It’s normal to feel pretty low immediately after substance abuse rehab, but if you’re still struggling to regain your self-esteem and it’s been longer than you thought it would be before you felt somewhat normal again, don’t fret. While it does take time to heal from all the damage that drug and alcohol abuse does to our bodies and minds, the good news is that we do heal.
But we may need a little help to get there, nonetheless. Here are a number of tips that may help in your goal to help improve your self-esteem after substance abuse rehab.
Tip #1: Not everything has to happen immediately, so give yourself a break. What, exactly, do we mean by this? Simply put, we are probably harder on ourselves than others are, in that we expect too much, too soon. When we’ve just come out of substance abuse rehab, we’re still pretty raw, still smarting, if you will, from all that we’ve gone through. After all, getting clean and sober is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, not to mention how we’re trying to approach this new life of sobriety post-treatment.
Tip #2: Expect that you’ll feel low for some time to come.In line with tip #1, this tip encourages you to recognize and, more importantly, understand that you will most likely feel low self-esteem for some period of time yet. How long will vary from one individual to another, and there’s no set time-table that you should hold up to yourselves and think that you should be better by now. When you aren’t trying so hard to determine what your self-esteem is all the time, you’re better able to concentrate on doing the work of recovery. That alone will help you immensely as you continue to make progress and become stronger in sobriety.
Tip #3: Self-esteem comes from within. It is not something you get from others. Naturally, you want to receive as much help as possible. Reaching out to others for advice and accumulating tips and techniques works well in most situations, but when it comes to boosting your self-esteem, this is not something that you can receive from others. It has to originate from inside you. Having said that, however, we all do benefit from hearing praise about our accomplishments, so over time, this will help us as we begin to build our reservoir of self-esteem. The key is timing. When we hear praise from others, but we don’t believe we are worth it, the praise just falls on deaf ears. It does nothing for us, really. But when we are ready, when we know that we are working hard to achieve our goals in sobriety and others give acknowledgement to our efforts, it does mean something. In fact, it means a lot.
Tip #5: Take things in small measures. When you’re in early recovery, it’s vitally important to pace yourself, to take things in small steps. Be especially careful to avoid all-or-nothing thinking, as in if I don’t complete everything on my list today, I’m a failure. All-or-nothing thinking is a sure-fire way to defeat the progress you’ve made in boosting your self-esteem because it means that you’re consistently measuring yourself against somewhat impossible odds. No one can possibly do everything all the time. Instead of looking at what you didn’t get to or finish, look at what you did do well. And congratulate yourself for that accomplishment.
Tip #6: How you feel does not make you a failure. We all have our ups and downs, our good and not-so-good days. Some days in recovery will find us feeling low, depressed, unfulfilled, stagnant, or uncertain, fearful and stressed. If you find yourself feeling blue or catch yourself thinking that you’re a failure, remember that feelings are not facts. How you feel doesn’t make you a failure.
Tip #7: Turn negatives into positives. Some individuals, especially those in the early days of recovery, look at what happens and automatically see negativity. While it is true that much of the first few days, weeks and months of recovery can seem somewhat difficult, this shouldn’t be construed as a negative. Sure, you may be struggling to overcome cravings and urges, for example, and you want to get to the point where you feel comfortable dealing with them and not giving in. But this isn’t a negative. After all, everyone in recovery will go through some kind of cravings or urges at some point. It isn’t the occurrence of the cravings and urges, but how you choose to deal with them. If you actively pursue coping strategies and listen to what’s worked well for others so you can incorporate these techniques into your own recovery toolkit, that’s turning a negative into a positive. It’s the same principle with everything we face in recovery. If there’s an obstacle or a challenge, look on it as an opportunity to make progress, not as a negative. The more we adopt a positive outlook in recovery, the stronger our self-esteem will become.
Tip #8: Put-downs are a waste of time. How often have you heaped criticism upon yourself because you think that you’re worthless or dense or just don’t get it? This type of self-criticism, however, is not only unproductive, but it’s also a waste of time and effort. Why take the time to beat yourself up when you can be doing something proactive for your recovery? Instead of stewing in such negative thoughts, get out there and do something actionable for your recovery. Your self-esteem will pick up the more you do instead of think and not do what you need to do for your recovery.
Tip #9: Distortions and filtering should be eliminated. While we’re on the subject of negative thinking and negativity, consider how your view of situations and people is distorted and filtered if you engage in this practice. When you make a mistake, perhaps on a work project or something at home, you may have a tendency to think that everyone knows about it and blames you for it. Maybe you’ll even extend this line of thinking to the belief that others will think you’re not up to the job or task. Instead of dwelling on your mistake or error, get busy remedying the situation. Take action. Don’t sit around mulling over all the possible negative outcomes. Own up to what’s happened and work on a positive solution. This will eliminate the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity and help boost your self-esteem in the process.
Tip #10: Be sure to focus on hopeful and positive outcomes. When we think that things will be better as a result of our actions, we are steering our actions toward that eventual outcome. In line with this, we should be sure to focus on the positive aspects of us achieving our short- and long-term goals. This also means taking inventory of our good traits, our skills that have served us well to-date, especially those that have helped us overcome certain difficult challenges. Think, too, about all the good things in our lives, our family and loved ones, our sponsor and fellow group members in the rooms. Life is actually pretty good, if we think about where we are today relative to where we once were in addiction.
