Recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD) is a process that works one day at a time but continues for a lifetime. During recovery, you’ll have to combat cravings, attend recovery group meetings, work to create healthy habits and behaviors, and consistently be honest with yourself about your progress or your lack of it, your mental health, and your ability to stay drug and alcohol free. Throughout that, one of your biggest enemies will always be yourself, and not just because you might lapse into cravings or relapse. Instead, you can quite literally prevent yourself from being happy.
Most of us are painfully aware of the social stigma and shame associated with addiction. Most of us were raised to see addiction as a personal failing or fault. And, despite medical treatment and training that says otherwise, it’s difficult to undo the loss of personal identity and personal pride associated with substance use disorders. Building self-esteem to a healthy level is crucial to ensure you can be happy. Chances are, cognitive behavioral therapy in rehab will put you on the right track, but you might need to follow up with more therapy, and you might need reminders on the way.
Why Are SUDs and Self-Esteem Issues Linked?
A small percentage of people with substance use disorder can navigate addiction with their ego intact. For the most part, this isn’t the case. Substance use disorder, the act of admitting that you need rehab and help, and the act of seeking out help all impact self-esteem, trust in oneself, and the ability to believe in yourself.
Social Stigma – Substance use disorders, especially certain types of drug and alcohol use, are heavily stigmatized. People often think of addiction as a personal or moral failing. This can impact your own thinking but it can also impact how others see you and how you interact with them. Recognizing and moving past that stigma is important for your self-esteem. It’s important to talk with your friends and family, to address your own beliefs and approach to yourself, and to recognize that no matter how society views your past, you are no longer that person. If you’re struggling, talk to a therapist or your counselor. At the end of the day, substance use disorder is a mental health disorder, no one chooses it, and it is not a moral failing. You’ve also taken steps to get help and treatment and are continuing on that path of self-improvement and betterment, which requires significant personal character and strength.
Ego Depletion – Most people with a substance use disorder struggle with the ego or the sense of self. Substance use disorder warps the sense of self, with most women losing it completely as they struggle to hide and cope with substance use, and most men inflating it around that substance use. Both collapse, leaving people feeling lost and alone, when substance use is ended. It’s important to see a therapist or psychologist as part of recovery, to discuss issues relating to the sense of self, and to continue to seek out help when you need it.
7 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Recovery
Building self-esteem is a process that will heavily depend on your environment, your activity, and what you do. Putting yourself in situations that build self-esteem is the easiest way to do so.
1. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise can help you to recover from a substance use disorder in more ways than one. While, at a base level, exercise improves your physical health and may help you to recover from the physical problems associated with former substance use more quickly, it will do much more than that. For example, exercise boosts oxygen retention and blood flow and increases endorphin production in the brain. These work to improve your mood, your energy, and overall happiness.
However, regular exercise is also associated with significant improvements in self-esteem, especially as you learn to use your body, rely on yourself, and trust muscles and reactions. Games and sports requiring interaction and dedication are typically better suited for this, but even running or walking everyday will help.
What should you choose? Actually, that’s up to you. Most people benefit from low-to-medium-impact sports like cycling, tennis, yoga, martial arts, or other games over going to the gym or running which many people find boring, especially as more interactive sports tend to have social elements as well. How much should you exercise? Most doctors recommend about 30 minutes a day five days a week as a baseline, which you can increase within reason. However, it’s important not to go too overboard.
2. Eat Well
Building healthy habits like disciplined eating is important. It’s also important to develop a healthy relationship with food in recovery, where you see it as a necessity and as giving yourself things you need. Many addicts develop reward relationships with food, where they rely on sugar and caffeine to replace dopamine and serotonin production from substance abuse. But, eating well will help you in more ways than one. The most important is in helping you to recover from nutritional disorders related to long-term substance abuse. Ensuring you have proper nutrition will boost self-esteem and happiness by balancing chemical production in the brain.
