It is not unusual for people in treatment for addiction to describe feeling like they never belonged, how they never fit in or how they always felt ‘less than’ other people around them. For anyone who felt that way growing up, using substances may have been the first time they were able to quiet those feelings. Briefly and early on in substance abuse, drugs and alcohol can give an individual a glipse of what if might actually be like to feel good, about life and about oneself.
The factors that contribute to low self exteem include trauma, disapproval from parents or authority figures, uninvolved parents/caregivers, extensive bullying and generally feeling unsupported. Whatever the cause, an absence of self-esteem is like a hole in our spirit that we must learn to fill with something other than alcohol and other drugs. A healthy sense of self-esteem is an effective tool we can, and must develop to help us stay clean and sober.
By the time a person arrives in recovery, what little sense of self-esteem they had before addiction took hold has likely bee n beaten out of them. Using alcohol and other drugs often takes one to very degrading places. Eventually, one winds up trading morals and values for another drunk or high. In doing ‘esteemable’ things, we can help ourselves overcome the feelings that come with a life in addiction and start to build the framework upon which a real sense of self-esteem can grow.
One might not realize how many negative thoughts pass through the mind each day. If someone sat in front of us saying the things we think about ourselves, we might have a hard time not swinging at them. But we’ve been talking to ourselves this way for so long, that we don’t even notice it. When we start paying attention to these thoughts, we can develop the awareness that will let us take a breath and replace those thoughts with something positive.
While an addict may feel like nothing more than a series of faults, flaws, and mistakes sewn together with bad luck. The reality is that we really aren’t any worse than most of the people we pass on the streets each day. Yes, we do have flaws. Yes we have made mistakes. But we are not those things. We can look at our whole selves and take account of the positive things that are part of who we are, while we work on eliminating the negative parts of our character.
Few people ever get anywhere by spending all of their time thinking about themselves. It is in working with others that we can see the growth in ourselves. But, we need to be careful. Helping others generates some powerfully positive feelings and can be very rewarding. If we go too far chasing that reward, we wind up with no time left to work on ourselves. Worse still, we wind up pinning our sense of self on the outcome of someone else’s efforts, which is a sure path to disaster.
Building self-esteem through positive steps helps an individual develop an awareness of who we really are. We can gently guide ourselves away from the old patterns of berating and degrading ourselves, and learn to take an honest view of ourselves. With our new perspective, we can develop the self-esteem we were always looking for in the next drink or drug and recover.