How do you redefine yourself in alcoholism or drug addiction treatment? And why is it even necessary to do so?
When we arrive at the footstep of addiction treatment, our entire life and existence is defined by our addiction. We are consumed with our drug of choice and our entire life revolves around using it, getting more of it, and simply procuring the means to use more of it.
Somehow we have to arrest our disease and then rebuild our life from the ground up. I was personally terrified of sobriety because I had come to define myself in terms of my drug and alcohol use. My addiction to substances had become part of my identity, and part of me was afraid that if I were to go to rehab and become clean and sober that I would somehow lose who I was as a person, that my identity would be lost.
My friends and family, at the time, were trying to convince me to get clean and sober, and to seek help for my problem. They were trying to assure me that I would be an even better person if I were to sober up than I was when I was using. But of course, because I was stuck in my addiction and I was caught up in denial, I did not believe these arguments. I focused on the few positive aspects of alcohol and how it “corrected” my personality flaws when taken in just the right quantity. For example, I tend to be a shy and introverted person, and with just the right dose of alcohol and other drugs I can become just outgoing enough to have a really good time at a party. The problem is that this “fix” only works every once in a while when the formula is stumbled upon just precisely as it could be, and the rest of the time I either over or under medicate the condition. But because of my denial I hang on to the one perfect example, that one night in the past when I drank just enough and everything went well and nobody got hurt.
That one perfect night, that example from my past, then becomes my entire reality in addiction. If the world would just cooperate with me then I could have that same success every day when I drank and took drugs, right? That is how denial works. For some reason, the brain latches on to that one perfect experience with our drug of choice, and it chooses to believe that this perfect night is possible every night, so long as I can continue to keep using my drug of choice. The reality is trying to smack me in the face and wake me up to the fact that I often lose control or I under medicate and I am miserable, and there is no longer a happy medium to be had. Because of my denial I could never see that.
That is, I could never see it until one day I could. I clearly glimpsed the fact that I was always going to be miserable if I continued to use drugs and alcohol in order to chase after happiness. For whatever reason I had finally had enough and I could finally see this simple truth: that it would always be a rat race, that addiction would always cause me misery, that I would never find lasting happiness in drugs or alcohol.
And that was the moment of my surrender. That was the moment I started to redefine myself.
It was scary to abandon the idea that I could find happiness outside of drugs and alcohol. It was scary to ask for help and to check into rehab, knowing that I could no longer make myself instantly “happy” by drinking or taking drugs.
But I was tired of being afraid, and I was so sick and tired of it that I no longer cared about the fear. I was over the fear. That was when I broke through my denial–when I was finally able to look past the fear and go get some help for my problem. I did not care how scary it was any more, because the misery had become so intense. I was tired of being miserable and I was tired of being afraid. But at my breaking point, I was more tired of being miserable, and I needed a change. So I went to rehab.
Now once I started to work a recovery program, my life started to get better very quickly. It was only a few short months when I realized that I was already happier in my sobriety than I ever was in my addiction. And if there was a secret to this recovery thing, it was that I was simply listening to other people who were telling me what to do, and I was taking their advice. That was really all I did in order to get sober: I went to rehab and I started taking advice. Period.
Now you might believe that if you were to do this that you would then be defined by other people, and you would no longer have control of your own life. That by listening and learning from others you might somehow sacrifice the person that you should become.
The truth is that when you live this way–when you go to rehab and you work a recovery program based on the advice of others–you really do retain the best parts of what make you “you,” while eliminating the parts that lead to suffering and misery.
I never wanted to believe that when I was stuck in denial, because my argument was that I had to keep drinking and using drugs because “that was who I was.”
The truth is that you are unique and that you have amazing gifts and talents that will only emerge fully when you are clean and sober and working a recovery program. Part of what we do in recovery is that you start to discover the person that we were supposed to be all along, and we unlock some of these unique gifts and talents, and we begin to live more fully and more purposefully.
This cannot happen during active addiction because your only real purpose is to self medicate. In active addiction you just run away from fear and pain through chemical abuse. In recovery you learn how to reach out and help others, you start to see how you can bring real value to the world, and you start to rebuild a healthy self esteem through positive action. There is no comparison really–when you have a few months sober you will look back at your state of addiction with a sense of pity, because you will have come so far and have a much healthier outlook on life.
But you do not have to worry about “how” to go about redefining yourself in recovery–it is going to happen naturally as you work a program and actually do the work to remain sober.
It is the work that redefines you, that sculpts you into a better version of yourself.
In order to remain sober we have to move forward, we have to pursue personal growth. It is the positive changes that result from this work that define who we become in long term recovery.
Don’t ask “who should I become now that I am sober?” Instead, ask yourself “what do I need to do today in order to learn and grow as a person?”
Good luck to you in your journey!