In order to truly unmask your strengths in long term sobriety you must first build a strong foundation in early recovery.
Addiction treatment follows a fairly predictable trajectory, in my opinion (and in my experience).
When the struggling addict or alcoholic begins their journey, they typically have very little confidence and very little self worth. Their self esteem is low because they have been running their life based on the selfish desires of their addiction for a long time. So everything that they have done has been an attempt to just get as intoxicated and high as possible for as much of the time as possible, with very little regard for their friends, family, or loved ones.
So when we get to recovery we don’t feel like we have a lot of strengths, and we are not really in a position to give ourselves a lot of credit or pat ourselves on the back for being great at anything. And yet, we all bring certain talents and skills to the table, even if we have been creating a life of total chaos and destruction thanks to our addiction. We all have our good points and once we get clean and sober we can begin to rebuild and capitalize on those strengths. Here is the basic formula for how I believe we can best go about doing that.
First, the foundation. You have to start out in early recovery by rebuilding a solid foundation before you can really get into your specific talents and strengths. Another thing that needs to happen is that you are going to have to address your character flaws and defects, those specific issues that are holding you back from success.
Let me illustrate these points by explaining how it worked for me: I finally surrendered to the fact that I needed serious help in my life and I went to inpatient treatment. While I was at inpatient rehab I started to get an idea of some of my problems that were fueling my addiction. So I started finding support in AA meetings and also working through some issues with a therapist. I began to build a foundation in recovery by going through a 28 day inpatient program and then transitioning out to go to meetings, therapy, and meet a whole new group of healthy peers in recovery. This was how I started my journey to a new life.
As I found my footing and became a bit more stable in my recovery (think like 3 to 9 months sober), I started to realize that my brain was still playing tricks on me. How so? Because as I was going through my day in early recovery, my brain was constantly citing excuses and reasons that I should be allowed to “reward myself” by taking a drink of alcohol or using drugs. Why was this happening? Had I not made the decision to get clean and sober “for real” this time? I certainly had. And yet my brain continued to betray me, and here is the real kicker: I did not even realize this was happening at first, as it was too familiar to me!
So before I could find my strengths I had to fix my weaknesses.
I did this by talking to my sponsor in AA, by talking with a therapist, and by listening to my peers and their own experience in finding recovery. I gathered information and I listened carefully to the feedback I was given. And I also had to trouble shoot my own defects by realizing that my brain was trying to hijack my recovery by justifying a drink or a drug that I did not even want.
So after I realized that my brain was still in “justification and rationalization mode” I was able to get the help that I needed in order to fix that mental obsession. After building my foundation and eliminating these defects of character that threatened to hold me back, I was able to start discovering what I was really good at in my recovery. It turned out that I was good at connecting with people online in terms of recovery, so I continued to expand in that area, and I was also fairly good at working more “hands on” with addicts and alcoholics in recovery, so I continued to explore those career avenues as well. Ultimately I was able to build a life for myself in which I was pretty much working with recovering addicts nearly all day, every day. This brought purpose into my life in such a way that I actually cared about the work that I was doing.
However, I want to point out that I did not just decide that I wanted to work in the field of substance abuse and then muscle my way into those positions. Instead, I started to gently prod and probe those areas and I waited for the opportunities to present themselves. In the meantime I continued to “do the work” and carry a message and I trusted that the right kind of work would find me, which it eventually did. I tried to have a good balance of being assertive and going what I wanted while still being humble and staying open to all the possibilities. I also tried to listen to the mentors around me such as my sponsor in AA, my substance abuse therapist, and my senior peers in AA and NA.
Taking advice and suggestions from other people in recovery is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself in terms of finding your strengths.
The truth is, if you only searched out for your strengths using your own thoughts and intuition, you would miss out on opportunities that people around you can pick up on.
I had to trust in my sponsor and trust in my therapist to allow them to push me and nudge me down certain paths. They encouraged me to go back to school, to go back to work, to take on more challenging roles in my career, to start a new business, and so on. If I just went with my own ideas then I would have missed out on so many of those opportunities that I was “nudged towards.” Allow yourself to be nudged and guided a bit in your recovery. It can be scary at times but this is where some of your biggest gains will come from.
Really what you want to figure out is how your best strengths and talents applies to the idea of you serving others in a meaningful way. That is a lot to take in at first, and it is a bit of an overwhelming goal if you only have 3 week sober. So give yourself a break and realize that it will all work out eventually so long as you take advice and suggestions and keep doing what you are supposed to be doing. Nobody expects you to sober up today and become some sort of superstar tomorrow. Recovery and healing takes time, so give yourself a break in this regard. Give yourself time to heal.
That said, you still need to do the work, and you still need to push yourself to follow through and take the advice and start diving into positive action. In order to become the person that you are truly supposed to be you are going to have to reinvent yourself a few times over, just as everyone who is on a path of growth in recovery does. While it may be scary and unsettling to always be pushing yourself towards new growth experiences, this is the single best way to stumble on to your strongest path in life and reveal your true talents. Good luck to you on your journey!