Building Self-Esteem in Early Recovery


We stole from our mothers. We lied to our friends. We manipulated our grandparents and helped ourselves to the medications they needed to live. We failed out of school. We lived on the streets. We sold our bodies for drug money. We showed up to work drunk and embarrassed ourselves, incessantly, in front of our peers and acquaintances; our employers and friends. Our family members. We burned bridges and never looked back, too self-involved and chemically consumed to care (or even notice, most of the time). All-in-all, we were unpleasant people. Self-motivated, destructive, uncaring, and completely unavailable – emotionally, mentally, and often physically. It makes sense that after years of causing excessive wreckage in our own lives and in the lives of our loved ones, any prior sense of self-worth would be a little trashed.

The Importance of Rebuilding Self-Esteem

In fact, most of us enter into recovery with an utter lack of self-esteem, desperate to begin feeling better about ourselves instantaneously. We stop drinking and drugging ourselves to death, and the dense mental fog we have comfortably settled into begins lifting rapidly. We begin to see reality for what it truly is – we can no longer successfully convince ourselves that things are fine and dandy; we can no longer excuse our behavior or dawdle in denial. We must face the truth of the situation at hand – and the truth is, we have probably been less-than-respectable members of society for quite a long time.

Terminal Uniqueness and Addiction Recovery

So we check into a medical detox, and we stabilize physically. We transfer to an inpatient treatment center, and we begin to take an honest and searching look at our current emotional and spiritual state. Things are in disarray; of course they are. We are in pieces. We might be able to continue convincing ourselves that we are unique, or fine, or above it all, or worse off than everyone else – but at some point, we will need to come to terms with the fact that we are in exactly the same boat as all of our peers. We are human beings who have suffered at the hands of a devastating disease for years of our lives, and while we were in the throes of our addictions, we have done quite a lot of damage. Damage that we need to take responsibility for. Damage that has inevitably caused quite a bit of personal loss – loss of self-respect, self-esteem, relationships, and life goals.

So we undergo intensive therapeutic treatment, and we begin to take a look at all of this. We learn that drinking and drugging is not the problem, but rather a temporary and worn-out solution to a problem that is both deep and internal. We learn that our core issues are what prompted us to turn to chemical substance in the first place, and that confronting and addressing these issues will allow us to lead healthy, productive lives. We begin to understand that addressing these deep-seated, underlying issues will not be a pleasant process – especially seeing that we are now capable of experiencing our feelings (and feelings are hard). But we trudge forward, because we are in a structured and closely monitored environment, and we are being instructed to trudge. We do some hard work in treatment – no question. We begin to honestly peer inside of ourselves, seeing the reality of the internal wreckage for the first time in years.

And then we graduate from inpatient treatment. And then, we are presented with a choice.

Early Recovery and Decision Making

We can either sit in that pile of wreckage until self-pity and defeatism walks us back to the bar, or we can take action. We can begin rebuilding at once, doing what we can to bolster our spiritual connection while actively engaging in a program of recovery. Equally as important, we can begin reconstructing a vital sense of self-esteem. This is exceedingly important, because those feelings of worthlessness, depression, and despondency will take us right back out if we do not combat them with altruism, selflessness, and resilience. We must begin helping others, even if that means talking to an even newer newcomer before or after a meeting; even if that means calling up grandma just to tell her you love her. We must begin engaging in estimable acts, such as working a low-key job and becoming self-supporting, maintaining accountability, and setting achievable personal goals. Rebuilding self-esteem is a crucial component of early recovery – as addicts and alcoholics, it is in our nature to wallow in self-pity, milking the victim role for all that it is worth.

Building self-esteem is a choice, and it is not difficult to do! Try doing things that make you feel good about yourself. Help someone every single day without telling anyone else that you have done so. Write up a reasonable goal list at the beginning of the day, and check off tasks as you complete them. Put your energy into rebuilding your life and expressing gratitude on a daily basis, knowing that your journey towards fulfilled recovery can absolutely be one of joy and abundance.