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Recovery for an addict is a conundrum. To begin with, in order for an addict to establish long-term sobriety, they must learn to love themselves. It is difficult to comprehend what it means to love yourself when addictive behavior demands wanting what you want when you want it. Addicts think this is loving yourself!

Yet, as an addict digs deeper into the ways of recovery they discover that the reason they want to numb out from everyday experience is because they do not love themselves. The key to recovery is to understand and practice self love.

It is common for addicts to compare their insides with other people’s outsides. This is not uncommon for people far and wide. People want to project what it would be like to live in someone else’s shoes. When I was a kid I delivered newspapers to the wealthy neighborhood in my town. I remember looking through the windows at Christmas time and thought “Boy it must be really neat to live in that rich house. Those kids probably get all kinds of stuff for Christmas.” In 7th grade, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to be Debbie McDowell’s brother. I had a crush on Debbie and daydreamed about being around her all the time. Of course, if I were her brother, it would be weird having a crush on her. I’d probably not like her at all as a 7th grader. At least, that was the way it was with the sisters I did live with.

Yet, people are vulnerable to the comparison game. We compare ourselves from where we are now to where we would like to be. While comparison is a common human experience, some people lose themselves trying to live out a fantasy life. They never learn to accept themselves where they are.

The late Louise Hay often preached the importance of acceptance by loving yourself right where you are. Thousands of pages have been written about self-love. However, self-hatred remains a major impediment for addicts in recovery. Of course, this problem is not germane to only addicts.

When you lose yourself in comparison, you will identify who you are by what you do and how much you have. You will always need to achieve more to keep from being less. This motivation will drive you to more achievement and more accumulation of stuff. However, it will also drive you further from who you are. Self-acceptance is the answer to getting lost in the doing, accumulating, and need for accomplishment to determine self-worth. Hay would say that to accept who and where you are in life is the essence of self-love.

Rather than criticizing and loathing your recovery efforts, focus on the positive qualities that do exist and practice loving yourself where you are at, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Accepting who you are does not hinder further growth. It will enhance your future development because it enhances self-empowerment.

It is common when an addict slips, makes a mistake, or relapses, to shift into a mindset of beating themselves up and to wallow in self-defeating beliefs and attitudes. It’s obvious that you cannot beat yourself up to a better place.

That said, most addicts try to do it anyway. Recovery is not about being pollyannish about failure. It is about self-love. It is about learning to engage velvet steel, being velvet—gentle where/when you need to be—and being steel—tough—willing to walk to hell and back when that is needed. Recovery is never all one or the other. Neither is life.

Becoming an emotionally mature adult is like the parent who must learn when to apply the strict letter of the law to a disobedient child and when to be gentle. It is necessary to practice sensitivity, self-acceptance, and courageous assertiveness.

Some addict clients tell me that what they need is a “kick-ass” sponsor or therapist. I tell them to learn to be their own “Kick-ass”. To do such, they must practice velvet steel every day of their lives. This will yield emotional growth and give birth to self-love and acceptance.

This is the maturity required to move from a life of want and comparison toward others to acceptance of who you are and what you have been doing. It’s an old truth that not everything is as it appears to be on the outside. You must learn to look deeper at your own personal brilliance—not only to be satisfied with it but to magnify it and spread it around for all to share. You are never less than anyone else. This truth will only grow through daily conditioning and practice. Many people look for a magic bullet to resolve discomfort and solve life’s problems. Yet, the magic lies in those who practice self-love and acceptance.