I was recently facilitating an aftercare group where a client in early recovery was discussing the guilt he felt about his past. Because of his drinking and drugging he hadn't been in his children's lives as they were growing up. He said that his self-esteem was shot. He seemed to have difficulty accomplishing anything.
One of the group members pointed out that it was unproductive to feel guilty about something that he couldn't do anything about today. Another suggested that he get involved in doing something positive, something to make him feel good about himself.
The client went on to mention that he had entered a GED program to get his high school diploma. He had been studying and felt that he was ready to take the examination. But again his lack of self-esteem popped up. He dejectedly said that he wasn't sure when he was going to be able to take the test because he didn't have the money for the examination. And he didn't know how he would get to the test site since he didn't have transportation.
Finally someone in the group said, "when you're ready to take the exam let me know and I'll see if I can help you out with some money." Another person in the group offered to help him get to the test site. The obstacles were removed and it same like the man would able to take the examination. In a final show of his lack of self-esteem the man said, "I'm not sure I'll pass."
This exchange demonstrated for me how low self-esteem can keep us from accomplishing - or attempting - anything worthwhile. When many of us arrived in recovery we didn't have much to feel good about. And we were angry at the person who had destroyed our lives: ourselves.
What's the solution? My idea for rebuilding self-esteem is to first try to accomplish small things. Start a modest exercise program where we walk for 20 minutes a day. Or make a commitment to read a book a week. We could get involved in a home group. We might volunteer for a community project. If we can complete these small commitments we'll feel better about ourselves.
Successfully completing projects that make the world a better place or make us better people is one of the building blocks of restoring our self-esteem.