to give than it is to receive – especially when it’s coming from yourself. So, to borrow a tried-and-true phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes you have to “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Being kind to yourself can start with small things, like repeating positive affirmations or mantras to yourself throughout the day. Simple statements like “I am a good person” or “I do my best every day” and “I love and accept myself as I am” are good places to start.
You may roll your eyes at first, but eventually the constant repetition of positive self-talk can help you actually re-wire the way you think about yourself. Even if you don’t feel like these types of affirmations are for you, small acts of self-love and kindness like appreciating how nice your hair looks or how much you like your own handwriting, can add up to a real increase in self-esteem in the end.
Try, Try Again
Recovery isn’t a straight path and it’s not the same for everyone. Remember that everyone stumbles and that you’re not alone on your voyage toward sobriety. As you incorporate these self-esteem strategies into your daily life, there are going to be those days where things don’t go as planned and you feel like you’ve “fallen off the wagon.” It’s during those times that forgiving yourself and remembering your self-worth will become most important.
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t let yourself fall back into the destructive habits of self-blame, guilt and shame. You’re not a failure and this isn’t a race to the finish line. This is a lifelong journey and you’ve already taken the first step.