Copyright Rights for Recovery - 2016

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Affirmation Was a Missing Piece to My Recovery


Affirmation Was a Missing Piece to My Recovery

Affirmation goes a long way in life. If you’re like me, you might not know the things you’re doing well unless they’re pointed out.

In college I took the class, “Rhetoric, Syntax and Style”. We had just finished our first assignment, an in-class essay. At the beginning of the next class, the professor warned us that we might see more “red pen” on our papers than we ever had before. Oh, great, I thought. I’ve failed miserably. As she handed them back, she told us not to be alarmed. She didn’t mark only what we did wrong; she also marked what we did right.

Over the years, I learned to believe that the proofreading process was all about looking for mistakes, so we could correct them. But in her eyes, this type of editing left out a fundamental factor: “how can you possibly know the things you’re doing well, if we don’t reinforce them?” To her, affirming our strengths was as important as helping us make corrections. She made a compelling point. It wasn’t a new concept, but it was one that I had never considered. I quickly realized that it applied not only to writing but also to many areas of life.

Adolescents are trying to navigate intense pressures – academic, social, athletic, etc. To compound that, they’re trying to determine who they are and how to like themselves. It’s overwhelming. Even life’s little things, ones that adults sometimes take for granted and shrug off, can be a struggle for young people. They need to know they have great ideas and that they matter. They need to know that they’re doing amazing things. We need to recognize, celebrate, and re-affirm what they’re doing well. If we don’t, the challenges of growing up may consume them.

I am a person in long-term recovery. For most of my life, I focused heavily on my own mistakes. I did this even for my first few years in recovery. Sure, just like editing a paper, seeing mistakes allows us to change them. However, more often than not, seeing my mistakes again and again and again and only seeing my mistakes only reinforced the negatives and gave me a lot of shame. It was obvious that all this energy I spent looking for faults was causing me unnecessary harm. Until this class, I had never thought to also emphasize what I was doing well and what was going right. I needed to find a balance. When I began to highlight my successes, even the small ones, my confidence drastically improved. In addition, the mistakes I obsessed over for years stopped carrying so much weight. Affirming my own strengths enhanced my recovery and my life.

the right words catalyze personal transformation and offer invitations to citizenship and community service. The wrong words stigmatize and dis-empower

I left “Rhetoric, Syntax, and Style” with a better understanding of the English language and a better grasp on my own writing. I also gained a deeper appreciation that words matter. Let’s think for a moment about Martin Luther King, Jr., and Adolf Hitler. One used words for good and the other for evil. Regardless, they were, without a doubt, two of the greatest orators of all time. That’s the power of language. William White said it best that “the right words catalyze personal transformation and offer invitations to citizenship and community service. The wrong words stigmatize and dis-empower”. That day, my professor used the right words, and they revolutionized my life. But it was more than the words she said. It was her intentional, thoughtful gesture that made all the difference.

Or course, constructive criticism serves an important purpose. I’m not saying to entirely avoid it. Mistakes are going to happen, and we’re going to have to recognize and fix them in order to grow. But please don’t fall into the attitude that focusing entirely on problems will make things better. As people, we are remarkable, and we’re doing a lot well. In that regard, being too critical truly does us a disservice. We are also fragile, and too much criticism will wear us down. I turned to drugs as an adolescent because I didn’t think I could do anything right. I, for one, never want to feel that way again. And I certainly didn’t enter recovery to keep feeling that way. Sadly, I come across too many other people, in recovery or not, who feel this way too often too. The self-sabotage needs to stop. Our happiness depends on it.

As you notice what others are doing well, make sure to appreciate and celebrate it with them. Likewise, at the end of the day, take some time to reflect on all the things you did well too. Maybe even write them down. Internalize the positives, and allow these simple, powerful things to become part of you.

Affirmation goes a long way in life. If you’re like me, you might not know the things you’re doing well unless they’re pointed out.

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Matthew Braun is 26 years old and has been in long-term recovery since 2009. Early in his recovery, he began sharing his experiences in schools with the goal of helping adolescents steer clear of drugs and alcohol and become better equipped to navigate the challenges of growing up. In 2014, he joined the Young People in Recovery (YPR) movement as a founding member of YPR-Maine (Portland), and he currently leads a chapter in Biddeford. Matthew works in the behavioral health field, passionately trying to expand the reach of prevention and recovery services throughout Maine. He serves on multiple state and local task forces including the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission. Prior to entering this field, he worked as a researcher in a toxicology lab while receiving his B.S. in human biology from the University of Southern Maine. Occasionally, he still engages in deep scientific conversations, causing him to think about going back to school for medical or graduate studies. He knows that people in recovery have a lot to offer and believes they make the world a better place because they recover.


  • Absolutely incredible piece – thank you for this – I’ll be sharing it with those I serve!

    May 30, 2016

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