Win Back Your Self-Respect and the Respect of Others in Recovery

Posted on July 30th, 2010

When you hit rock bottom in addiction, chances are you’ve lost every shred of self-respect you ever had. And not only that, no one else has much, if any, respect for you either. Frankly, when you’ve bottomed out, you’re probably not thinking about your self-respect. You’re primarily interested in survival – and getting out of your addictive quandary. After you complete treatment for addiction, however, you’ve got a lot of work still to do. There’s the whole recovery plan that you need to implement, and practicing how to live clean and sober. Part of the new you will undoubtedly involve rebuilding your self-respect. Here are some tips on how you can win that back, for yourself as well as the respect of others.

1. Give respect to earn it. – The Christian saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” could be modified to “Give respect to others if you would have them give respect to you.” Before you can expect to receive others’ respect, you must be worthy of respect. One way to begin this process of rebuilding your self-respect is to be respectful of others. It isn’t just your elders that you should respect – although many in the younger generation seem to have lost or never learned this lesson. Respect your parents, your spouse or partner, your children, boss and coworkers, and friends. Respect the cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the gas station, the mailman, the FedEx driver, even passersby on the street or in the mall. This isn’t being a Pollyanna or goodie-two-shoes. It’s simply recognizing other people as human beings and according them the acknowledgement they’re due. In short, you offer them respect.

How do you give respect? It can be as simple as allowing someone to pass in front of you with a wave of the hand and a smile. You may hold the door for another person, allowing them to enter a building first. Listen, instead of interrupting, when someone speaks to you. Say thank you for any type of assistance you get – even if it is less than what you wanted or expected. Even if you disagree with the conclusions or statements of someone in charge – say, your boss or supervisor – afford that individual the respect their position deserves and moderate your responses accordingly.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be respectful, especially when others treat us with disrespect. In this case, you can kill them with kindness or, to use another Christian phrase, “Turn the other cheek.” No, you’re not asking to be a doormat. You’re deflecting negativity and turning it off with your own positive energy.

2. Start at home. – In early recovery, you’ll probably spend much of your time in the safety and security of your own home. This is a normal stage of getting used to being in your normal environment and that, in itself, takes some getting used to. But while you are at home, begin your process of winning back your self-respect by being respectful, kind, and considerate with your family members. After all, they’re the ones who know you the best. In the best-case scenario, they’ve been by your side throughout your addiction and treatment and are still supporting and encouraging you in recovery.

In the worst-case scenario, your family members haven’t done much to support your healing. Maybe they didn’t participate in family therapy or they have their own addictions. Are you destined to fail because of that? While it’s true that family support is a linchpin of an effective recovery, not everyone has a supportive family. Do the best you can, even to the extent that you find yourself a new support network elsewhere.

Other ways to help win back your self-respect is to practice doing what you’ve listed in your recovery plan. When you make a schedule for your daily activities, stick to it. Living according to a routine that you’ve set for yourself is an easy and painless way to mark accomplishments. Check completed tasks off your list. Give yourself credit for doing things ahead of time, better than expected, or when you’ve been able to tackle a challenging issue successfully. All of these can help you feel more at ease with your judgment and give you more confidence – which leads to increased self-respect.

3. Network with 12-Step Group Members. – Who knows better what it feels like to come back from no self-respect than someone who’s been in the same situation? Whether you received formal addiction treatment at a residential facility or got it as an outpatient or through private counseling – or even used self-readings and self-education to help overcome your addiction – you know or have been part of 12-step group meetings. These fellowships, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) or any of the many 12-step groups that have been formed and operate on philosophy similar to that of A.A., are comprised of others just like you who have made a commitment to living clean and sober, and to helping others pursue the same goal. They are non-judgmental and anonymous. You don’t pay any fees or dues, and there are no other restrictions to participating other than the commitment to living life sober.

When you go to these meetings, the typical format is a sharing of personal stories (again, on an anonymous basis), recognition of members who have reached certain milestones – 30-, 60-, 90-day, and one-year sobriety achievement – and support and encouragement on a one-on-one basis. Often, newcomers to group meetings feel a little lost and confused, and the members with more longevity strive to help them feel more comfortable with the process and welcome them. Friendships may develop, but you don’t need to be friends with other 12-step group members to get valuable assistance from your participation in the meetings. In fact, you’ll learn something every time you go to a meeting – even if you don’t particular like the speaker. How can this be? In the words of some long-time members, it’s not the person – it’s the addiction recovery process.

Many 12-step groups will offer workshops or have lectures or other activities where certain topics are discussed. How to win back your self-respect and that of others may very well be one of those topics. If not, you can bring it up in discussion with a member with whom you’ve shared some conversation – and, hopefully, one who’s been in successful recovery for some time. The longer you are in recovery, the stronger, more self-confident, and more self-assured you will be. You will earn back your self-respect, and you will receive it from others as well.

4. Do what you can, but don’t over commit. – If you attempt to take on too much, you are bound to be disappointed that you either can’t fulfill your commitments or your productivity and quality suffer. This is true at work, at home, in social and other situations. If you’re not doing the job, what you said you’d do, or what you feel you should be doing to the best of your ability, it may be that you’re not ready to take on the level or number of commitments, or you’re subconsciously trying to rush back into a stressful and challenging situation.

Try to avoid promising too much. Don’t be the first one to ask for the tough assignments – at least, not in the first year of your recovery. Don’t stick around the office until late at night, bring home work, refuse to take vacations, as a means of getting back up to speed, trying to prove yourself to your boss, or make up for lost time. This will just serve to get you more frazzled, depressed, frustrated, and anxious. To make matters worse, others will notice. The cycle will repeat, and pretty soon, you may find your coping skills aren’t enough to overcome the cravings and urges that may surface.

