It may sound like a bit of an over-hyped cliche to “become your best self” in addiction treatment.
However, this is really the top level goal of recovery itself, at least in my experience.
Think about addiction treatment from a more global and holistic perspective: The addict or alcoholic is struggling because they are engaging in very unhealthy behaviors. They are hooked on a substance and that addiction is ruining their life. Over time, not only does their physical dependence increase, but the side effects and collateral damage from their addictive lifestyle continue to escalate and progress.
In other words, not only does addiction itself create problems and damage, but the side effects from the destructive lifestyle start to snowball and create additional problems. For example, just look at the way relationships get destroyed and strained due to drug or alcohol addiction. Note that, when the struggling addict or alcoholic suddenly decides to embrace recovery, those relationships do not just automatically become perfect overnight.
And the same is true with all of the various areas of an addict or alcoholic’s life, to include things like physical health, mental health, emotional well being, spirituality, and so on. Those different areas of an addict or alcoholic’s life are often compromised greatly due to the effects of addiction, and thus they all need to be rebuilt in addiction treatment.
The struggling addict gets clean and sober, and now they have to figure out how to function and thrive as a sober person. One of the problems is that they have all sorts of hang ups and issues left over from their life in addiction.
So how do you address all of this in order to live your best life in recovery?
I can see one approach that involves at least two concepts: The idea is that you need to identify and fix those issues and hang ups that you have in your life. This is internal work. The second part of that is that you need to build and sculpt the sort of life that fulfills you in recovery and also supports your being clean and sober. This is external work.
Another way to look at it would be to say that you need to fix your “inside,” and then you also need to work on the structure of your life as well. The internal stuff is just as important as rearranging your life to support your sobriety.
Why is this the case? Because the internal stuff–things like anger, resentment, self pity, shame, or guilt–can be the thing that is making you miserable every day. You could have the perfect life on the outside: Great family, great support network, good job, meaningful work, good health, and so on….but if you are racked with self pity or resentment, then you won’t be happy. Simple as that.
This is why, in programs like AA or NA, they have you attempt to identify some of those character defects and then address them in an attempt to “fix” them or eliminate them.
I did this myself when I realized that I was still clinging to self pity as a sort of defense mechanism. I had a few months of sobriety and I realized that my brain was running these certain “scripts” in my mind that were just making me miserable. What those scripts were doing was justifying another drink–my brain was constantly looking for reasons that I was a victim, reasons that the world had done me wrong somehow, reasons that I could use to justify drinking or taking drugs.
Even though I had surrendered fully and made the decision to get clean and sober, my brain was still running these old scripts that were left over from my addiction. And those scripts of self pity would work fine if I was actually going to relapse and go drink alcohol. However, I was maintaining my sobriety, and I had no intention of relapsing if I could help it, so the self pity that was playing out in my head was only making me sad and miserable. If I could not drink booze in order to “treat” myself, then what was the point of feeling bad, of feeling victimized? It made no sense.
So when I was in my early recovery, I had to realize this and figure out a plan. First I had to recognize that it was even happening. Some people who have massive resentments do not even know that they are carrying all of that anger around with them. So first, you have to notice the problem. You might need therapy or counseling to help you identify such issues. Or, if you get lucky with a good sponsor in AA or NA, they might have the skill set needed to bring some of your internal struggle to the surface.
After you identify something like self pity or resentment, then you need to do the work to eliminate it. If you just recognize it but do nothing to change it then it will continue to hold you back from living your best life.
For me, that meant making a decision to monitor my self pity, to monitor my internal dialogue, and to shut down self pity whenever I noticed it creeping into my thought process. I also practiced gratitude every day and started writing out lists in order to proactively defend against self pity. Gratitude conquers self pity quite well. If your problem is resentment then you might need to practice forgiveness. If you have issues with shame or guilt then a therapist or counselor might be able to help you work through those problems with specific strategies. But the bottom line is that we all have “internal issues” like I am describing here, and you need to identify yours and then do the work to fix them, just as I did in my early recovery.
On top of that, you need to start taking suggestions from people in recovery as to how you rebuild your life. My therapist and sponsor made suggestions to me over the first few years of recovery that included things like quitting cigarettes, going back to college, getting into physical fitness, and seated meditation. I adopted all of those habits and more, which definitely helped me to build a healthy and happy life in my recovery today. But please note that doing all of those suggestions would not lead a person to freedom or happiness if they are still suffering from internal issues such as resentment or shame or self pity. You have to do both the internal as well as the external work in order to recover.
Becoming your best self does at least two things: one, it protects you from relapse. But it also gives you a life that is enjoyable, happy, and worth living. Eventually you will discover your unique strengths and talents in your recovery that will allow you to reach out and give back to others as well. This is how you achieve your best life. Good luck to you on your journey!