We’ve all got feelings. Feelings about our environment, about world events, and about other people. But the most important feelings we have are about ourselves.
Some days we feel pretty good and are ready to accomplish great things. Other days we have trouble getting out of bed. Good days, bad days. We all have them. Perfectly normal.
But imagine life where every days is a “bad” day. What about those dark, negative feelings about ourselves that we just can’t seem to shake? How do we deal with the ups-and-downs, frustrations, failures, and disappointments that destroy our self-esteem?
Our self-esteem—whether positive or negative—is a barometer of how we perceive ourselves, a measure of our value to ourselves and to the world at large. Because how we feel about ourselves is the product of our unique life experiences and we have both positive and negative experiences, our self-esteem may have natural fluctuations. Good days, bad days.
Those with positive self-esteem go through life understanding that the low points are short-lived, that failures can be overcome, and that momentary self-doubts are fleeting in the face of one’s personal confidence. These folks innately believe in their self-worth and in their ability to make decisions, and have generally experienced encouragement and positive feedback in their lives to support that confidence.
There are others who have not have had such positive experiences. They’ve been the objects of ridicule, shame, or criticism and have developed a negatively-skewed sense of self-worth. Their lives are often marked by a social anxiety, a belief that they are unworthy of affection, a lack of self-interest, personal loneliness, and attempts to alleviate those pressures with the consumption of alcohol or drugs. The problem with alcohol and drugs, of course, is that they only mask the natural body-brain chemistry and only further erode self-esteem.
The deterioration of self-esteem—from that of an isolated, angry, or depressed person to a fully addicted person—is not a straight downward path easy to predict or recognize. Drugs and alcohol bring immediate feelings of pleasure. Those good feelings quickly become associated with the drugs and alcohol while the pain of disappointment, the frustrations of failing health, feelings of betrayal, guilt of perceived failures are all directed either at others or at oneself. The drugs and alcohol become “the good guys” while everyone else becomes “the problem.”
Of course, what people do while under the influence of drugs and alcohol are often of such negative consequence that abusers frequently find themselves filled with self-recrimination, disappointment, anger, and fear. Drinking and using provide the escape from those feelings, so the alcohol or the drugs are rarely blamed for any negative consequences of our actions. Easier to simply blame ourselves, easier to simply accept our failures and live in a depressive funk caused by our inability to control the alcohol or drugs.
At Recovery Road Medical Center in Santa Barbara, the path toward wellness begins when we embrace the single principle that ends the cycle of low self-esteem: The past is just that: the past.
We know that Life works and that drugs and alcohol don’t. We work with our clients to reverse the negative emotional messages that damage self-esteem. Drugs and alcohol may have seriously distorted past memories and created a lack of self-trust or feelings of immorality or failings of “character.” Every day at Recovery Road, we see what happens when we help our clients fight those feelings and recognize their true strengths and personal attributes.
It’s never easy, and it’s never automatic. It’s called “recovery”…and it works.