Who Is That Stranger? Learning How to Accept the New and Sober You

Do you avoid looking in the mirror lately? Maybe this is a practice you've adopted only recently, since you've come home from rehab. Being clean and sober is one thing, but having to peer at that stranger looking back at you from the mirror is quite something else.

mirrorYou may be rather unprepared for the shock. The "you" looking back may be more than just a little unfamiliar. Beyond that, you may not know what to do, other than cover the mirror or glance sideways at the image. Neither behavior is very proactive, however, so the best solution is simply to learn how to accept the new and sober you.

Actually, once you get the hang of it, you'll find that there's a lot of good that you've got going for yourself. First, though, you need to begin at the beginning.

Give Yourself Congrats for Getting Clean and Sober

Let's face it. Going through rehab was probably a long, tough slog. You had to face some pretty disgusting or frightening truths about yourself and your past behavior while you were chained to your addiction. None of that made you feel very self-confident or proud. More likely it was just the opposite, right? You felt like you wanted to crawl into bed and never come out. The last thing you looked forward to was another probing into all those past misdeeds and episodes where you totally blew it, succumbing to your addiction.

As with many illnesses and diseases, the patient seems to go through the worst of it before finally beginning to mend or heal. The same principle applies to treatment and recovery with respect to substance abuse, multiple substance abuse, co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder, and process addictions (compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, workaholism, compulsive spending, and so on).

Recalling how you felt when you went through the therapy sessions where you delved into your past and discussed why and when and how you got involved in addictive behavior and, even more distressing, what negative outcomes resulted from such behavior and how many people and how badly you hurt others may still be painful. Hence, it's understandable that you'd feel unable or unwilling to look squarely at your image in the mirror.

Now remember that you did make it through rehab. You did learn a lot about the disease of addiction. You did participate in the counseling and therapy sessions, both one-on-one and group. You did learn that you're not alone. You did discover that there are many proactive strategies for you to employ to help keep yourself clean and sober.

This is a huge victory and one that will continue to benefit you as you make your way in recovery. So, one of the first things to do is to give yourself kudos for arriving at the point you are today. The thought should give you some comfort and also motivate you to continue the work of recovery.

The best way to start feeling good about the new you is to recognize that you get out of recovery exactly what you put into it.

Do Something Just For You

If you're like many of the newly sober, you probably feel like you've been through a wringer. There've been tight schedules and constant monitoring and no real time for you, other than an hour here and there.

While there's no question that daily schedules and carefully-constructed to-do lists are important to help you establish and maintain a healthy and sober routine, the truth is that you do need time in the day when you can do something just for you.

It doesn't have to be a long period of time. Even a half hour will do. The point isn't the amount of time or where you spend it or even what you do. What is important is that you choose something, some activity or pastime that you value. It needs to be something that you want to do, not anything you need to do.

This little break from your daily agenda - actually, it is best if you set aside some time each day for "you-time" - will allow you to return to your duties, tasks and responsibilities feeling refreshed and renewed. You can think of it as a mini-vacation or a simple pleasure, whatever works for you.

Feeling like this is a selfish indulgence? Does the gardener believe that tending to his or her cherished plants is selfish? It not only benefits the plants, it makes the gardener feel good, too. It's the same way with you taking a small amount of time to do something that you enjoy, merely for the sake of the pleasure you derive from doing it. It isn't selfish. It's a sign of healthy balance.

Life isn't all about hard work and no play. You need time for yourself. By so doing, you feel better about your ability to tackle all the other items on your daily to-do list. At the very least, you've gotten a little breather so you can resume your duties in a better frame of mind.

Learn Something New Each Day

When your mind is engaged and you're concentrated on learning something new, you're not bored or frustrated or angry. Instead, you find that you want to keep on going, to learn the next thing, and the next and the next. If a project or task requires practice and involves incremental steps, mastering each one can give you a tremendous feeling of self-confidence and boost your self-esteem.

You don't have to be in college or taking classes to learn something new. There are opportunities everywhere to broaden your knowledge. You can discover you have an aptitude for cooking or gardening and resolve to learn as much as you can about the subject. Whether you teach yourself through online or poring through books and then applying the knowledge to actual behavior or sign up for a class or join a group, if you really want to learn, there are ample ways you can do it.

Here's another tip. While you're involved in learning something new, time seems to fly by. Instead of looking at the clock and seeing the hours seem to drag on indefinitely, you'll likely find that the class or study time or practice is over faster than you thought.

