This is a guest post by Andy.
I was born in Medellin, Colombia. Life was dangerous and dodging bullets was a skill you couldn’t live without. Literally. Back in the ‘80s, Medellin was pretty much the most dangerous city in the world. Luckily, my parents took my brother and I out of there when we were still very young. Life in Southern California was a dream. We had a great life, a great childhood, and I was the happiest I had ever been. But drugs and alcohol found their way into my life and it was all ruined.
I experienced my first drunken episode at the age of 9, which started my trip down the rabbit hole. A decade later I was dependent on a myriad of drugs and alcohol, and at 23, I ended up in jail for 2 years. Since then I’ve relapsed, attempted suicide, and gotten back into recovery. Now I’m over 8 years sober.
In these 8 years I’ve learned that one of the most important tools in recovery is a healthy level of self esteem. Improving my self esteem, apart from getting sober, is just about the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.The good news is that once you’ve gotten around to seeing yourself in a more forgiving, positive light, everything else gets much easier.
1. If it doesn’t serve you, get rid of it
First of all, recovery has to be your primary focus. It comes before anything else. So if something is going to hinder your sobriety, you don’t need it in your life. This applies to people, places, and things.
As someone who has lived a vast majority of their life as an addict, I know that one of the hardest parts about recovery is leaving the people that influenced or fueled your addiction behind. But you have to do it. Say no when they ask you to come hang out, when they offer you that drink. Just say no. By saying no you are reclaiming your power over yourself. You are reclaiming control over your life. Those people may get hurt, or upset, or call you cold, but that’s not your problem. Your focus is you, and your recovery.
2. Baby Steps Pace yourself.
All or nothing is not the way to go when it comes to early recovery. You should definitely remove anything that could possibly tempt you or bring you down from your life, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to knock every single thing off your checklist on the first day.
Set small, reasonable goals. Set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, and so on. But don’t beat yourself down if you’re unable to complete every single one. Doing that will only undo whatever progress you’ve made in improving your self esteem.
Recovery is a process, and any progress you make is a step closer to your ultimate goal of living a clean, healthy, and happy life. You should feel good about that.
3. Celebrate your journey, but don’t dwell on the past
Do remember how far you’ve come. Take pride in the fact that not only have you acknowledged the fact that you have a problem, and asked for help, you are actively pursuing recovery. That is incredible. No matter where you started, you are here now.
Do not get stuck on mistakes that were made or any regrets you may have. You are human. Your past doesn’t define you, mistakes don’t define you. You are allowed to make mistakes. It is okay. To err is human. What is important is that you learn from mistakes and move forward.
Also, forgive yourself. This is key. You simply cannot successfully recover from alcoholism and/or drug addiction while carrying guilt. Forgive your mistakes, your past choices, your past lifestyle. Let it go. Do not allow it to weigh you down. Do celebrate that you’ve made it this far.
4. Draw inspiration, not comparisons
It’s impossible not to notice other people and their journeys. The key to not letting it bring you down is in your perspective.
Many times, sitting in AA meetings or NA meetings I felt myself belittling myself because someone else was doing better than me, or started recovery much younger than I did, or was sober longer than I was. This was defeating the purpose of the meetings.
So then I began to draw inspiration from others. Instead of comparing myself to other people, I saw their achievements and used them to encourage me. Instead of feeling threatened by other people and their success, I became even more enthusiastic about my own recovery.
Rather than feeling like I had to compete with the other people there, I began to understand that everyone has their own journey, their own struggles, just like I had my own.
5. It’s Up To You
Self esteem is not something that someone else can give you. It is something that you have to build for yourself. At the end of the day, if you don’t feel good about yourself, it does not matter how many people are there encouraging you, giving you compliments, and trying to make you feel better.
I know, it is hard to look in the mirror and feel proud of your reflection after everything that you’ve been through, but you’re here now. You’re better now. You are working to be a healthier, cleaner, better version of yourself and that is something to be proud of.
There are a few things you can do to drive that thought home: compliment yourself, make a pro list, and treat yourself.
This is not a joke. It may seem silly, and it’s probably going to be harder than you think, but compliment yourself. Start small, look in the mirror and tell yourself how great you look. Did you see a drink and decide against it? You’re doing great. For some reason it is much easier for us to compliment other people than it is to compliment ourselves. Change that.
Physically write down a list of positive qualities, or things that you’re proud of. It may start out a rather small list, but keep adding to it as more things occur to you. Carry this list with you at all times so that you can always update the list and remind yourself of how great you are.
It’s great to know that you are making progress, but it’s even better to treat yourself for your little victories. Go to the movies, go to a restaurant, go bowling with friends, go paint-balling, do anything that will make you happy, something you wouldn’t regularly do.
Recovery is a roller coaster. There will be ups and there will be downs. There will be days when you wake up feeling a little worse for wear but going to bed feeling much better, and vice versa. You will probably have whole days that just don’t go your way. Just take life one day at a time. Don’t be discouraged. This is normal. You are doing great. You are perfect.
Hi, I am Andy! I was born in Bogota, Colombia but raised in Los Angeles, California. I am 8 years sober (almost 9!). I spend my time helping others with their recovery and growing my online business. Read more of my writing at Northpoint Recovery.
Image: Alex Blajan
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