Rewriting the Narrative: Redefining Self-Worth in Addiction Recovery

Addiction, or substance use disorder, affects millions globally, including healthcare workers exposed to their profession’s stresses. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to addiction can make it challenging for healthcare workers to seek assistance and overcome it. Moreover, healthcare workers may face professional consequences such as losing their license or disciplinary action, which can leave them feeling hopeless and worthless, worsening their addictions. For this blog post, we interviewed Dr. Rob Feeley, a board-certified addiction psychiatrist and the Art of Living’s SKY Breath Meditation practitioner specializing in the holistic treatment of substance use disorders. He insightfully discusses how healthcare workers can redefine their self-worth during addiction recovery by changing the narrative. They can disentangle “the emotional valence from whatever experiences they’ve had… to see them just as experiences… [to have] real freedom” and be empowered to take control of their recovery.

Impact of Self-Worth on Healthcare Workers

Self-worth is crucial in addiction recovery, impacting how people perceive their journey and determining the outcome. Low self-worth can hinder progress, trigger relapse, and evoke a sense of hopelessness. On the other hand, individuals with high self-worth believe in their ability to overcome addiction, consider themselves deserving of a better life, and add value to themselves and others. Addiction treatment programs encourage self-worth by setting goals, developing skills, and fostering positive relationships. Support groups provide a secure space for sharing experiences and emotions, enhancing self-worth, and improving recovery outcomes.

When healthcare professionals feel positive about themselves, they are more likely to sustain their recovery. Low self-worth can lead to a challenging battle in recovering from their condition, and powerlessness in the face of suffering. Dr. Feeley notes, “You’re confronted with all the suffering [of patients], and then you come up against your limitations regarding how effective you are in eliminating that suffering.” This stark reality can create “a palpable sense of helplessness and powerlessness in our ability to be effective,” and exposure to “an endless supply of suffering and the demand on doctors to alleviate that suffering.”

The stigma surrounding substance misuse in the industry further complicates the situation. Many healthcare professionals enter the field with low self-esteem and may struggle with addiction due to high-stress work and personal challenges. Addressing these difficulties and supporting the well-being of healthcare professionals and their patients is critical. Managing thoughts and taking responsibility for experiences can help healthcare professionals break the low self-worth and addiction cycle.

Dr. Feeley has witnessed patients transcend their addiction, meaning “they acknowledge they have an addiction; they struggle with it… they [feel] better, and then they can actually put it behind them.” He stresses that it is not a matter of denial but ultimately getting better to the point where it no longer rules one’s life. He emphasizes that this process is not about pretending addiction never happened but moving on in a way that doesn’t define a person’s identity or “rule their life.” Dr. Feeley compares substance use disorder to other medical diseases like eczema or diabetes, stating that just because it is a disease in the present doesn’t mean it cannot be managed or healed.

The negative perception of addiction can hinder healthcare professionals from seeking help and reintegrating into society. To break the stigma and promote healing, individuals must accept addiction as a disease and educate others about recovery methods. Healthcare workers often try to appear strong, infallible, effective, impenetrable, and heroic, making seeking help more challenging. Feeley recommends the Sudarshan Kriya (SKY) breath-based meditation technique to promote self-awareness and autonomy. The negative perception of addiction can hinder recovery, as it is often viewed as a moral failing instead of a disease that requires medical attention. By adopting the disease model of addiction, individuals can view their behaviors objectively and heal faster.

Cognitive Reframing in Addiction Recovery

Dr. Feeley says, “The way we think about the things in our life and the way we think about ourselves has a direct impact on whether we become depressed, anxious, or stressed and ultimately fall prey to cravings and addiction.” This undoubtedly could trigger a relapse or addictive behavior, which could diminish self-worth even further. He goes on to say that if there were “a way we can loosen our understanding of ourselves from the way we’re thinking, [then] we’re in a better position to have a better outcome—meaning to stay sober.”

While changing thinking patterns can be difficult, healthcare professionals can use techniques like breathwork to calm down and manage reactions to triggers quickly. This process can create space for alternative ways of thinking. By disconnecting negative thoughts from self-perception, individuals can achieve emotional well-being and maintain sobriety in the long term.

Self-Help Strategies 

Healthcare workers with substance use disorders often feel ashamed and fear being perceived as weak. However, self-help strategies like SKY Breathing can help them disentangle negative thoughts and experiences from their self-worth, restore confidence, and enhance effectiveness in patient interactions. The SKY Recovery Program addresses addiction recovery’s psychological, emotional, and practical aspects, empowering healthcare workers to take control of their well-being and achieve lasting success.

Dr. Feeley emphasized the importance of using a “backdoor approach” to settle the mind and be present in the moment. He suggests that focusing on the breath can be a powerful tool in achieving this state. Feeley states, “By tending to the breath, we’re really focusing on something that is where we want to be at all times, which is in the now.” He believes that healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers, must shift their attitudes and prioritize their well-being because it is just as important as the well-being of their patients.

In addition to SKY Breathing, other self-help strategies can benefit healthcare workers struggling with addiction. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and spiritual exercises, can aid in increasing self-worth and managing stress more effectively. These practices allow individuals to be present and fully engaged in their care delivery, leading to more meaningful and responsible provider-patient interactions.

