Should I Strive for Self Acceptance or Try to Improve Myself in...

Should I Strive for Self Acceptance or Try to Improve Myself in Sobriety?


In any given situation in your addiction recovery journey, you could have one of two possible responses:

A) You could try to accept the situation and accept yourself, just as it is now, or
B) You could try to change yourself or the situation.

The first option is all about accepting reality with grace. The second option is about pursuing personal growth by making a positive change in your life.

I think the answer to the question, at least for people in recovery, should tend to lean towards the second part of self improvement and personal growth.

Sure, self acceptance is still important in some cases. But too often, the idea of acceptance can become an excuse for inaction. We want to avoid this excuse, especially in our addiction treatment process. A lack of action is generally a mistake when it comes to recovery.

Why? Because recovery–when done properly–takes a whole lot of work. It requires real struggle. You have to try new things and experiment and push yourself in order to succeed in recovery. If you are busy practicing self acceptance and thereby doing nothing, then you are not moving forward.

In my experience, while acceptance feels good in the moment, it is not a long term solution. Your issues and problems and hang ups are still there, you have simply become more tolerant of them.

Real change and real forward motion happens when you put your foot down and say “no, I won’t stand for this, I won’t accept this particular thing in my life, and I am going to do the work in order to change it.”

Really all of addiction recovery is about trading out bad habits for more positive ones. When you first get clean and sober you will generally go to inpatient treatment and start learning how to live a sober life. They will suggest things such as daily meetings, meditation, therapy, journal writing, physical fitness, and so on. You would do well to start eliminating the bad habits in your life and taking some of these types of suggestions.

The key is that you have to slowly build up positive lifestyle habits over time in order to remake your life in long term sobriety. We don’t just put down the bottle one day and magically wake up recovered the next day. Instead, addiction recovery is a process and an evolution. The individual who is making this transition has a lot of learn about both themselves and the world in general, and therefore they have to explore new ideas and try lots of new things in their recovery journey.

Self acceptance is like saying to the world “I am perfect how I am right now, no need to change.” Personal growth is stimulated when the individual says “This certain part of me is causing problems and it is not acceptable, therefore I should change it.” We want to push for personal growth and making positive changes in our early recovery journey.

Some people tend to get overwhelmed in early recovery and they try to use the excuse that they don’t want to take on too much or they might get overwhelmed to the point that it drives them to relapse. I think this attitude is a mistake because the idea should be to find enough support so that you can take on and make the positive changes that need to be made. In other words, instead of backing down from the positive changes that need to happen, you should embrace those changes and then seek out enough support, counseling, therapy, and group support so that you can make it through that personal growth process. Set your sites higher and then seek out the help that you need in order to make it all happen, rather than to be meek and humble and assume that you cannot “take on too much” or run the risk of being overwhelmed.

When I was in early recovery I can remember this dynamic when I was getting my bearings in early sobriety. My sponsor at the time was pushing me to go back to school. My therapist at the time was agreeing with this, saying that I also needed to get a job and start earning some money for myself. I was hesitant on both of these goals and was trying to play it much more passive, arguing that I needed to focus on my recovery, meetings, and so on.

My sponsor and my therapist both pushed back on this and said “that is crazy, you are stable in your recovery, you are already plugged in to a support group with therapy, sponsorship, and regular AA meetings, so now is the time to go get back to work and also to go back to school.”

So I reluctantly agreed to take their advice and pursue those objectives. At first, I felt as if I were taking on too much and I was going to be overwhelmed. But I quickly acclimated to the new level of “busyness” in my life and was able to handle it all, in spite of initially feeling overwhelmed. And I also reached out to my support systems and was able to get help and support from my peers in recovery, from my therapist, and from my sponsor in taking on all of this extra “work” for myself.

I think part of the problem was that, during my addiction, I mentally rewarded myself with drugs and alcohol by going to work and doing the things that I was supposed to be doing anyway. So I felt as if I would be tempted to relapse if I was working hard, going to school, and pursuing all of these various objectives. I felt like taking on all of that responsibility would tempt me to reward myself.

Part of the solution, I found, was in finding new ways to reward myself in recovery. Obviously, no one can tell you exactly how to find rewards for yourself in a healthy way, and you are going to have to discover those solutions on your own.

If someone tells you to practice some acceptance today, I would challenge you to turn it around and use it as an opportunity to be critical of your own behavior and your own reactions. What might you be doing differently in order to become a better person and better deal with the situation at hand? Could you, through an act of personal growth, be better able to respond to the world in a more positive way? Could you rise to the situation and become a better version of yourself in the process? This is the kind of seeking and personal growth that you want to pursue during your recovery journey.

Ultimately, people are going to argue that you can, and should, do both: accept yourself and strive for personal growth. But there are times when it is definitely an either/or decision, and my suggestion is that you lean towards personal growth. Acceptance can be an excuse for laziness all too often. Therefore, you should error on the side of pushing yourself to take positive action, pushing yourself to improve who you are, and pushing yourself to succeed in recovery. Good luck on your journey!