However, the aspect of eating well, choosing healthy and nutritious foods, and learning to prepare them well will also boost your self-esteem in other ways. People develop personal pride and feel accomplished when they eat well, cook well, and take care of themselves.
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Volunteering is a socially significant act which will help you to boost self-esteem, happiness, and improve overall well-being. However, there are some caveats. For example, many people in recovery want to go help people like them. They volunteer in places that expose them to drug and alcohol abuse and addicts. The results can be relapse.
Instead, try volunteering in situations and places where you can do good and contribute to causes you care about that don’t involve drug or alcohol use. Consider animal shelters, soup kitchens, Goodwill stores, or even something related to your work or career. You can eventually move into volunteering to help individuals struggling with substance abuse, but only when you have been in recovery for a significant period.
4. Take Part in Hobbies
Learning new skills and hobbies can be significantly emotionally and mentally rewarding. While the payoff largely tracks to the learning curve (a skill that is more difficult to learn results in more satisfaction on learning it), it’s usually a good idea to start small and work your way into hobbies and tasks requiring effort and skill. Here, you can try crafts, learning a musical instrument, gardening, a new sport, cooking, dance, or any of thousands of hobbies.
Hobbies enable personal goals and achievement not linked to stress or life choices, making them an easy way to build confidence and self-esteem.
5. Cope with Stress
Stress is one of the most difficult aspects of life. People stress over responsibilities, mistakes, failures, relationships, embarrassment, social interaction, and possibilities. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way is crucial to recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling, which are staples in most rehabilitation programs, normally heavily focus on helping to build stress-management and coping techniques. Continuing that journey and reinforcing what you learned is important.
Picking up stress coping mechanisms can help you to worry less, including less about what other people think of you, which will boost self-esteem.
6. Create Achievable Goals
Creating and achieving goals is an important part of building your sense of self and your self-esteem. Setting goals allows you to prioritize your life and your actions. What’s important for you? What do you want to achieve? Why? How can you get there? Building goals around your life and working to them, meeting goal posts, and creating habits that help you get where you want to be will be incredibly fulfilling and motivating.
Of course, you will have to ensure you actually commit, put in the daily work, and make that progress. Most people can do so by setting realistic and achievable goals, breaking large goals into smaller ones, and making a plan that doesn’t require working all the time. Here, it’s also important to link failure to a need to keep going rather than “I failed so I’ll quit”. What does that mean? Millions of people start diets on New Year’s, create unhealthy goals like “Exercise and eat well every day” and then simply quit when they fail one day. Failing to meet a goal doesn’t mean everything has failed, it only means you have to try again.
What goals can you set? Most people value family, housing, education, careers, savings, debt, and learning skills. Consider goals like:
- Save 10% of income every month
- Pay off a debt, starting with the smallest you have
- Pick up an exercise routine and stick to it for 6 months
- Lose/gain 10 lbs.
- Spend at least an hour a day with family
- Spend 5 hours a week reading or taking courses
It’s also important not to overdo it. Contributing a few hours a week is easy, but when you start to force yourself to do something for a long time every day, you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed and stressed.
7. Ask for Help
No one is infallible. Everyone fails, everyone needs help, and preemptively getting that help can actually prevent a relapse. Taking part in recovery support groups like AA or SMART Recovery, going to therapy, talking to friends and family, and consistently taking steps to surround yourself with a support group is one of the best ways to build self-esteem. Why? Humans are social creatures, our sense of self is often built at least partially on our relationships with others and how they see us. Surrounding ourselves with motivational and inspiring people we can trust, lean on, and offer support to in return will help you. Asking for help is a normal and important thing.
Self-esteem heavily links to happiness, capability, confidence, and even your social life. Going to treatment and taking the first step to beating your addiction is the first step to getting your life back. Working on your self-esteem is often the second. Good luck on your journey to recovery.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and check out our drug and alcohol treatment programs. Our programs and recovery center helps clients by providing them with detox, family intervention, and long-term Outpatient or residential treatment if necessary.
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