Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Building Esteem

I became frustrated while dealing with an alcoholic client who's always apologizing.

            "I want you to make a commitment," I told him.

            "A commitment?"

            "Yes," I told him. "I want you to stop continually apologizing. And go look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself you're okay."

While I know my admonition isn't going to do much for his basic self-esteem, at least he might start taking a look at why he prefaces most comments with an apology. Even though he's aware that he's always saying he's sorry before he speaks, it would help he went beyond that to recognize why he’s doing it..

This client is not much different from others who deal with low self-esteem. Many started using drugs or alcohol because it let them feel - at least temporarily - good about themselves. Drugs and alcohol allowed them to fit in. Something commonly heard at 12 step meetings is the wonder of that first drink or drug. How the addict, for the first time, meshed with the world.

Then came crushing reality. All of a sudden they were a slave to the genie that set them free. They lost their loved ones, who didn't know how to deal with them. They were fired from jobs.. Their health declined. Some went to prison. Or to a psychiatric hospital. They might have started stealing. Maybe they traded their car for crack. The horrible reality of what they had done to themselves was all of a sudden apparent.

Why wouldn't they feel terrible about themselves, about who they’d become? How can we feel good about such a display of poor judgment?  None can be proud of losing everything they value. That's why when we show up our self-esteem is in the toilet.

And how do we rebuild it?  We tell ourselves that while we have lost everything, we’re making the effort to stay sober, to change our lives. We tell ourselves that even though we're at the bottom, we're not running away. We build esteem by recognizing the positive things we’re doing.

Growing our self-esteem is a day-to-day, step-by-step process. It may seem simplistic. But that's where it starts. 

It worked for me.