You need praise for your efforts in recovery. But the praise has to come from within if you are looking for a source that is available when you need it.
Daily affirmation books, for what they are worth, and an atta-boy from a trusted friend is worth its weight in gold. But these are generally temporary boosts to a recovering addict’s sense of confidence. Take anything you can get in the form of affirmation early in recovery. After a while, you’ll want to look for a source of confidence that is more sustaining than that.
Confidence in recovery often works this way: “Fake it unit ’til you make it.” In other words, if you pretend you have the confidence to get through the day and string together enough successful days in recovery in a row, then that’s good enough for now. Later, that confidence will begin to feel more solid, more genuine. Your confidence, in effect, will gain confidence as your recovery progresses.
It still helps to recognize what encouragement the great wide world is sending your way. Many folks in alcohol, cocaine or heroin rehab miss the clues. We don’t know what a true compliment looks like, feels like. Someone smiles in our direction, addicts tend to misinterpret that or misjudge it somehow. Addicts expect thunder and lightening. A smile is often the best compliment you will get on a given day. If you wait for thunder and lightening, you might have to wait for a while.
Long ago, I worked as a social worker for an organization where the supervisor choose to put up a poster that was titled, “101 Positive Things To Say.”
To me, the list ranged from the obvious to the painfully obvious. In a one-on-one session with a client, I was never shy with compliments. How easy is that? I could probably think of 1,001 compliments without pausing to rest.
Nice to see you. Great shirt. You’re on time! Glad you made it. You’re making an effort – that’s great. Saying thanks is a compliment. “Thanks for waiting.” “Thanks to your consistency, you’re getting somewhere.”
Every compliment is a jewel. No question about it, and addicts in recovery require a positive attitude. It helps enormously.
This anecdote makes my point beautifully: I’m flipping television channels and go right past the show about three very heavy sisters who were all trying to lose weight. I pause long enough to hear one of them crying in an interview, saying to the camera, “I never want to hear anyone say I don’t love you because you’re fat again.”
Without stopping to hesitate, I said to the television, “Then stop saying that to yourself.”
You can’t lose weight if you hate yourself for being fat. You have to say, “I love myself no matter what. However, I’d love myself even more if I lost a pound or two … and then another … and then another.”
It’s easy to find an emotional trigger for a slip. When you’re angry, sad or embarrassed; does this sound familiar? Angry, bored, lonely, tired. And what is that lovely phrase heard in AA meetings around the world? “When you’re inside your head, you’re behind enemy lines.”
It’s a good thing our egos know how to heal. One person we tend to forgive, after all, is ourselves. But that process has to be healing and whole. The affirmation books are useful to get you started. But the only person around every day is yourself. So, be your own source of positive energy.
Now consider this: I was browsing on Facebook year ago and ran into an odd entry. It was a genuine, anguished plea written by a friend of a boy who had been teased in school. The entry said, “My friend was picked on at school. Kids said he was ugly and worthless. What I would like is for everyone to write something nice about him, especially how handsome he is. Thank you.”
This was followed by a picture of a boy, perhaps 11 or 12, who was pleasant enough to look at, truth be told.
And beneath that were dozens and dozens of slathering compliments written by sympathetic Facebook users. There may have been 75-100 compliments in a row. “Hey, what a great looking kid!” Hey, dude, you’re a knock out!” “Wow – very handsome!”
And then came my comment: “This doesn’t seem very helpful. You should teach this child to recognize and create positive energy.” It was a bit harsh, but it needed to be said.
How useful is a compliment when you were told to give one. It’s not spontaneous, genuine or particularly honest. I thought the process on Facebook was ill conceived. It may have been a good band-aid though. And sometimes we need band aids.
But teaching long-term confidence is the actual goal.
There is a growing number of articles around that is based on the assumption that you should never tell your child he or she did a good job. Doesn’t that sound odd?
Why not praise a child? Some psychologists believe this trains a child to seek approval from the parent. Far more helpful would be for a child to know intrinsically that they did a good job.
For example, you could say “Well, all the beds are made and the toys are put away, so now we can go outside and play!”
In grown up years, that child, so the theory goes, will feel good after getting the domestic chores done. They will feel good intrinsically. They won’t need to be told they did well.
I ran into this dilemma head on myself. I praised my kids endlessly while playing tennis, even if they hit a shot into the woods. As the coach, I would see some form of improvement even in a stroke that had poor results. But the kids got the notion that I was some form o idiot. If they hit a shot into the net and I said, “Good shot,” it drove them nuts.
This is exactly when I changed my habit. When my kids complained, I listened. I rarely, if ever, give them compliments anymore.
When I say this to various relatives, they get apoplectic. How can you raise a child without giving them praise?
This is how it works: I have a child who likes to be on stage. After every performance, the first thing I say is, “How do you think it went?” Or, I might say, “Did that go well for you?”
Now, instead of being a dumb parrot mouthing compliments, I am there for my child. I am in his corner. The child has to seek compliments elsewhere – from applause from the audience, from smiles the director might send in his direction – and those are genuine compliments. He’ll be able to find them when I am dead and gone. He will understand the value of these compliments. And he will remember that I was in his corner all the way.
I’ve told my youngest child for years that the greatest compliment of all is not “I love you,” but it is someone spending time with you. If someone takes a chunk of time out of their precious life and chooses to spend that time with you, there is no greater compliment in the world. How could there be anything more sincere than that?
I tell my children to watch for smiles. They are much more powerful than, “Hey, good job,” and yet we tend to ignore smiles. We do ourselves a big disservice by doing that.
I have a girlfriend I cannot train. Her disappointments are far too dug in. But I still try. When she has a fit, I don’t say, “I love you,” I say, “why do you think I spend the afternoons with you? Why do you think there’s excitement in my voice, when you call on the phone. Why do you think I smile when I answer the door and find you there?”
What if you spent a day or even a week not listening to compliments, but watching for them? If people stand close to you and don’t move away … or smile … or hug … spend time with you. If they engage in conversation with you – these are huge hints, massive hints that you are special to that person.
Look for all the clues that you normally don’t see. Compliments tend to be very simple things – a turn of the head, a wave hello or goodbye. Look for validation that is out there intrinsically. And make use of those observations. They are the greatest compliments of and we tend to let them get away.
When you see them, start to hold onto them. Remind yourself of them when you need them. Those compliments are as good as it gets.