Revealing Your True Self when Overcoming Addiction
I have a strange confession to make:
I thought that recovery would turn me into a robot.
Really, I thought that. Isn’t that silly?
I was afraid to the 12 step program–or in fact, anything that could possibly keep me clean and sober–would be a form of brainwashing. I was terrified to think that there were forces in the universe that might prevent me from drinking or using drugs.
And I heard people talk about programs such as AA that “took away their desire to drink” and I was absolutely horrified at the thought.
Really? You mean to tell me that I could somehow do this program or go to certain meetings, and at some point I am not going to want to drink or use drugs any more? To be honest the idea scared me.
This was because I was nowhere near the point of surrender yet–I was not done drinking and drugging at this time. I was still trying to be happy while self medicating. I still clung to the hope that I could one day be a successful and happy alcoholic or drug addict.
I had brief exposure to AA and other treatment programs. They talked about “a personality change sufficient enough to bring about recovery.” Really, you’re going to change my personality? The thought scared me.
So long before I got clean and sober, I somehow formed this impression that recovery was the equivalent of brainwashing. I think this is really just what I told myself so that I could further justify my addiction. My logic was essentially “I don’t want to get sober, I’ll be like a robot….a non-thinking member of AA with no real personality!” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But this is the kind of self talk that kept me stuck in active addiction. It was also part of the fear that kept me from taking the plunge into sobriety.
The truth is that your real self is revealed to you slowly in recovery, and the person that you were in active addiction/alcoholism was really a masked, fake, and desperately trying to avoid being the “real you.”
In recovery, the story changes a bit, as well as your perception of your own ongoing narrative. Welcome to reality.
You don’t get to stay the same….not if you want to remain clean and sober. But the good news is, you will probably like who you become.
So, change is good.
Just go with it.
How can you be yourself when you give up all control and surrender?
I was always afraid that I was going to become “like the hole in a donut” if I was taking suggestions from other people in recovery. If I completely surrendered and took advice from other people (rather than my own advice), I thought that it would negate who I was. I thought that it might destroy my personality.
What I learned is that there is an incredible freedom when you start to get out of your own way in early recovery. First of all, you get to stop screwing up. Take the suggestions to get professional help and go check into rehab. Now at least you are physically clean and sober and getting detoxed. Now follow through on the suggestions to start going to programs and rebuilding your life. Now you are taking positive action and making slow but steady progress. Even if you are following other people’s advice 100 percent (and completely ignoring your own ideas), your life is still going to get better and better and from this point.
And that is sort of the central issue here: if you take suggestions from other people, can your ego handle it? The answer depends on your level of surrender. If you have not really surrendered to your disease yet, then following orders from other people is going to be next to impossible. Your ego simply won’t allow you to do it. It is so difficult to completely abandon the self and take orders from other people because we have this tendency to put our own self interest first, and to believe that WE ALONE are the only ones in the world who put enough importance on our own happiness.
In other words, when we are in the situation of trying to get clean and sober, we have a tendency to want to ignore other people’s suggestions and simply follow our own gut instincts. Why? Because even though we may trust other people, we do not always trust that they are concerned with our happiness. Sure, we concede, they may have our best interests in mind. But do they really care about us and want for us to be happy, or are they just spouting opinions about what may be best for us? It becomes a trust issue. And it is so hard to let go of our need for control and learn to trust other people.
But this is what must happen when we make the transition to sobriety. In order to transform our lives, we have to learn how to take direction from other people. It is a difficult truth that keeps many people stuck in addiction for a long time.
How can you be your true self when you take suggestions from other people and ignore your own ideas?
Amazingly enough, I finally let go of my own need for control at some point and truly surrendered. When I did this I let everything slide….not just my intense need to self medicate, but also my fear of recovery, my fear of rehab, my fear of AA meetings. I let it all go.
This has to do with taking suggestions and the search for your true self in recovery. You might call it the “death of the ego.” I describe it most accurately as “no longer caring about anything or anyone, including yourself.” This was what surrender felt like to me. I stopped caring. I stopped caring about my own happiness. This was the biggest difference compared to the old me who was always looking to self medicate and “get happy” with my drug of choice. I was so sick of my addiction that I stopped caring about my own happiness and well being.
I was so desperate to escape the pain of addiction that I did not care if the recovery process turned me into a robot, as I had feared that it would. I no longer cared.
And so I surrendered. I asked for help. This is what it means to ask for help “with complete abandon.” That means that I was willing to follow through on the suggestions no matter how extreme they may have seemed to me. I had completely abandoned my “self” and my ego. I was willing to do anything in order to change. This is full surrender.
And this is also where it gets interesting. Instead of becoming a robot, I was transformed through the recovery process to become my true self. Looking back after going through this transformation, everything was much more obvious. I could clearly see that:
* Taking suggestions to attend AA or go to rehab did not “brainwash me” as I thought it might.
* The changes that I made in early recovery all improved my life and my life situation. Not only did things get better, but I was also becoming a better person. In other words, my personality was changing, but it was changing for the better, in a way that I liked. During my addiction I believed that this personality change would be a bad thing.