Learning something new also adds to your sense of accomplishment, which goes beyond just getting it done. You can feel proud that you completed this step in the learning process. You can look forward to what comes next.

Guess what happens to your physical appearance when you're excited and involved in learning something new? Your features lift, you have a tendency to smile more, and your eyes look alive.

After a while, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you may find that the image staring back at you is no longer dour and haggard and forbidding. You may very well start to like the person you see, this newly sober individual who is actively discovering how good it is to live in sobriety.

Let Bygones Be Bygones

Many in early recovery feel themselves saddled with a great many grudges. While this is common, that doesn't mean that you should allow it to go on unchallenged. The truth is that holding onto a grudge is just allowing the old wounds to continue to fester. Who in their right mind would choose to do that? Yet, far too many still remain chained to outdated and likely misconstrued ideas of who did what to them and when.

How can we truly like ourselves - or find something of interest in the mirror - when we are filled with so much antagonism over something in the past? If we fill ourselves with hate and bitterness and feelings of recrimination, we're not likely to be happy anytime soon.

Granted, some wounds take time to heal. There's no denying that. But listen to the words spoken in the rooms of recovery about the value of letting bygones be bygones. There's a great deal of wisdom being spoken there. Why hold on to a grudge when you can let it go. This allows you to be free of that outworn burden and to get on with your new life in recovery.

Easier said than done? Here's a tip. When you find yourself thinking about old grudges, acknowledge that this person may have wronged you or you may have believed they wronged you in the past, but you are forgiving that individual today and moving on. It may take you a while to truly believe this, but telling yourself that you forgive another opens you up to being able to live your life more fully today.

Besides, you don't live in the past. You live in the present. Old wounds and grudges have no place in your life now, so don't allow them to persist. You've got far more valuable things to do with your time, creating the life you want to live in recovery.

Be With People You Enjoy

Beyond learning new things, letting old grudges go, doing something for yourself, and congratulating yourself for getting clean and sober, now that you are in recovery you have the opportunity to meet new friends.

You already know that the old friends and acquaintances you associate with using shouldn't be a part of your new life in sobriety. While there may be some sadness over letting them go, the good news is that you are now able to start fresh. You're not bound to any particular group or friends to perpetuate your using or enable you to get your daily fix. This opens up a world of possibilities for new friendships.

At first, attending 12-step meetings and confining your activities to only recovery-oriented work may seem limiting. But over time, you'll be able to add new activities and engage in pastimes that help you enrich your life and come into contact with people you'd otherwise never have approached, let alone become friends with.

This is the new you, remember? The old you was left behind during rehab. The new you is constantly evolving, constantly growing and becoming more self-confident and self-assured. This is reflected in the way you greet others and how willing you are to communicate with them, and they, you.

Establishing new friends and spending time with them is one of the benefits you can look forward to, now that you're clean and sober.

Don't Feel Guilty, Feel Happy

The fact of the matter is that it takes some time to get over feeling guilty. When you're newly sober, you carry a lot of guilt, along with shame and regret and a litany of other hurtful and negative emotions. Gradually, over the coming weeks and months, you'll find that such negativity dissipates, replaced by new and welcome feelings of satisfaction at accomplishing goals, pride in your ability to follow-through on tasks, excitement about establishing and going after new goals, the pleasure involved in meeting new people and counting them as friends.

In fact, if you focus on doing the best you can each day, giving your recovery your utmost attention, you'll find that your days aren't endless hours that you dread but hours filled with activities and time spent with people you value and enjoy.

Guilt has no part in this scenario. Should you regret all the time you spent locked in your addiction? Should you beat yourself up about all the harm you've caused others? Should you steep yourself in bad thoughts of your past? The reasonable and prudent answer to all of these questions is no. The past is over and done with, dead and gone. You don't live there, remember?

This new life of sobriety that you've chosen to live is yours for the making. You will decide what is important for you and your future. You will be the one to create goals and develop action plans to allow you to achieve those goals and more beyond that.

What is the limit to how much you can do and how far you can go? Frankly, the only limitation is one that you impose on yourself. Instead, why not regard the future as one of infinite possibilities? This makes a lot of sense, since you are the architect of your dreams, the one who will choose to take this course of action or that, to pursue this direction or another. The world ahead is exciting and offers challenges that you cannot even fathom today. But one thing is certain: If you allow yourself to be happy and live your life in active pursuit of what you value, you will one day find that the person you see in the mirror is someone you not only like but admire.

Posted on December 10th, 2012

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