Self love is a foreign concept for many of those new to recovery. For those of us who have been through the process of recovery a few times though, self love is no longer foreign, but it becomes a priority. We realize that without it, we are not capable of staying sober.
But why is self love important? Why do I speak of it first in this series? Well, self love is important, because without it, we are not capable of loving others. In order to love yourself again, you must accept the person you once were, forgive yourself for your mistakes and shortcomings, and finally, embrace your strengths. These three steps go in order for a reason. Until you accept yourself as you were, and as you are, you are not able to distinguish your strengths, ya dig?
Let’s get to work
1. First and foremost, you have to accept the person you once were.
We all make mistakes, no one is exempt from character defects. Here’s the difference though. What sets us apart from the rest of society, is that they are still in denial about their hangups. Those of us in recovery have already reached our lowest points (most of us anyway). Humility is not something that can be taught, it must be experienced. We experience humility by making mistakes, by being human.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a part of me that cringes when I think of the person I once was while I was using. The difference is, I don’t get stuck there or hung up on it. I moved on, once and for good. In order to love yourself, you have to accept that that person still lurks under the surface if you feed you addictions. But, you’re sober now. You have a new identity.
17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17New English Translation (NET Bible)
2. Second, in order to truly love yourself, you must forgive yourself for your mistakes and shortcomings.
After accepting the person we once were, we have to forgive ourselves for our faults. What does this mean? To forgive means to take action. It means you go beyond acceptance and offer something more. This something more happens to be grace. You have to offer yourself some grace for your weaknesses, or you’ll end up back at the acceptance stage of loving yourself.
I struggled with forgiving myself for being an alcoholic for many years. I can’t tell you just how many times I thought it was a matter of “weakness” or a matter of “self-control.” The truth is, that my alcoholic tendencies are neither weakness or self control, it’s a character defect that I simply can’t control. My self love didn’t truly begin to blossom until I offered myself some grace for being an alcoholic. Grace means letting go of that ego that labels you as “less than.”
Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” The energy it takes to harbor anger, hatred, and resentment towards yourself is exhaustive. Every bit of energy we give to negative activities and dwelling on regrets, robs us of the energy we need to become the person God wants us to be. – All About God
3. You must embrace your strengths.
Ask any addict/alcoholic new in recovery and they’ll tell you. It’s far easier to see our character defects than it is to see our strengths. Often times, we’ve spent years making a bad name for ourselves to match the skewed identity we had in our heads. It often begins in childhood, before the first drink or drug, and continues throughout adulthood.We then take this negative childhood identity of ourselves and act out until our identity is confirmed by those closest to us.
Once we do a thorough Step 4 in recovery though, we come to realize that we do have some strengths. In recovery, it begins by offering amends to those we have harmed. The addict or alcoholic that is truly working the program will show some of the most courageous behavior I have ever seen. It takes courage to seek help, and to participate in the treatment. At some point in recovery, the mess will turn into a message, and when you have the courage to share it, you then know you’ve began to embrace your strengths.
2 Corinthians 12:10 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The great contradiction that when he (Paul) is weak, then he is strong. When we are “weak” and we turn our lives over to God, then he can be “strong” and work great things through us. Karla Hawkins
Once we’ve accepted the person we are capable of being (the addict or alcoholic), we’ve forgiven that person, and we’ve embraced their strengths, we are then capable of loving ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, the work does not end there. We must choose to love ourselves every day after that.
It took me most of my adult years thus far to arrive at a place where I can say I truly love myself. For me, that looked like a few years devoted to constant recovery meetings, step studies, and individual counseling. If you’re just starting your recovery journey or if you’ve been at it a while, stay the course. The road is long, and absolutely exhausting.
But at the end of the journey, you will find yourself with arms outstretched, ready to meet yourself again, this, I know is true. When these two meet, it will be nothing short of phenomenal.
What’s phenomenal though, is not the collision of past and future self. What’ s phenomenal is the open heart that results from the collision. With that open heart, you will find yourself capable of loving yourself and others well.
In the hopes of falling hopelessly in love with yourself, may you stay sober my friends.