Furthermore, self-reflection practices can help healthcare workers manage stress and break the cycle of chronic relapse. By self-reflection, individuals can identify triggers and develop coping mechanisms. While self-help strategies can be beneficial, individuals should use them as complementary adjuncts to comprehensive, evidence-based care such as medications and psychotherapy. Seeking professional help and support is crucial for healthcare workers with addiction, and self-help strategies can aggregate and enhance their recovery.

Enhancement of Recovery Outcomes with Meditation

In the interview, Dr. Feeley shared two stories showcasing the benefits of meditation for improving self-awareness and self-worth and overcoming substance misuse and mental health issues. Michael faced challenges such as job loss and marriage failure, but after trying the SKY Breath Meditation program, he experienced significant improvement in his sleep patterns and felt rejuvenated. Within a month, he saved his marriage, kept his job, and adopted a healthy vegetarian lifestyle. The transformation was more effective than medication or therapy alone.

The second story is about a 32-year-old physician struggling with addiction and losing her sense of purpose. Despite feeling empty and emotionless, committing to the SKY Breath Meditation program for 30 days improved her mood, anxiety, and sleep. She found companionship, married, had a child, and maintained a stable job. Her success story demonstrates the power of meditation in addiction recovery and how its simplicity can significantly change someone’s life for the better.

Cultivating Self-Worth as a Catalyst for Change

According to Feeley, individuals with low self-worth are more likely to seek help, but healthcare workers may struggle to admit they need assistance due to a lack of self-awareness. Feeley suggests that “being honest with oneself can go a long way” toward helping individuals better understand their emotions and desire for self-improvement.

Identifying low self-worth before someone experiences problems is challenging, and there is no specific method for effectively screening for it. However, taking early action and offering appropriate support can help prevent severe consequences for health professionals struggling with substance misuse or addiction.

Encouraging self-reflection and self-care can help healthcare professionals become more aware of their emotions and behaviors, increasing their chances of seeking help and starting the recovery process. Techniques like breathwork and seeking a support system such as a therapist or support group are crucial for addressing healthcare workers’ unique challenges.

By fostering self-worth and self-awareness, healthcare professionals can know when to seek help, overcome obstacles, build resilience, and achieve lasting success. Accepting their struggles and increasing self-awareness can significantly enhance their recovery.

Supporting Loved Ones in Recovery

When a loved one is struggling with addiction, their family and friends can play a critical role in aiding their recovery process. However, Feeley affirms that it’s essential to understand that change may not happen immediately and that interventions may be necessary. It is crucial to recognize their psychological state and offer genuine support to recovering healthcare professionals.

It’s also important to note that acceptance and empathy should not be mistaken for condoning or enabling addictive behaviors. Acceptance means realizing the limits of one’s ability to help, but Feeley contends that “there is some value in coming together as a team and out of love discussing their concern.” As a loved one, fostering a peaceful state of mind and recognizing the limitations of influence is crucial. To provide practical and valuable support, consider the following tips:

1. Understand addiction as a coping mechanism: Addiction is often a maladaptive way of dealing with stress and challenges in life.

2. Consider interventions: In severe cases, a well-planned intervention involving loved ones can effectively express concerns and promote change.

3. Meet the person where they are: Recognize that individuals may need more time to be ready to change. Patience and understanding are crucial during this process.

4. Practice acceptance: Acceptance doesn’t mean condoning or facilitating the addictive behavior. It means acknowledging that there are limits to what one can do to help and finding peace within that acceptance.

Detaching Self-Worth from Everything External and Unstable

Feeley believes that defining oneself as independent of external factors, such as people, situations, and things, can help achieve a better state of mind and more energy, ultimately bolstering self-worth and positive recovery outcomes. By taking responsibility for one’s recovery and detaching it from job performance, healthcare professionals can achieve long-term healing. Self-worth and recovery go hand in hand and are proportional; a healthy sense of self-worth is crucial for overcoming substance use disorder. This provides a strong sense of identity, irrespective of circumstances.

Healthcare professionals may face unique challenges in maintaining healthy self-worth, but detaching self-worth from external elements is essential. Feeley states that low self-worth can result from internalizing negative experiences or opinions from others, leading individuals to relinquish their power and allow external factors to define their worth. 

Dr. Feeley highlighted the connection between self-worth and the motivation to improve one’s life. According to Feeley, individuals who don’t perceive themselves as valuable may also struggle to believe they deserve a better life or the opportunity to overcome challenges, such as addiction. He says, “There can be this sense of not wanting to get better or sober. There could be this deep sense of futility or this deep sense of not deserving.”  

Focusing on intrinsic values and positive core beliefs can promote a better state of mind and more energy, helping healthcare workers overcome challenges and achieve long-term success. Recognizing and redefining our self-value is essential for addiction recovery, particularly for healthcare professionals carrying the burden of their patients. This shift in mindset can promote resilience, and reframing negative thoughts can effectively sustain recovery. To maintain good mental health and well-being, it is crucial to emphasize self-worth and understand that it does not depend on external factors.

Transformative Wellness and Recovery

Addiction is a significant issue affecting many healthcare workers, who often face challenges in seeking help and overcoming the stigma associated with addiction. Low self-worth can hinder recovery progress and lead to feelings of hopelessness. However, by redefining self-worth and adopting self-help strategies such as mindfulness techniques and meditation, healthcare professionals can break the cycle of addiction and improve their overall well-being. Seeking professional help and support is crucial, and interventions may be necessary in severe cases. By fostering self-awareness and self-care, healthcare professionals can elevate their self-worth and achieve lasting success in their recovery.