The more we lose ourselves to our addictive lifestyles, the more detached we become from our moral standards. We begin to engage in activities that we never would have engaged in before drinking or drug use took over our lives; we lie to our loved ones, steal from our family members, and compromise our integrity on a very serious level. We become dark and dishonest versions of our former selves, and we begin to hate the people that we have become. For many of us, what begins as guilt and remorse makes the slow transformation into deep-seated shame. We internalize all of our duplicity, manipulation, and immorality, and we begin to believe that we are truly bad – at the core of our beings. The truth is, of course, that we are not bad people. We are very, very sick, and because the disease of addiction manifests itself (in part) as a spiritual malady, we confuse mental illness with a lack of firm moral standing.
Over the course of our active addictions, it is likely that our sense of self-esteem will suffer immensely. In fact, this is inevitable. And those who struggle with self-esteem will have a difficult time finding fulfilled happiness once they are on the other side of their addictions. After all, putting down the drink and the drug is only the very first step in the recovery process. The real work comes when we commit to rebuilding ourselves and our lives – restoring a sense of self-worth, purpose, capability, and confidence. We may expect that as soon as we stop using, we will begin to feel better about ourselves. And the truth is that we might begin to feel better on a very superficial level. Yet all of the accumulative damage that we did while we were ripping and running will still be there, unresolved, right below the surface. In order to work through all of those past damages, we must continuously engage in activities that help rebuild and bolster our tarnished sense of self-esteem.
Firstly, let us more clearly define self-esteem. What is it, and why is it so vitally important to a fulfilled and meaningful recovery? Self-esteem can be defined as a sense of inherent worth or value. It is highly subjective, and closely related to self-worth. Those who have high self-esteem tend to fully grasp their own worth – they value themselves and their innate abilities. The simplest and most effective way to build self-esteem is by engaging in activities and behaviors that you are proud of – being true to your moral principles, and living your life in a way that you truly feel good about. Of course, the first step in building self-esteem is ceasing to engage in all of the behaviors you adopted while active in your addiction. This is a process, and it is important to remember that you will not miraculously recover from years of moral depravity overnight. Go easy on yourself!
Begin by practicing honesty in all that you do. This can be a difficult habit to get into, seeing as most of us grew so accustomed to lying in order to continue using and get what we wanted when we wanted it. If you find yourself being dishonest, even about something small, try to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Secondly, do what you can to live as selflessly as possible. Finding an opportunity to help others is never too difficult, even if you have not yet worked through the 12-steps (and are therefore not ready to begin sponsoring others). Pick up a service commitment at your homegroup, such as making coffee or picking up cigarette butts. Look into volunteer commitments outside of the program, such as serving at a soup kitchen on weekends or participating in a beach clean-up in your local community. There are innumerable ways to get involved, and every time you do something for someone else you will not only be contributing to the good of humanity… but building up a stronger sense of self-worth in the process.
Remember to give yourself time; the process of recovery is all about lifelong learning, and you cannot expect yourself to transform overnight. But so long as you keep continuously putting your best foot forward, you will find that you have made more personal progress than you ever imagined possible.