“I’m not good enough. My car is nothing compared to Mark’s new BMW convertible. I suck at too many things. I should just give up. I’m stupid for not knowing about that. Jeff is so much more successful than I am.” Grouped together, it’s pretty easy to see that these statements are mean and unhealthy. Yet, many of us think these sorts of things every day. And we probably don’t even realize it. But these kinds of thoughts both stem from and contribute to low self-esteem in a pretty cyclical nature.
Americans especially struggle with self-esteem issues. It likely has a lot to do with how much emphasis we put on materialistic things, like cars, houses, clothes, etc. We use them as indicators of proposed worth. Other cultures don’t put as much emphasis on such materialistic indicators. And to be quite honest, these indicators actually don’t have anything to do with self-esteem. They’re superficial material items, whereas self-esteem is deep and internal.
American or not, addicts notoriously have low self-esteem. They’ve spent significant amounts of time thinking and feeling that their drugs (or drinks) of choice are the most important things in their lives and they live accordingly. Addiction is incredibly detrimental to self-esteem. Treatment programs like New Start will spend a lot of time helping recovering addicts change their mindsets, be more open, and become emotionally prepared to live a sober life. The methods include targeting self-image and self-esteem. But you don’t have to participate in a treatment program to work on your self-esteem. It’s something that should constantly be worked on throughout long-term recovery as well.
Here are some things you can do to change your mindset in order to increase your self-esteem:
Differentiate Between Realistic and Idealistic Expectations
Too many of us fixate on unrealistic expectations. And then we beat ourselves up because we didn’t meet those expectations (again, because they’re unrealistic). But we refuse to tell ourselves that our expectations weren’t realistic. Instead, we call ourselves failures and wallow in our own self-pity.
For example, maybe you told yourself while you were in treatment that once you graduated, you were going to convince your landlord to retract your eviction that resulted from your drug use. But that’s (probably) not going to happen. That isn’t how the world works. Your addiction doesn’t just affect yourself. In this case, it affected your landlord and the safety and integrity of his property. Your landlord is running a business, be it a property management or his own private rental agreements. As far as he’s concerned, retracting your eviction would enable such behavior. You can’t change him or the circumstances. But you also can’t beat yourself up over the lost apartment or the drug use that caused it. Doing so will only chip away at your self-esteem. You’re sober now. You’re not the same person that you were before you got help.
Instead, you should accept that your addiction caused some damage and then set a more realistic goal regarding your living situation. “Now that I’m clean and sober, I’m going to find a sober living situation and then reassess my requirements for my own apartment.”
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world” – the Buddha
Not meeting idealistic expectations will contribute to low self-esteem but meeting realistic expectations will improve self-esteem. If you collect accomplishments because your expectations are realistic, you’ll realize that you are very capable and successful, which will increase your self-esteem.
Open Yourself Up to New Things
If we feel like we don’t have much to offer, we probably just haven’t yet discovered everything that we do have to offer. Being open to new experiences allows us to discover more about ourselves and what we have to offer. This includes being open to making new friends in recovery, being open to trying new sober hobbies, and being open to expressing your feelings.
It also means being open to accepting failures. And we don’t even have to call them failures as long as we still acknowledge them. They’re just things that aren’t really for you… things you don’t excel at. Self-esteem isn’t just about acknowledging your strengths; it’s also about acknowledging your weaknesses and learning how to grow from them. Really, increasing your self-esteem by being open to new things is a process of trial and error. You won’t know you’re not the greatest at something unless you try it. You also won’t know if you’re amazing at those things either. But either way, realizing that you’re good at something new and learning to either work at or move on from the things you’re not the greatest at will both increase your self-esteem.
Constantly Adjust Your Self-Image
Chances are you used to excel at something you’re no longer good at today. It does no good to compare yourself to that older version of you because that’s not still you. We’re always growing and changing. It’s a part of being human. Today’s you is not the same person as high school you, last year’s you, or even last week’s you. You need to keep adjusting your self-esteem to match your current strengths and abilities.
Matching your current expectations to an older version of you only leaves room for self-criticism and deprecation. Your self-esteem will most definitely suffer. This is especially true for recovering addicts. You in recovery are nowhere near the same person you were in addiction. So, if you expect yourself to continue to be the hyperactive, boisterous life of the party that you were when you were using, for example, you’re only going to disappoint yourself. Readjusting your self-image is a big part of recovery. Recovering addicts need time to adjust to their new life and learn how to live outside of their addictions. It takes time and effort, but if you do allow yourself to be cognizant of change and put that effort into readjusting your self-image, your self-esteem will have nowhere to go but up.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Everyone in recovery (and life) has a different story. You can’t compare your status to those of others because you’re not the same people under the same exact circumstances in the same exact life. Let’s say you go to a meeting and receive a chip for 30 days sober. You’re happy until Josh, another man at the meeting, picks up a chip for 10 years sober. You instantly start comparing your accomplishment to his. But you can’t rationally beat yourself up over your 30 days chip compared to Josh’s 10 years chip because your story isn’t the same as his. Instead, celebrate your 30 days. Congratulate yourself on that major accomplishment. Acknowledge that you were strong enough to take that necessary step to get sober and live that sobriety for a full month.
If you acknowledge your own accomplishments without clouding them with comparisons to the accomplishments and skills of others, your self-esteem will flourish. But it has to come from you. It’s called self-esteem, after all. No one else decides your self-esteem for you. So, practice celebrating yourself and your accomplishments until it becomes habit to acknowledge your strengths and successes. Everyone else is on their own path, not yours.
Self-esteem isn’t something you can just fix in one shot. It’ll take time and constant awareness. But these methods are things you can take with you and practice as you go about your normal day. You don’t actually have to set aside a bunch of time to work on your self-esteem as long as you keep the tools to do so handy. Forget about Mark’s BMW… he might not even be truly happy with it, and you can be truly happy and confident in yourself without it.
Addiction will eat away at your self-esteem (as well as other huge parts of your mental and physical health) if it’s not helped. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, New Start can help. Call us at 855-737-7363 for a free and confidential assessment.