Learning to Love Yourself After Addiction
Recovery from addiction is a long and difficult road. It can feel like the world is against you, particularly without the comforting shelter of the drugs or alcohol that once sustained you. But you don’t need those things anymore. The joy, which was really only distraction, they once gave you is gone, replaced by a poisonous taint that soils you in every possible way imaginable. When it comes to recovery, therapy, self-awareness, understanding – these are all essential to getting better following your addiction – regardless of how long you were under the influence.
But the key to any sort of recovery? Self-love. Harboring an honest belief in yourself, in your own worth and importance is perhaps the most important aspect of recovery. Without that belief in who you are and what you can do, anything else you might do is likely doomed to fail. Why is that? Well, you might be presented with any number of avenues that can lead to getting better, but if, because of the things you’ve done, you don’t believe you’re worthy of help, of love (from yourself and others), then all the advice in the world means nothing.
When you have a negative mindset, it’s like trying to run up an escalator that’s going the opposite direction. For every step you take, you get pushed back three, and you have to work three times as hard to make it up. Your goal is of course, to make it up the escalator that’s actually ‘going’ up. Or better yet, take the stairs. You’ll appreciate the effort that went into it, and you’ll make headway to your destination, unlike trying to run up the down escalator. What do all these analogies have to do with self-love?
Practice Makes Perfect
But without belief, it’s meaningless. To start, why not make a list of all the things that you’re good at. Then make a list of all the things you’re not so good at. Don’t omit something because you’re ashamed of it. This list is only for your eyes and perhaps your therapist’s or sponsors – if you choose. There’s no shame in not being good at something after all. You want it to be a list of all the things that set you apart from everyone else. Despite your addiction, there are certain things about you that never change, and that’s what we’re going to look at. In addition, you want to write down the things that you like as well as the things that you don’t like. The thing you have to understand is that it’s that very particular combination of things that makes you worthy of self-love.
You’ve heard the saying, "You are what you eat," right? It stands to reason that if you eat poorly and don’t take care of yourself, you’ll look and feel awful. On the other hand, if you eat right and take care of yourself, you’ll feel so much better. But exercising your body isn’t the only sort of self-improvement we humans make in ourselves. Self-love and self-esteem go a long, long way to improving your worldview. Imagine how things would look if the love you had for yourself was unconditional, where you accepted the good of your life with the bad. How do you think other people would respond to you if they could see that you had respect and care for yourself, despite the dark road you’d been down? Not only that, how much do you think you could accomplish if you had a better sense of self-worth and an appropriate level of self-love?
Now, no one expects you to muster up the courage to love yourself by yourself. Recovery is hard enough without friends. And it might be said that we are a reflection of those who we surround ourselves with, just as they are a reflection of us. Maybe a while back, before you climbed out of the hole, you had so-called friends. Friends that fed your addictions, gave credence to all the bad stuff you did to feel better – both to yourself and to others. Those people might be the first you think of when you come out of rehab, but down that road lies heartache and potential relapse.
Now, you have to surround yourself with people who affirm all the things that make you you, and who like you for who you are. We’re not talking about "Yes" men, who tell you what you want to hear just because you want to hear it. That would just undermine the whole process. It’s about people who genuinely care for you and accept that fact that you’ve maybe had a checkered past but that you’re trying to turn over a new leaf. The point is that, as an adult, you’re able to choose who your friends are. Make the most of that choice.
Along with doing nice things for yourself, which validates your self-worth, do nice things for others. That doesn’t mean you have to volunteer at the soup kitchen six days a week, but striking a balance between self-care and showing care and empathy for others is a fantastic way to restore the humanity lost to the addiction that once claimed you.
Hand-in-hand with self-worth comes the courage to stick up for yourself. Along with your new-found burgeoning self-esteem comes a pride in who and what you are. As a newbie practitioner of standing up for yourself, you need to learn how to set limits on yourself and others. This means saying ‘No’ to some people. Believe it or not, that’s appropriate in some cases. And in many instances, it can be a tool used to reinforce your sobriety.
Don’t be afraid to express your opinion either. Along with that, you should develop an assertive streak. Of course no one likes a bossy jerk, so figure out where that’s appropriate. Don’t apologize when you haven’t done anything wrong, but do apologize if you have, and make amends where appropriate. And of course, you want to walk away from any sort of neglect and abuse. You might not think so, but the sort of people who enabled you during your days of addiction were practicing a form of abuse.
Developing self-love and self-worth in yourself is one thing, but once you do, you need to hold onto it as tightly as you can. In order to protect your new-found wellspring of self-love and self-respect, you’ll have to prepare yourself for those times when others try to drag you down. Some people are not worth your time. And yet, some people are impossible to avoid, like say, co-workers. Some folks you can just shrug off and go about your business. Others, it takes a little effort and know-how to learn how to not take them so seriously and to filter out any of the appropriate garbage they might spew at you. Not everyone will, but it’s a fact of life that some people never learned that saying, "If you haven’t got something nice to say, best to say nothing at all."