Feelings of shame and guilt are common in people who have suffered from severe addictions and can lead to feelings of low self-esteem. For many people in addiction recovery, learning to love yourself again is a difficult process that can feel impossible at times.
Why is Shame and Guilt so Common in Recovering Addicts?
In the throes of addiction, an addict will often do anything it takes to get their next fix, whether that means stealing money from loved ones, performing sexual acts for drugs, alcohol or money, or breaking and entering homes among other things. Once an addict is out of their active addiction and is leading a sober life, memories of these activities can be hard to come to terms with — as they are things their sober selves would never do.
As well, relationships are often damaged during active addiction and many addicts in recovery find themselves with few (or no) close friendships, adding feelings of loneliness and low self-worth to the mix.
How to Love Yourself during Recovery from Addiction
1. Understand the disease of addiction.
Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stated the following:
“What happens in the brain of the addicted person is equivalent to a state of deprivation. It changes the brain from operating in a situation where someone has a choice and does something because he wants to do it to a situation where it feels like need.”
So while it does not completely excuse behaviours such as stealing or hurting people, it is important to remember that addiction is a disease of the brain, and those who are in active addiction are not thinking properly, leading them to do things they would not normally do. It is important to remember that you are not a bad person, but your disease may have caused you to act like one. There is a big difference between the two.
2. Understand that your past actions do not define you.
Sometimes we forget that humans are innately good. Looking back on your past behaviours might make you question that about yourself, but it is true — you are naturally a good person. All you need to do is tap into it. Move past your previous mistakes of poor behaviour and make an effort to do at least one good thing for another person each and every day. Not only will this make you feel all warm and gooey inside, but it will help to reshape the image that others have about you.
Everybody deserves a chance to be a good person, no matter what their past behaviours have been. Prove to yourself that your days of poor behaviour are behind you by helping others each and every day.
3. Make amends with the people you hurt.
If there are people that you hurt while in active addiction, it will help you to make amends with these people. It is important to remember that not everyone will be willing to accept your attempt to make amends, but it is worth a try. Also remember that there is a big difference between simply apologising and making amends. For more details on how to properly make amends in addiction recovery, please click here.
4. Take care of yourself.
This is important for every person on the planet, but especially those who are in addiction recovery. One of the best ways to achieve self-love is by nurturing your body, inside and out. By being active, eating healthily, and getting enough sleep you are taking care of your physical body and you will find that your strength and energy levels increase as your stress levels decrease naturally. Equally as important, you must nurture your mind. Mindfulness meditation is one example of how you can do so, but so can reading books, taking art classes or learning a new language. All of these things will help to build your confidence back up and help you learn to love yourself fully once again.
5. Plan your future.
The past is just that — the past. Other than making amends with the people that you hurt along the way, there is no changing what happened in the past. So instead of focusing on what already happened, focus on what is yet to come. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, so spend some time mapping out the life you want to have. Set S.M.A.R.T goals, and work towards them. Reaching goals you set for yourself will drastically increase your self-esteem and pride — and you will be setting yourself up for a bright, successful and happy future at the same time.
6. Fake it ‘ till you make it.
There is a lot to be said for ‘faking it ’til you make it’. In other words, use positive affirmations each day. Although you may not believe it at first, the more you say to yourself ”I am a good person who deserves respect and happiness” or ”I love the person I have become” the more you will start to feel that it rings true. Choose at least one or two positive affirmations and write them down. Then make sure you say them to yourself at least once a day.
7. Always remember that You are Worth It.
The most important part of learning to love yourself in addiction recovery is remembering that no matter what happened in the past, you deserve to be happy now, and you deserve to a live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Addiction recovery is not an easy process and many people want to give up frequently, but remember that the end results will be worth every bit of effort that you put in to get there. If you are having trouble building confidence and learning to love yourself in addiction recovery, be sure to reach out to a support group or contact a professional who can help guide you.