Self-esteem, by definition, is about how a person sees themselves. Someone with a healthy self-esteem would be aware of their strengths and their weaknesses. They would know where they excel and what they are capable of, while recognizing their own flaws. They would be confident in their ability to cope with situations they can cope with, and they might call into question their ability to deal with unknown or overwhelming problems on their own, asking for help from others or recognizing that they have room for growth.
An unhealthy self-esteem can easily skew in one or the other direction, past that balancing point.
Someone with a very high self-esteem might frequently overestimate their own ability and suffer the consequences. They might not even learn from these consequences, instead blaming others for their failure. Someone with a very low self-esteem might consider themselves unable to shape up to any problem, and unworthy of any praise. They’ll feel they don’t deserve recognition for anything. They may try to cover up their insecurity with outrageous and abrasive behavior.
Both can be unhealthy in drug recovery, but a low self-esteem is far more common in people who are struggling with the chronic nature of addiction and are trying to get sober (or stay sober).
Why Self-Esteem is Important in Sobriety
At its most basic, the struggle to stay sober in the face of addiction and relapse is a matter of confidence. You must convince yourself that you’re capable of dealing with the future and its many challenges without drugs. You might not do so alone – but that’s alright, because you’ve got help, and you know when to ask for it. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be satisfying, or even fun.
There will be hard days and harder days, but they’ll come to pass. With a healthy self-esteem, you’ll know that while nothing is set in stone, you’ve got the tools you need to go forward, and the drive to learn about the tools you’re still missing.
Without a healthy self-esteem, all that is gone. Self-doubt seeps in, and insecurity takes over. Fear plays conductor to all the thoughts and scenarios in your head, and any thought of the future becomes terrifying. Your cravings are already likely raging on – and your mind is continuously reminded of how much easier things are when you’re not really there anymore, when you’re high or drunk or gone. These negative thoughts become all-consuming.
Dealing with them is the highest priority. People struggling with substance use disorder are more likely to struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and when these issues compound, treating one without the other becomes very difficult. By working on developing a healthier outlook on life, you can better improve your chances of long-term sobriety.
Seek Out Improvement
If your self-esteem issues are not part of a deeper mental health problem, but a part of addiction itself, then it’s time to critically separate who you are and what you have accomplished from your drug use. Remind yourself that there’s more to you than drugs and embrace all you can be.
Start by picking up old hobbies, getting back to work or school, investing in your passions, and trying to think more about what you can do right, rather than what you’ve done wrong.
By seeking out self-improvement, you’re beginning to work on arguably the most important thing in life: becoming a better you. Not just for your own sake, but for everyone else as well. It might start with something simple, like getting into shape or improving your sleeping habits. Then it might turn into something more committed, like pursuing a potential talent, vying for a dream position, or working your way towards a great achievement.
Set Achievable Short-Term Goals
The power of goals shouldn’t be understated. Achieving a goal or objective is unbelievably rewarding, and that’s one of the most important things to chase after abandoning an addiction.
We need to remind ourselves that giving up drugs and alcohol isn’t a matter of turning life into a series of boring chores and endless grinding, it’s simply about recognizing that there’s much more to having fun and genuinely being happy than relying on self-destructive habits such as drug use.
One of the best ways to get a natural high is to complete an objective you’ve set out to overcome, through preparation, concentration, and a lot of self-improvement. But it’s not a good idea to start off with grandiose plans, or vague goals. Keep your goals short-term at first, to avoid burning out on goals that are far too difficult to achieve or take far too long (and require far more long-term motivation and patience).
Consider goals such as dropping five pounds, getting through a book you like, learning one new dish (and cooking it for someone else), or attending a sober gathering (and staying sober all throughout).
The Bottom Line
With a low self-esteem comes plenty of negativity. It’s nearly inescapable, as struggling with a low self-esteem means tolerating that negativity, and letting it envelop you.
It’s not just on people to individually overcome their negativity and magically feel better. That isn’t how mental health works, and it isn’t how self-esteem issues are solved. Tough love isn’t the way, either.
To help someone overcome their insecurities and believe in their ability to get sober, stay sober, and continue to recover in the long-term, it’s critical to support them in doing the things they want to do, to help talk them out of their fears and insecurities, and to encourage them to take chances and celebrate their successes, focusing on the good they’ve achieved and the path they’ve already walked instead of dwelling on their failures or their pacing.
Much like motivation, self-esteem is something that must be developed through social interaction and through the relationships between a patient and their therapist, between a loved one and their family, or through a like minded sober living community. More than honeyed words, proper encouragement means helping someone draw out their own inner strengths and surprise themselves. Not everyone is naturally creative, strong, or intelligent, but we all have the capacity to be passionate, and the capacity to improve. Raising someone’s self-esteem is about helping them realize that and embrace it.