This is not to suggest that you skirt your responsibilities – far from it. Recovery experts do recommend, however, that those in the early weeks and months of recovery tend to the basics: take care of your own needs first (nutrition, adequate rest and exercise), go to meetings and therapy, and spend time with your family. Limit your outside activities to those you can comfortably and reasonably manage, and don’t make any major life changes.

• You may find it helpful to make a daily schedule for all your work-related assignments and activities. This is similar to and often part of your daily schedule for recovery. Mark down the hours that you’ll be at work or working.

• Note any special projects, tasks, meetings, or assignments that are absolutely critical that you attend to.

• Anything that’s not mandatory, or that you’ve already committed to, leave out.

• If you need more time to complete an assignment, or find that you’re overextended and need to be excused from a meeting or ask for help, talk with your supervisor right away.

Another benefit of being mindful of your commitments so that you don’t overextend yourself is that others will recognize that you’re being responsible, diligent, resourceful, and a team player. They are more likely to give you more respect as a result – and this will also increase your own self-respect.

5. Live up to your word. – Loss of self-respect comes when we fail to live up to our word or when our words are regarded as useless because we have proven ourselves to be untrustworthy. In order to win back your self-respect and that of others, make it a practice to only say what you mean – and live up to your word. This is a little tricky to navigate, especially when you’ve been in the habit of fudging the truth, telling others what you think they want to hear, or engaging in self-deception about your true motives or intentions.

Try this for starters. When you feel like you’re about to say something, to make a promise or commitment to another: stop. Literally, stop yourself from talking. Before you allow the words to come out of your mouth, think about what it is that you are going to say. If you honestly feel that this is something that you will complete as promised, or that it is a reflection of genuine feeling (instead of flattery or an attempt to get on someone’s good side), then go ahead and say it. If, on the other hand, you recognize that your old need to use others to get what you want is trying to resurface, or what you’re about to say is without noble purpose, don’t say it. If you need to, excuse yourself, and go on to do something else.

6. Make your words mean something. – Another point about conversation is that people will respect your words if what you have to say means something. This isn’t about making a commitment. In this case, it’s all about talking about things that others consider worthwhile. In other words, if you can make a contribution to a conversation with an observation or point of interest or fact, others will recognize it as such. Depending on how, when, and where you deliver the comment – and these are other strategies to improving conversational skills that you should try to develop – others may begin to look at you in a new light.
Of course, don’t obsess over what, when, and where you engage in casual conversation, especially with long-time friends. Don’t attempt to over-analyze or engage in endless self-scrutiny before you say “Good morning” to your family, friends, coworkers, or passersby. Be aware that words have powerful impact. Choose your words wisely. Speak them in a welcoming and heartfelt manner. Others will react accordingly. Even if someone brusquely passes you by without an acknowledgement, you will have extended yourself and brought positive energy forth. Open yourself up to receive good things and you will send creative energy out in return.

Feeling good about yourself helps build your self-respect. Others can’t help but notice, and likely will begin to give you the respect that you increasingly deserve.

7. If you slip, learn something from it and move on. – What happens if you slip and have a relapse? Will your hard-won self-respect be lost forever? This is the fear of many in early recovery, when relapse is all too common. Addiction recovery experts, along with a great many old-timers who have been in successful recovery for years, say that a slip is often an opportunity in disguise. It doesn’t mean you are doomed to fall back into your old addictive behaviors. If, in having your slip, you’ve learned something – such as, if it’s slippery, don’t go to slippery places – then you’ve received a valuable lesson. You don’t need to start all over again. Just pick up from where you were and keep moving forward.

What if it’s a major relapse? In this case, you may need to go back into treatment or counseling. You will need to re-double your efforts at identifying and recognizing triggers, practice more effective coping strategies to deal with cravings and urges, and refine your recovery plan. Attend more 12-step meetings, limit extracurricular activities, and concentrate on healing. You can win back your self-respect – and that of others – but you have to be diligent and sincere in your recovery efforts. You may be able to fool others, but you can’t fool yourself. You will know if you’re only going through the motions and not really committing to the process of overcoming your addiction.

The good news about slips and relapses and self-respect is that, with genuine commitment, professional help, a sound support network, and loving family, those in recovery will find that self-respect can be not only won back, but also serve as a bedrock foundation to many more years of successful recovery.

8. Strive for a life of integrity. – Summing up the quest to win back self-respect and that of others, you can boil it down to this: strive to live a life of integrity. When you are honest with yourself and others, when you treat others as you want to be treated, make your words indicative of your commitment, and begin to believe in yourself, self-respect will naturally follow. It does take some doing. The path toward regaining self-respect may be more difficult for some than others. Those overcoming multiple addictions, substance abuse and mental health disorders, or those who have chronic addiction and associated physical/emotional/mental conditions may need longer to learn how to successfully navigate this journey. But it is possible – for all in recovery.

From this perspective, it doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is, how much money you make, where you live, whether you have a family history of addiction, abuse, or violence, or what type of addiction or addictions you’ve overcome, if you genuinely want to heal, do all you can to get the help you need, and make a sincere effort to live every day in integrity, you can have every hope that you will succeed. You will know – and others will, too – that you’ve given everything you have to living clean and sober. Living a life of integrity is a measure of the highest form of self-respect. You finally respect yourself – and others will acknowledge and do the same.

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