Finding Self-Love in Recovery
We live in a world of duality; a world of right and wrong, positive and negative. Many people view things from a lens of black and white, even if it is unconscious. When it comes to recovery, it is laden with right and wrong. Even if it is spoken about in the context of forgiveness and getting back on the wagon if one falls off, there is a lot of guilt and shame people feel when they relapse. Not to mention shame for using in the first place. There is a belief that states “I am doing it good and right when I am sober,” and “I am not as good of a person if I am using or relapsing.” No one is walking around saying these words outright of course, yet isn’t that the deep down belief?
It is very important to be able to look at oneself from the stance of “who” I am is not what I do. In other words, a person’s choices are not a measurement stick that determines his or her value as a human being. I know that can be hard to believe when we are told that our accomplishments, looks, and how we treat others and ourselves is the way we become deserving or undeserving, but I beg to differ. I believe that every single soul is inherently valuable despite what has happened. There are not exceptions to this.
Experiences of the Soul and Self
One perspective is that our souls are here to learn and grow. We can think of our lives as a journey where a soul came into a human form to evolve. This perspective invites us to consider that we are a soul having a human experience rather than a human with a soul. Can you feel the difference between the two? When we can see through the eyes of love and compassion, our human journey becomes less black and white, and more gray. It gives us space to step back and create space between our struggles and who we are, by realizing that we are not our choices but that instead that we have choices.
Our choices and actions lead us in a very specific direction. Sometimes that direction is something we feel good about and other times it is something we feel shame about. The key is to remember that neither choice can change our inherent worth. What can change however, is how we experience life, how our choices impact others and what happens to us as a result of these choices. Given that most of us want to avoid suffering, the natural tendency is to do what we can to reduce it.
When I think of the clients I have worked with, along with my own journey, I am present to the innate desire we all share to free ourselves from the prison of our own making. Our own self-judgements or the capacity to view our struggles with compassion can completely change our entire experience in life. If we take this outside ourselves to get a better view, just think about a person who loves themselves and how they experience life. Then think of someone who hates themselves and what daily life is like for this person. No matter what one is doing or experiencing, how they see themselves will create joy or suffering in almost all areas of life.
Taking Responsibility For Ourselves
Taking responsibility for how we talk and treat ourselves is one of the greatest gifts available through our freewill. I am not saying this is easy; it certainly has been a huge growth process for most of us. But even being able to admit that it is up to us to heal our relationship with ourselves is incredibly liberating. It takes the onus off the addiction or others. It means that we get the opportunity to start to consider things from a higher perspective. One where our addiction is not seen as the enemy but rather the thing we have had to use to make it through.
I think this can be scary for some people because they are so afraid of who they are as an addict, that bringing real and true compassion to themselves, makes them feel vulnerable. They believe that so long as they hate that part of themselves, and make it wrong, they won’t go back there. The question I have is, “Is that how you want to live?” Do you want to live as a person who has to hate a part of themselves in order to be accepted? True acceptance doesn’t have hate within it. It has acceptance of all that is. Therefore, one cannot say they love and accept themselves fully, while also secretly judging a part they feel they have to tuck away.
Doing the deeper work to heal our relationship with ourselves and our addictive tendencies is far more important than I believe people realize. There is a lot of emphasis on doing whatever it takes to be sober. While this is important for many, we deserve to love ourselves no matter where we are on our journey. We deserve to be okay with who we are no matter if we have a current addiction in tow, have relapsed, or are in a place of not engaging in a behavior at all anymore. Self-love is not contingent on what we are doing, but instead is based on the simple fact that we are worthy because our soul is precious. Just as a parent would not stop loving their child for their choices, we should not stop loving ourselves for ours. Everyone is doing the best they can given their level of consciousness and the resources available to them at a specific moment in time.
I realize it is one thing to write and read about such concepts and another to truly embody them. I have found that generally speaking, we are not taught how to love ourselves fiercely. It is something that we must be taught as we become ready for it, or as we see the need. And like most things in life, we learn by example and practice rather than reading about it. Doing things like working with a therapist, a coach, or even using some sort of guided process in a book or program can all be really helpful. There are no shortage of resources out there once we decide to go for something. And the most important thing to remember is that there is no end goal of arrival with self-love. Because we are human we are not going to reach some threshold that we pass. Instead, it is simply a continual practice that we participate in each day to the best of our ability. If one day is not a good one, tomorrow is a fresh start.
Learning and Implementing
In the world of self-help and the healing arts, I do see from time to time people taking ideas like self-love and turning it into another thing they are supposed to achieve. We cannot achieve something like love. We can achieve a best time in a swim meet or achieve a raise, but love is not like that. Love in many ways functions like a verb. It is something we do and can offer in any given moment. That means the degree in which we experience it will ebb and flow. There is no prize for those who love themselves the most. Do not let the degree in which you love yourself become another measuring stick that you are up against. Instead, let it carry you further into more freedom and self-compassion. For this to take place, a person has to understand that it is meant to make them feel better not worse.
I realize that might sound a bit funny considering it would seem obvious. Yet, the mind is tricky and sometimes when self-esteem is already low, not being like the people that seem to have it all together and love themselves can become another way someone measures themselves. The best way to conceptualize what self-love would be like, is to simply ask in each moment, “If I loved myself fully, what would I choose in this moment?” The answer may not be the obvious one. It may mean cutting yourself some slack. It may mean making a hard decision. And it may mean letting something slide. The only way to know is to be honest and simply keep practicing what love feels like for you. It means following the thread of the heart.
To get you started, I made a list of things to reflect upon. As it relates to my addictive tendencies…..
- What are the things I am most ashamed of?
- Of each of the items I listed, what is it that I believe it means about me?
- Why do I believe it makes me less than?
Get really clear and specific on the why. Did you get this idea because someone else or a group believes it? Did you get it because your parents “made” you feel a certain way? Did you get it because you don’t feel that you are allowed to be human like the rest of the world? That you somehow have to be perfect?
Self-Love in Recovery and Life
These questions may seem simple but they are powerful, and so are you. It takes more courage to examine our beliefs than it does to carry them. Bravery walks forward despite fear. By simply taking the time to reflect honestly, we are showing ourselves love.
So as you can see, being kind to ourselves does not mean that we just sweep things under the rug. We still do our inner-work. It just means that we don’t use fear and self-loathing as the fuel for how to create changes in how we view ourselves and our lives. To be honest, with all the talk about self-love these days, I myself have glossed over many books and articles on it. The value of it again, does not come in reading about it. It comes from implementing it.
Now that you have answered the above questions, I invite you to consider what you want to do with this information. Do you want to journal more on it? Talk to someone? Take an action step to change something? Maybe you just want to sit with it and allow it to be true. Whatever you choose, make the decision that feels right to you rather than what you think you are supposed to do. That is another key element in choosing self-love. Listening and honoring what is most true for you!
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