* I had it all wrong during my addiction. I thought that I was free, but the drugs and alcohol had me enslaved. And I believed that recovery programs would enslave me, but they in fact had set me free.
During very early recovery my suggestion to you is to completely abandon your “self” and ignore all of your own ideas. Abandon yourself, at least in the short run. Don’t worry, your “self” will come back in recovery, stronger than ever. But early recovery is the time to take advice from others.
During this time you should take suggestions and follow through in getting treatment. As you follow these suggestions and take action, you may feel like you are “sacrificing your sense of self.” You will slowly come to realize that this is NOT the case.
When you take advice from others and then follow through on it and take action, you are not invalidating your “self.” What you are doing is benefiting from their wisdom and experience and then making these new experiences your own.
For example, let’s say that someone suggests to you that you live in long term treatment for six months. You feel like that is a huge commitment and that doing so would seriously compromise your sense of self. You view it as a sacrifice to go live in rehab for such a long time period.
But if you follow through on a suggestion like this you will slowly come to realize that the action does NOT invalidate your self. Instead, it empowers you. In going to rehab and following through you will gain strength in your recovery and be able to stay clean and sober. What you thought might compromise your personality is in fact building it up and making it stronger.
If someone tells you to go live in rehab for six months and you do it, you will realize during that experience that it was the best move you could ever make. Even though you have sacrificed your “freedom” in the short term, the new freedom that you experience from overcoming your addiction far outweighs the fact that you are living in a protected environment.
In other words, we gain freedom when we take orders and suggestions from other people. This is because our own ideas result in self sabotage and relapse. When we relapse we are trapped and stuck in our addiction, with no freedom at all. When we remain clean and sober then we are truly free in a way that we cannot even imagine during active addiction.
This is a critical point: we often cannot see the level of freedom that sobriety would afford us when we are still trapped in active addiction. Or we may grasp the idea of freedom in sobriety but it is not attractive to us. In order to really appreciate this new freedom that comes from sobriety we have to experience it for ourselves.
Long term sobriety reveals your true self through personal growth
Long term sobriety hinges on one thing: personal growth.
Have you ever heard of a term called “complacency” that can cause people to relapse in long term recovery?
Complacency is a lack of personal growth.
Therefore the solution is to keep making growth, for the rest of your life. This may sound like a chore but keep in mind that the changes are an improvement. We only focus on making positive changes in recovery that improve our life, not changes that make it worse.
In active addiction, things kept changing for the worse. Our life abounded in negativity. Addiction was a downward spiral.
In recovery, we focus on making positive changes. We seek to improve our self and our lives. We seek personal growth.
Your “true self” is revealed in long term sobriety as you continue to make positive changes.
For example, you may challenge yourself one day in your recovery to reach out and help other people in some way. If you can do this in a way that compliments your own strengths and talents, then this is definitely a discovery of your “true self” in recovery. Your gift to the world is based on how you reach out and connect with other people.
Your true self is revealed through your relationships with others. The idea in recovery is that these relationships will improve over time. If you are following the suggestions that you were given in early recovery then this will almost certainly be the case. Life gets better because your relationships get deeper and more meaningful.
The holistic approach to recovery is based on the idea that you can make growth in many different areas of your life. For example, you may focus on spiritual growth for a while in recovery, but then later you may look carefully at your physical health and try to make improvements in that area. And then you may shift to focus on relationships for a while.
Interestingly, many of these long term changes that we make in long term sobriety are based on suggestions from other people as well (just like in early recovery!). We can still benefit a lot from feedback and advice from other people. This is the entire basis of sponsorship. We gain strength in recovery when we benefit from the wisdom and experience of others.
In the end you still get to make all of your own decisions. Just because you take suggestions from other people does not mean that you are suddenly less of a real person. The final decision is always still in your control. But the amazing thing in recovery is that you can gain a tremendous amount of freedom if you give up control for a while and let other people dictate your decisions. This is very simple to do but it is by no means an easy thing to do. It is a real challenge to give up control and let other people direct your life.
Becoming the person you were meant to be
As you progress in recovery you will realize that you are actually making many of your own decisions anyway, even though you are constantly seeking feedback and advice from others. This is how your true self can still evolve even while you are attempting to relinquish all control. You can never fully remove yourself from the “driver’s seat.” Even if you live your entire life based on the advice and decisions of others, you still have to choose who you listen to and who you seek advice from. Those decisions (that you are making!) will go a long way in dictating the person you become in recovery.
Do not be afraid that you are sacrificing your true self if you choose to follow a path of recovery. Even if you give yourself over completely to other people’s advice, you will discover that doing so empowers you in a way that you never could have foreseen.
We discover our true self when we maintain sobriety and make positive changes. Personal growth shapes the person that we become in recovery. This is always an improvement on your old “self” in active addiction.
The only question you have to ask yourself is:
“Can I get out of my own way and take advice from others? Can I trust that this process of seeking feedback and guidance will help me to reveal my true self?”