If there is one thing that individuals who are new to sobriety never have, it’s a solid sense of self-esteem. The correlation between devastatingly low self-esteem and substance abuse has been studied in depth and repeatedly proven. When it comes to certain behavioral addictions, this correlation might make slightly more sense. Of course, women and men who suffer at the hands of an eating disorder struggle with a body positive image, right? It makes sense that individuals who suffer at the hands of sex and love addiction also struggle with some self-esteem issues. One of the main reasons why men and reason reach for drugs and alcohol initially is to help make themselves feel more confident and more equipped to socialize. Of course, any confidence that drugs and alcohol instill is both false and short-lived. It is actually an interesting issue, because drinking and drugging essentially ruins any semblance of self-esteem that might have previously existed. Here are several reasons why:
- When you drink and do drugs, you tend to do pretty dumb things – things you would normally never do. Maybe you get drunk and you make a fool of yourself at a party, or you get behind the wheel of a car and get a DUI. Doing things that are out of character affects self-esteem – especially when you do something that results in serious interpersonal consequences.
- When you are suffering at the hands of a substance abuse disorder, you will no longer be able to function at a normal human level. Menial tasks that you had no issue tackling beforehand will seem insurmountable. It makes that sense that when you can’t do something as seemingly simple as get out of bed in the morning or show up to work on time, you will start to dislike yourself and who you have become.
- Addiction is a progressive disease, meaning that symptoms will continue to get worse over time – they will never resolve on their own. As your addiction progresses you will feel more and more helpless, hopeless and isolated. None of these feelings is conducive to the building of quality self-esteem.
- As your addiction progresses, you will start to (however unintentionally) harm others. Chances are that you aren’t a bad person, and that hurting the people you love affects you on a deep emotional level. Unfortunately, at a certain point, you will completely lose control over your own actions. No matter how hard you try to avoid hurting others you will end up doing so – and this will inevitably have a severely negative impact on your self-esteem. There simply aren’t two ways around that.
How to Rebuild Self-Esteem
Fortunately, once you enter into addiction recovery all of that is liable to change. You will once again have control over your own actions, and in many cases, you will even be given the incredible opportunity to remedy your past mistakes. Below are several ways in which you can effectively work towards building back your self-esteem while in addiction recovery.
- Work on forgiving yourself for your past mistakes. This is no small task – make no mistake about it. Many individuals in early recovery are exceptionally hard on themselves – they tend to internalize the things they have done in the past and put a lot of blame on their own shoulders. These feelings of disappointment in self will dissipate over time, and eventually they will be replaced with feelings of self-love. Time really does heal all wounds, in this case. Just remember that the person you were while you were active in your addiction is not the person you truly are.
- Make a list of good things about yourself – things you are proud of or things that you like. This can also be hard to do. If it feels like an overwhelming project, start out with one thing every night before bed. Do you play guitar well? Do you like your eyes? Are your kind to others? Start small and slowly add to the list. If you start to feel discouraged, refer back to the list!
- Make yourself a personalized mantra and say it every day. A mantra is basically a saying that you repeat over and over to yourself until you start to believe. Make up your own and when you start to feel down on yourself, repeat it over and over in your head. Try something like, “I am worthy,” or, “I am a good person.”
- If someone compliments you on something, thank them politely without feeling the need to complement them back or run away. Of course, returning a complement is always nice, but do what you can to make sure it’s sincere.
- Start to make positive changes in your own life – begin with your daily routine. Believe it or not, doing something as simple as making your bed in the morning can work to boost your self-esteem over time. Some other awesome ways to make yourself feel better and more worthy of all the good things that are inevitably coming your way: keep your personal space clean (and do what you can to keep communal spaces clean as well), make yourself a healthy breakfast every morning, exercise for at least 20 minutes a day, spend time in nature, write in a dairy, take a shower or go to an AA meeting and speak to a newcomer afterwards (or if you are a newcomer yourself, speak to someone who has a lot of clean time under his or her belt).
- Try to go out of your way to be kind on a regular basis. One of the very best was to build your self-esteem is by showing kindness to others – even if it’s doing something as simple as smiling at a stranger as you walk by them on the street.
- Ask for help when you need it. If you’re struggling, reach out. If you need help with something, ask. Starting to do things for yourself will ultimately make you feel more worthy of receiving the help you undeniably deserve.
How NOT to Rebuild Self-Esteem
Men and women who are new to sobriety might not yet have the tools they need to rebuild self-esteem in healthy and effective ways. So, instead of engaging in the self-esteem building activities we just mentioned, they might be more inclined to engage in other activities that they believe will build their sense of self-confidence. Avoid doing the following things in early recovery and try our suggestions – just try them.
- Posting a selfie on Facebook and judging yourself harshly based on how many likes and comments it gets.
- Sleeping with strangers who are also new to recovery.
- Working through the steps hastily and taking on 20 sponsees all at once.
- Pushing yourself way too hard at the gym.
- Going tanning every day at the local salon and spending way too much money on designer jeans.
Remember that self-esteem is internal, and it comes from repeatedly doing estimable acts. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, because typically you do feel good when you feel that you look good. But remember that self-worth cannot be bought – it’s something you’ll have to work for. Getting back to a place of self-confidence will undeniably be hard work, but if you are willing to try your hardest to stay on the right path, you will slowly find that you are starting to love yourself once again (or maybe for the first time ever).