As Valentine’s Day approaches, we’re inundated by images of idealized love and we may find that our expectations of our romantic relationships are becoming increasingly unrealistic. For individuals recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD), relationships (especially romantic ones) can be complicated. 

Active substance use wreaks havoc on romantic and platonic relationships alike.  Some of these relationships will be left behind, while others may be salvaged in recovery. An often over-looked relationship which sustains the most damage in addiction is the one we maintain with ourselves. Before you begin rekindling relationships damaged by addiction or looking for a new partner, you should focus on cultivating self-love. As the old saying goes, you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself.

Habits to Cultivate Self-Love

  1. Practice Forgiveness 

Forgiveness is a choice we make to let go of feelings of anger or resentment towards someone we feel has wronged us – this includes ourselves.  Practicing forgiveness isn’t about letting anyone off the hook or condoning the behaviors, it means you are willing to move on with your life and let go of a past you can’t change.  Letting go and forgiving yourself will improve your overall feelings towards yourself and allow you to move forward free of guilt and shame.    

  1. Develop Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion is all about being kind to yourself and giving yourself permission to be fully human1.  This means embracing the fact that you will make mistakes, but not ruminating on those mistakes or allowing the mistakes to define your worth.  Research has shown that practicing self-compassion leads to lower levels of anxiety and depression and also increases a positive sense of self-worth2.  Be sure to monitor your self-talk and challenge the negative stories you might tell yourself. Begin speaking to yourself in a kind, non-judgmental way and notice how your internal perspective shifts. 

  1. Embrace Self-Care

Developing a self-care routine is one of the best ways to put your feelings of self-love into action.  Make time to eat-well, stick to a sleep schedule, and prioritize yourself. Taking care of the physical body will go a long way in improving your feelings towards yourself.  Also, find time to surround yourself with people you love or engage in activities that bring you joy. 

  1. Let Go of Comparison

The urge to compare yourself to others is natural; however it can become dangerous to our overall well-being.  There is little point in comparing yourself, or your life, to anyone else’s.  Instead of identifying all the ways you do, or don’t, measure up, focus on how far you’ve come in your recovery journey.  Shift your energy towards gratitude.  If you are struggling to see the good, reach out to your support system for feedback. 

  1. Make Room for Healthy Habits

Improving your relationship with yourself takes time and effort, and you may not always feel like putting in the footwork.  Incorporating small acts of self-love into your daily routine will pay off in the long-run.  Many of the habits that support overall recovery from a SUD will also improve your relationship with yourself.  For example, setting aside time to make a gratitude list or regularly exercising will both benefit your on-going recovery and your attitude towards yourself.  

  1. Neff K. Definition of self-compassion.
  2. Marsh IC, Chan SWY, MacBeth A. Self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents-a meta-analysis. Mindfulness (N Y). 2018;9(4):1011-1027. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0850-7