Empowerment in Practice

Empowerment theory encourages groups of people to band together to overcome adversity. There are three tenants of cognitive empowerment, according to Gutiérrez in “Understanding the empowerment process: Does consciousness make a difference?” They include identifying similar others, redistributing self-blame for past events, and developing a sense of personal freedom. This directly applies to recovery. To overcome substance use disorder, take these three steps to see the change you seek in your life.

Identify Similar Others

Find other people seeking to quit substance use. The shared experience will expand your network and enhance commitment. Unfortunately or fortunately, we are the company we keep. If our primary circle of relationships is comprised entirely of others who use substances with us, it will be hard to quit. If we expand our network to include only substance-free individuals, they may not understand the unique needs of former substance users. While it is a good idea to have a mixed group of friends and family, finding similar others committed to sobriety can help strengthen your bond and instill a sense of purpose in the relationship.

Redistribute Self-Blame for Past Events

When struggling with substance use, it is common to feel regret or remorse for past events. While under the influence, we often act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise deem appropriate. That can lead to embarrassment and shame. Instead of blaming yourself for these painful memories, however, it is important to frame the experience in the context of substance use disorder. It may be helpful to repeat mantras like:

“I am not what I did when I was using.”

“My past actions do not define my future.”

“That was the alcohol or ____ talking, not me.”

It can be easy to feel like you cannot form opinions if you have not fully redistributed the self-blame for past events. You may feel like you are worthless and “how could you judge anyone else without judging and reprimanding yourself?” It is important to not move to a place of judgment, but rather discernment. You should still be able to form opinions on yourself and others. Working to rebuild this ability requires acknowledgment of the full role your substance use disorder played in past actions.

You were doing the best you could with the tools at your disposal. Especially if you also struggle with a co-occurring mental illness, turning to substances was likely the most convenient way to self-medicate at that time. When entering sobriety, you will learn other, healthier ways to cope. However, you have to forgive yourself for your past experiences and blame circumstance rather than yourself.

Develop a Sense of Personal Freedom

Over time, you have to redefine yourself. Who are you as a sober individual? While some people advocate for a resilient recovery, another approach to consider is post-traumatic growth. This means that your substance use disorder somehow fundamentally changed you. Perhaps you won’t return to the overreaching demands of the stressful job you once held, but rather pursue something with more balance. Did you develop new interests or hobbies through your experience with substance use disorder and the subsequent recovery? Allowing yourself to realize these newfound interests and tap into your growth potential after trauma can help you cultivate a sense of personal freedom.

What is Empowerment?

Once you have identified similar others, redistributed self-blame for past events, and developed a sense of personal freedom, you are well on your way to empowerment. Empowerment establishes a sense of security and self-confidence to uplift yourself through any possible turmoil.

After a struggle with substance use, it can be easy to find yourself in a negative headspace. However, once you can forge new connections and let go of blame, you can create a new sense of purpose. This process may create space for post-traumatic growth. Wherever you find yourself during your recovery, you are making strides towards a sense of empowerment.

Do You Feel Empowered?

Now maybe a good time to assess where you are at in the empowerment process. A useful tool is to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I feel like I have a group of like-minded individuals with whom I can share my experiences?
  2. Do I blame myself for my struggle with substance use?
  3. Do I feel like I have the agency to make my own decisions and discernment to form my own opinions?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you may feel like you need more support. Even if you already feel like you are in a place of Empowerment, it can be helpful to nurture the skill set you have already developed.

Establishing a sense of empowerment is a key step in creating a sense of peace during recovery. The cognitive steps to take to ensure this include 1) identifying similar others, 2) redistributing self-blame for past events, and 3) developing a sense of personal freedom. For step 1, you can join support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. For step 2, it is helpful to engage with individual therapy. For step 3, it is crucial to identify how you have grown from the trauma you’ve experienced through picking up new interests or hobbies and to reevaluate your life for the better. At Valiant Living, we are here to help you with each of these steps. By the end of your time working with us, we hope you feel both empowered and prepared to take on life’s challenges. At our men-only facility in Denver, Colorado, our expert staff treats addiction and co-occurring mental illness in the inpatient and outpatient setting. You can reach us at (303) 952-5035.