Many people with addictions struggle with self-esteem. They may use alcohol or drugs to build artificial self-confidence in place of real self-love. They may carry guilt or shame that they try to numb with substances. In active addiction, people tend to stop taking care of themselves—which only reinforces a lack of self-worth.
I didn’t even realize how bad my self-esteem was during active addiction until I got sober and started building self-confidence. Now five years in, I have more self-esteem than ever.
Some of it came naturally. As my mind started to clear and I could make healthy decisions, I learned to trust myself. I felt proud of myself for sticking to recovery. I constantly surprised myself with the things I was capable of.
When I and many of my sober friends were in active addiction, we thought there was something irrevocably wrong with us. All of us have proven ourselves wrong in recovery, which inherently helps our own sense of worth.
But there were other parts of self-esteem that I needed to actively work on when I got sober. My therapist helped me identify and challenge negative beliefs about myself—for instance, that there was something inherently wrong with me. The more I became aware of these beliefs that were living under the surface, I could interrupt them when they came up. I’m still suspicious of “I always” statements, and question them when they surface in my thoughts.
This tactic can be used in any type of therapy, but it originates from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is often used in addiction treatment settings. It promotes self-awareness and helps change negative thought patterns. Changing negative thoughts about yourself is key to building self-esteem, and has an unbelievable ripple effect throughout your life.
I also learned (and am still learning) true self-care. This term gets thrown around a lot, but the way I see it is taking care of your whole self—physically, mentally, emotionally. This is an ongoing and interconnected process that often gets neglected in active addiction.
Taking care of your body will affect your mood, and your emotional state will affect your body. For a simple example, think about how your muscles tense when you are anxious or angry. Chronic stress has been linked to significantly weakened immunity.
You can’t always control the circumstances that make you stressed, but you can work a recovery program that aims to minimize your stress reactions. This could include meditation, yoga, walks, therapy. It could also include picking a specific day and time that is just for you and learning to set boundaries around it.
Building self-esteem in recovery can be a motivating factor. If you lack self-worth, you might not have the drive to work a recovery program. Addictions thrive when you rationalize them, and low self-esteem makes it easier to rationalize (“well, I’m just going to mess up anyway”). Recovery is a good opportunity to build healthy self-confidence, which can significantly improve your quality of life.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. Amatus Recovery Centers across the country offer high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build confidence in your recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.