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Why Learning to Love Yourself Is So Important in Recovery

By Pat Matuszak

Holidays are traditional times to reconnect with friends and family. They can present natural opportunities to rebuild bridges that were neglected, or even torched, by personal struggles with addiction. A thoughtful Valentine’s card or Christmas gift may offer a gentle way to ease into an apology for past mistakes or outright destructive behavior.

While you’re spending time with loved ones and seeking out reconciliation with others, remember to take some time to mend some fences with yourself too. That’s right. One of the most important people to reconcile with is looking back at you in the mirror.

In the midst of recovery, you may have found yourself suddenly and often confronted by sad and even terrifying memories of your past. Things that you did to others, things that were done to you, circumstances that trapped you, poor choices you made. Dealing with these traumas costs a lot in terms of psychological and physical energy, so you may not have had a chance to consider how you’re getting along with yourself right now. But your relationship with yourself is the key to opening doors to relationship with others.

Nurturing Your Physical and Emotional Health

Woman by car with coffeeIf you’ve been in a treatment program, therapists have worked to help you learn to take care of your body through healthy activities, good diet, appropriate rest and exercise, recreation and stress management. These are all positive steps to look after your physical and emotional well-being. As you were doing these things, you also had a chance to get to know yourself in new ways. You were nurtured by the encouragement of others, maybe for the first time in your life. Now it’s time to follow the example of those compassionate others and nurture yourself.

Think about what we do for others on holidays like Valentine’s Day. We express gratitude, tell them what we like about them, give gifts that show we value their interests and talents and spend time with them to show we care. You can show yourself some love the same way.

What are you thankful for regarding yourself? There may be many things you dislike about what you’ve done, but what about the things you like? What are your talents and interests? Can you think of a gift you could get yourself that would help you grow in those positive areas? Maybe a class in some art form you love or talent you would like to develop? Do you need some tools to be able to enjoy your interests, like a camera or running shoes? You can make time to do the things you love or just schedule some “you time” into your week like you would do for someone else.1

And remember to give yourself some grace when you fail. A little forgiveness for your own humanness can go a long way to help you get back on your feet and try again. Your confidence and sense of self-worth will grow when you get to a point where you can rely on yourself to be generous with understanding. You will feel braver about taking risks and think of failing as a learning opportunity instead of a dead end.

Finding Happiness Within You

Loving yourself is not being selfish but being self-aware. Experiments have shown that even plants grow better when they’re surrounded by soothing music. What about surrounding yourself with music that soothes you? Maybe add some words of encouragement from inspiring sources to start your day and focus your thoughts in a positive direction.2

When you learn to take care of your own needs, your strength and energy will grow from the inside out. Then you can be a person with resources to share with others. Your physical and mental health will improve, you will be drawn to positive people and places, and you will feel happy and balanced when you intentionally love yourself.3

Some people spend their whole lives searching for another person to connect with who will make them happy. But the truth is, your happiness springs from within you. You can’t siphon it from another person’s psychic well. And no matter how beautiful your surroundings are, they will be no better to you than a tent under a bridge if you are unhappy with yourself. But a tent could feel like a palace if you are at peace with yourself.

When you forgive yourself, you free yourself to forgive others and receive their forgiveness. When you love yourself, you free yourself to love others and receive their love. When you take care of yourself in your weakness, you teach yourself how to take care of others when they are weak and how to receive their care when you need it.


1 Roelink, Miriam, MS. “6 Simple Ways to Love Yourself More.” Recovery Warriors, September 19, 2015.

2 Thompson, Jamie. “Being My Own Valentine.” Heroes in Recovery, February 23, 2017.

3 Kathryn. “Learning What It Means To Love Yourself.” Heroes in Recovery, February 14, 2012.

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