Recovery Is The Beginning of An Ongoing Journey to Reclaim Your Self-Worth
Pathetic. Loser. Thief. Liar. Worthless. Weak. Shameful. Bad. These are just a few of the many derogatory words we women hear about ourselves when we are struggling with an addiction. These labels come from misinformed family members, intolerant friends, and an unforgiving society. Those who are uneducated about the disease of addiction simply don’t know any better. They stigmatize addicted people. We forgive them.
After hearing these words over and over again, many of us struggle with self-worth when we get into recovery. We think of ourselves as unworthy. As a result, we often buy into the lie, “Once an addict, always an addict.”
In this article, we at Denver Women’s Recovery want to set the record straight. You may have the disease of addiction, but it is only a small part of who you are. You are not “just” an alcoholic. You are not “just” an addict. You are so much more. We want to help you embrace your self-worth. Let’s get down to the business of promoting WP – Woman Power!
Why Addiction Leads to Low Self-Worth
One of the most difficult things for women to come to terms with in sobriety is the things we did to maintain our habit. An addiction to substances like cocaine, meth, heroin, and even alcohol causes us to violate our own values in pursuit of the next fix. Many of us lied to our loved ones, stole to support our habit, conned people out of money, and even sold our own bodies.
We would never engage in these behaviors in sobriety. However; it is difficult to come to terms with our past actions. We convince ourselves that we are bad people because of the things we did while in active addiction. This greatly contributes to feelings of low self-worth, which damages our self-image and self-esteem.
The Nature of Addiction Leads Us To Abandon Our Personal Values
Psychology Today author Dan Mager puts it this way in an article about values and addiction:
“Active addiction usually takes people away, often light-years away, from their values. In their quest to get what they want, be accepted by others, or just feel good or feel better, practicing addicts often go against their own values in ways that start out as subtle but become more blatant over time.”
He continues, “sometimes it happens within a few weeks and sometimes it takes months or even years, but however positive and healthy a person’s values may be, those values are eventually crowded out by the obsessive thinking related to using alcohol and other drugs, the compulsive need to use, and the self-absorbed attitudes that are dominant during active addiction.”
Self-Forgiveness Is Essential To Letting Go Of The Past
We will be bold and make a declarative statement here: NO ONE escapes an addiction to drugs or alcohol without first going against their most deeply held values. In fact, many people get into recovery because they admit that they have become a person they no longer recognize.
Doing “bad” things when you were addicted doesn’t make you a “bad” person. The nature of addiction motivates us to do things we are not proud of. However; we simply MUST understand that when we did those things, we were not in our right minds. We were incapable of rational thought. In no uncertain terms, we were trapped in the insane cycle of addiction.
We are absolutely accountable for our actions. Being high or drunk doesn’t give us an excuse to harm ourselves or others. But, in recovery, we make amends to those we have harmed. This allows us to make peace with the past. We forgive ourselves and recognize that who we were in our addiction doesn’t define who we are in our recovery.
An Obsession With Recovery Can Lead To A Jaded Identity
Recovery is about finding balance. Many people take their sobriety to the extreme. They become so afraid of a relapse, they become obsessed with attending 12-step meetings. At these meetings, when we share, we begin by saying “I am an addict” or “I am an alcoholic.” While this is true, this is not the sum total of who we are.
You may have heard people share in meetings that they are “just an addict” who is one bad decision away from ruining their lives. Or, they may say, they are “just an alcoholic” and that’s all they will ever be. Quite often, these words are spoken by people who have many years in recovery. How sad!
Without opening ourselves up to the beautiful world that exists outside of 12-step meetings, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are limiting our own view of ourselves. Yes, yes, we are recovering addicts and alcoholics, sure….. but what else are we? How can we ever embrace our own self-worth if we are staying stuck in our identification with the disease?
Five Ways To Embrace Your Self -Worth in Recovery
There are a number of actions you can take to improve your self-image in sobriety and shake off those nasty labels we talked about earlier. Let’s talk about these:
This is a healing process that will allow you to become “right-sized” with your disease.
It gives you the opportunity to take an inventory of your assets and get to know yourself better. By completing the entire 12-Step process, you will make peace with yourself and your past. You will come to understand that addiction or alcoholism doesn’t define you. In fact, it is only a small piece of the much larger puzzle that makes up who you are.
2. Make an “I AM…..” List.
Sit down with a pen and paper and fill in the blank: I AM ____. Start each new line with the words “I am.” I am a mother. I am a wife. I am an artist. I am in a book club. I am an amazing cook. I am loved. I am in the process of healing.
Come up with as many I AMs as you can think of that represent true statements about yourself. Then, continue to ask yourself “Who am I?” throughout the next three days. You will be amazed at what you come up with! Continue to add these to your list as they come to mind.
3. Make another “I AM” list.
Once your first list is complete, make another I AM _____ list beneath it. This one is for positive self-affirmations. You may not believe these statements at first, but write down words that describe how you want to think about yourself.
I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am enough. I am strong. I am lovable. I am forgiven. I am courageous. I am smart. I am creative. I am awesome…. you get the point. Continue this process for the next three days and add to your list as needed.
4. Read your list aloud every day for 21 days.
On the seventh day, read your list out loud to yourself. Do this every day for three weeks. It might seem strange at first, but by the last day of the month, you will feel a shift in your consciousness.
Doing this exercise allows you to embrace your own self-worth by helping you to realize that you are more than “just” and alcoholic or addict.
It might sound weird, but this is a form of positive self-brainwashing. Here is a cool video that explains this phenomenon:
5. Get out there and discover new things about yourself.
Sobriety allows you the freedom to explore the world around you and the world within you. When it comes to getting to know your innermost self and the great big world out there, you have barely scratched the surface.
There is a hidden treasure trove within your soul that you have yet to discover. Perhaps you love tennis or enjoy hiking even though you have convinced yourself that you hate exercise. You might think you have a firm grasp on your favorite flavor of ice cream when you actually have no idea. Or, you may believe you aren’t a very good friend when in reality you are a very faithful, kind, and generous person.
Do some inner work. Try new things. Meet new people. Engage in exciting activities. Doing this will reveal more to you about who you are – the person who exists beyond the labels.
Participating in these exercises will put you on the right path to realizing that you are so much bigger than the disease of addiction. They might seem like silly suggestions, but we suggest you give them a try. What have you got to lose?
You Are An Amazing Woman – Own It, Sister!
Women who are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction are amazing human beings. To overcome such adversity is truly remarkable. Unfortunately, most women don’t see it this way. So many become shackled to their past mistakes, imprisoned by their own guilt. They carry the heavy burden of shame, convinced that their misdeeds are unforgivable. Can you relate?
There is a saying that says something like, “we should measure our strength not by the mountains we climb, but by the holes we dig ourselves out of.”
Think about how far you have come since you hit rock bottom. Think about the strength and courage that was required to get to where you are today. With sheer determination, you have rebuilt your life after tearing it down brick by brick because of your addiction. This is an amazing accomplishment! You are an amazing woman!
Need some inspiration for embracing your self-worth in recovery? Read April’s story.