Tip #11: Reformulate your statements into hopeful ones. We all have a certain way we talk to ourselves. Some of us refer to it as our inner voice, while others say it’s how they talk to themselves inside. Whatever you call it, try turning negative self-talk into positive, hopeful statements. If something you’re about to attempt or go through has proven tough in the past, or you feel that it will be difficult, tell yourself something along these lines: “I know it might be tough, but I also know I can handle it.” Giving yourself this mental pep talk can do wonders for how you’ll approach and handle the situation.
Tip #12: Remember to forgive yourself. Every single person in recovery, those newly recovered and those who’ve been clean and sober for many years, has gone through some things that have required them to forgive themselves. If they didn’t come to this easily, it was something they learned they needed to do as part of the Twelve Steps. The truth is that none of us makes much progress in recovery if we cannot forgive ourselves. This doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility or owning up to what we may have done that has harmed others. It does mean that we acknowledge what we’ve done, make amends wherever possible, and give ourselves permission to move forward in recovery. It’s also important to recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and mistakes do not make us bad people.
Tip #13: Change your mind-set. While it may be difficult, at first, to change our negative thoughts into positive ones, there is a technique that may prove helpful. When we start thinking that we can’t do this or we aren’t any good at that because we don’t have the training or experience or we’ve failed in the past, turn it around and make the situation less stressful. How do you do that? Ask yourself what you can do and how you can think that will improve this situation. What you’ll be doing is focusing on positive, proactive solutions instead of dwelling on negatives, which, by the way, have a tendency to be self-fulfilling. Always strive to see the brighter side of every situation, and look for ways to flip your negative thoughts about them into more workable, proactive ones.
Tip #14: Celebrate your accomplishments. It’s also vitally important for boosting your self-esteem after drug rehab that you celebrate all of your accomplishments. Big or small, it doesn’t matter, as long as you take the time to acknowledge what you have achieved according to your recovery plan. A good tip is to revisit your goals frequently, revising them as needed. A recovery plan isn’t static. It grows as we grow and evolves as we do. This also helps with forward momentum, and with increasing our reservoir of self-esteem.
Tip #15: Surround yourself with positive people. Think how badly you feel when you’re in the presence of someone who’s constantly harping about how awful things are, or who always puts down others’ efforts or ideas. Now think about how much better you feel when you’re with people who are excited and enthusiastic about life, tackling challenges and turning them into opportunities, sharing what techniques and tips they’ve had success with, and, in general, are caring, supportive and encouraging. While we can’t choose our families and some of our friends and acquaintances may not exactly fall into the category of positive people, we can choose to make new friends and spend time with people who are more upbeat and optimistic about life. By surrounding ourselves with positive people, we are lifted and encouraged by their example and their contagious good-will. Like-minded people make us feel better because we share goals and ideas. This is another plus when you’re trying to improve your self-esteem after drug rehab.
Tip #16: Strive for personal growth. If we want to grow in recovery, we need to learn and we need to do. Make it your goal to strive for personal growth. How do you do that? Very simply, you need to do something. Create a goal, to begin with, and craft a plan of action how you’ll achieve that goal. In drug rehab, you undoubtedly made a recovery plan. This included a list of action items for you to do, and consisted of short-term and long-term goals. There are interim steps along the way toward achievement of goals, but every step you take is one step closer to accomplishment. And accomplishment is personal growth, a key ingredient in boosting your self-esteem after drug rehab.
Tip #17: Learn how to take care of yourself. Following treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, we know it’s important that we take care of our physical and mental health. For some of us, this is an ongoing and painful process, especially in the early weeks and months of recovery. We learned during treatment, for example, how important balance is in our lives: physical, psychological and emotional. This may mean that we need to get our bodies back in good medical condition after too long a time in addiction. It may mean that we need to end a self-destructive relationship or change jobs or move to a new environment. In all cases it means creating healthier lifestyle choices for ourselves and then adhering to them. This is all part of the growth process and is an integral part of rebuilding your self-esteem after drug rehab.
Tip#18: Learn how to network with others. We’ve already mentioned the importance of surrounding ourselves with positive people. But there’s another tip to boosting our self-esteem after drug rehab to consider. That is learning how to network with others. In a very real sense, we network every time we go into the rooms. But networking involves more than just interacting with our sponsor and fellow 12-step group members. It means we’re always on the lookout for individuals who have ideas or whose actions we want to model. These are also healthy relationships that help increase our self-esteem because they help us raise our sense of healthy self. As we continue to make progress in recovery, our networking can help us give back as we strive to lend a helping hand to others in need. The more we help others, the better we, in turn, feel about ourselves. It’s a win-win situation.
Tip #19: Stay active and keep involved in healthy interests. There’s a lot to be said about being physically active and involved in healthy pursuits and interests. Whether it’s engaging in vigorous physical activity, playing sports or getting involved in recreational activities, active people are generally happier people. When we’re active, we’re naturally boosting our endorphins, nature’s own feel-good chemical. When we feel good, our levels of self-esteem tend to rise. Being active is also something for us to look forward to, and to share with our friends and loved ones.
Tip #20: Extend yourself to others. Sometimes, the biggest gift we can give to ourselves comes about when we extend ourselves to others. Do something nice for another person as often as you can. This pays double dividends. Not only does it do something positive for the other person, it also makes us feel good about ourselves. This is another win-win situation.
Bottom line: There are many ways that you can begin to boost your self-esteem after substance abuse rehab. But these 20 tips are a good place to start. They have worked for others and they may very well work for you. The key is to do something, and the best recommendation is to begin your proactive program to improve your self-esteem today.
Remember that you own how you live your life. No one can do it for you. Make improving your self-esteem a top priority in your recovery and you will soon notice measurable results.