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Increasing Self-Esteem in Recovery

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If I spend time thinking about the various issues specific to addicted clients I come up with a few central themes. Many people need to find a sense of purpose, some need to find a sober place to live, and others need to find a way to earn income or repair family relationships. However, what is needed to follow-through on any of these tasks is a sense of self-esteem, or what I like to call 'Emotional Competence' or EC. I think of of EC in this way: are you up to the task at hand? Do you have the ability and wherewithal to follow-through? It seems to me that if you don't like who you are and you can't take ownership of the successes in your life then it's very likely you'll never like who you are. I am convinced that there is a direct relationship between poor self-esteem and giving away all of the credit in your life to a higher power.

While there are many causes of poor self-esteem, I am not convinced it is necessary that you need to know why you dislike yourself. All of the reasons we dislike who we are tend to manifest in the same way and the end result is the same: poor self-esteem, diminished self-confidence, and a poor self-concept. Rather than focus on changing the past (which is generally impossible) let's use this time to focus on how we can feel better about our place in the world. I want to posit seven ideas for change. It's important to try and change how you feel about yourself as poor self-esteem can lead to relapse.

1) Sentence completions: on a piece of paper start with a sentence that says "I like myself because" and complete the sentence as many times as you are able. If you feel blocked you can try "I could like myself if....." and complete several sentences. Note any patterns and share what you learned with a trusted friend or mentor and ask for feedback.

2) Affirmations: I could spend hours writing about affirmations so I will simply encourage you to look online for ways to create affirmations. When you complete affirmations just remember: they need to be said in the present, they need to be realistic, and they need to include a level of risk. When I say 'level of risk' I am simply suggesting that you can read them aloud, read them to yourself in a mirror, write them on a piece of paper, read them into a tape recorder and play them back, or you can go for the highest level of risk and read them to another person.

3) Forgiveness: I suspect we all have done things which are less than flattering to our ego. It will be likely that many times the stupid thing you have done will simply work itself out and people will see that you made a mistake and will be able to let go of their annoyance about you and your actions, so take heart in that. Other times the act perpetrated against us is so great that forgiveness seems like too huge a leap - perhaps we can begin by remembering that forgiveness is about forgiving the person and not the act. Seek more support if this is a block to you.

4) Volunteer work: My grandmother would tell you that if you want to raise your self-esteem you need to do esteemable things. I am a GIANT fan of volunteer work and have done all kinds of volunteer and service work in my life. When you have a "dark night of the spirit" and you feel bad and you have done volunteer work, no one can take away how you have helped another human being lessen their burden or suffering. Your behavior is in black and white. Never forget that. Two of my favorite websites include: Serviceleader and Volunteermatch.

5) Meditation: My idea of meditation is to simply focus on one thing at a time. I like the idea of sitting on the bed in the morning when we get up and before we retire. Focus on something that makes you feel joy and breathe in through your nose and out your mouth - try this for at least two minutes each session and I suspect the long-term benefit of this practice will surprise you. If this doesn't resonate with you, I want to invite you to explore the online resources available to you.

6) Therapy: Having a trained listening ear is important for accountability and support. We tend to experience distress when our perceptions don't match reality. It is important to have someone provide feedback that can tell you where you might be stuck. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some very excellent clinicians in my time and these people have been invaluable to me.

7) Start something new or do something you love. If you like working with older adults, chances are that the people you work with also love that you're willing to step up and volunteer your time. Perhaps you like walking someone's dog or you are jazzed about writing to homebound seniors. Have a desire to connect with folks? You could begin a blog or a get involved in a letter writing campaign. My sense is that when I push myself past my comfort zones the rewards are huge.

While it can be likely that you can manage living your life entrenched in self-hate, it's not fun and your life will feel really small. Do something good for yourself and work on yourself esteem - your recovery will thank you and the people in your life will notice that you have changed.

Whatever you decide to do, I want to invite you to begin today. Good luck on your path.

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