From ages 15 to 25, I was involved in some version of romantic relationship, whether a vacation fling, a longer-term love, or the classic “together without the label” setup. My energy and efforts were often directed outside of myself and I looked for validation from others, tightly gripping my identity as the cool chick who could keep my emotions out of, well, everything, while chasing her whiskey shots with pepperoni pizza.

When I grew severely sick with Lyme Disease at 26, I stopped drinking as part of my SOS-willing-to-try-anything treatment plan, and I began learning how to navigate emotional and physical pain without any of my go-to coping mechanisms. Illness and sobriety invited me to surrender, as my outward identity was pulled from under me. Everything was stripped down — hobbies, work, travel, relationships, socialization — and replaced with plenty of time to think, feel, and question. “Who am I? What am I doing here? How do I want to spend my time and who do I want to spend it with?”

Honestly, dating hasn’t been a big part of my life during this recovery process and, while sometimes I long for a partner, I’ve chosen to focus on loving myself as I reprioritize. It’s a full-time gig, this learning to love myself business — but as it turns out, it’s the foundation of everything I want in life.

If you’re looking for your own happily-ever-after in recovery, remember these three principles of self-love:

Bettering yourself is never wasted time.

Even if you’re not currently dating, understanding your own behaviors, thought patterns, and preferences will help you form healthier relationships of all kinds. The friendships I’ve formed in the last few years are a direct result of how I’ve learned to care for myself and bring that same care to others. I’m surrounded and supported by loving, talented, creative, and open-hearted people who know me deeply and see who I truly am.

It takes courage to be yourself in a system that profits from people feeling unworthy and unlovable but it starts with getting to know the real you — and learning to love all of your parts, inside and out. Along the way, you’ll find the people who appreciate you and know how to support your wellbeing. Plus, all of this inner work is only improving your ability to be a compatible partner when the right person comes your way.

You teach others how to love you.

As you embody your values, desires, and worth, you’ll begin to create a set of necessary boundaries that either didn’t exist or weren’t upheld in the past. Sober living gives you an opportunity to take responsibility for yourself in all aspects of your life, and to ask for what you want and need.

In her research, professor and social scientist Brené Brown has found that the most compassionate and whole-hearted people are also the ones with the clearest boundaries — they live fully and openly but they take no shit. If you find yourself in the same type of toxic relationship again and again, the common denominator is you. You can decide, at any moment, that you deserve better. Respect yourself, love yourself, commit to yourself first, and the people in your life (who are there for the right reasons) will follow suit. 

Quality is more important than quantity.

If you’re out of the bar scene, chances are you’re meeting fewer love/lust interests than before. Gone are the days of running into someone at happy hour, continuing on to drinks at the next several bars until you wake up and realize there was no deeper connection than rooting for the same sports team or digging the hat he was wearing (yes, alcohol can make us very shallow).

But you no longer have to settle for anything less than what feels safe, interesting, and inspiring. Focus on hanging out at the places you feel most alive and find activities that you actually like doing. Don’t worry about finding “the one.” After all, a partner isn’t responsible for filling a void in your life; they’re there to walk beside you, support you, and ultimately provide opportunities to learn and love yourself even more.

At the end of the day, when you strip away the bullshit about who you should be or what you need look like in order to find love, overcome your fears, and live a fulfilling and happy life, you realize it’s truly all right here. 

There’s nothing that manifests externally that doesn’t first start inside each one of us. Wake up to your magic and decide to love yourself today.