Our ego can fuel all sorts of problems in our addiction, but also during our recovery journey.
Even though it is an abstract idea, treating the ego like it is a real “thing” can help us a great deal in our recovery journey. It is a lens through which we can view our life and our decisions. If doing that helps you to recover or to improve your life in sobriety then by all means, let’s do it!
Living in fear during your addiction and not even admitting it to yourself
The ego wants to protect itself. It wants to protect your security, hide you from your fears, and tell you that everything is going to be OK.
When I was stuck in addiction I was living in constant fear. This is something that I did not even know about for several years.
I was self medicating every day in order to feel better. I was trapped in a cycle of getting drunk and high, then later regretting the person that I had become. So then I would medicate myself again to forget about this issue. The problem perpetuated itself.
My ego was wrapped up in this because I did not want to face my fears. I was afraid of life, I was afraid of sobriety, and I was terrified at the thought of sitting down in an AA meeting. What if they expected me to say something and I sound stupid? My ego couldn’t handle that thought. What if I just sit there silently or elect to say nothing at all during an AA meeting? That will look stupid too. So my ego kept me stuck in addiction because I was too afraid to get help. I was too afraid to take that plunge into the unknown.
When I was trapped and drinking every day, I imagined what must happen in a drug rehab or alcoholism treatment facility. What must go on behind those closed doors to convince people not to drink or use drugs? How could an organization like that take away my freedom to want to get drunk or high all the time? Of course I was looking at it all wrong, because I was assuming that people who went to rehab still wanted to get drunk, but that the treatment somehow cured them of this. I likened the idea to being brainwashed.
Of course in reality this is now what happens. You don’t go to rehab and get magically persuaded to not want to get drunk or high any more. There is no such thing as brainwashing someone in terms of addiction treatment. That would actually be great if it worked, as horrific as it might sound, but I am afraid that it is nowhere near the truth. You can’t directly manipulate someone else to get them to stop drinking or getting high. It doesn’t work. It is not possible. And yet this was a big part of the fear that I had back when I was stuck in addiction. This was all manufactured by my ego who wanted to keep me safe in the comfort of what it already knew best: Getting drunk and high every day so that it did not have to feel emotions.
When I finally got clean and sober I realized the full extent of what my ego was trying to do. It did not want me to show emotions. It was trying to tell me that showing my feelings to other people was making me weak. So when I stumbled on drugs and alcohol at one point in my life, this became the perfect solution. It was like magic–just get drunk or high and you don’t really have to feel your feelings all of a sudden! You can become totally numb from an emotional standpoint.
This was too enticing to the ego to pass up. I could be having a terrible day and be in a completely rotten mood, then use a whole lot of drugs and alcohol in a very short period of time and my mood was instantly transformed. All of the negative emotions that I had been feeling were washed away instantly. I did not have to wait for it either. It was super quick. A few shots of liquor, a few big hits of some smoke, and my world was completely flipped upside down as if by magic. It was fast and it was absolute. And when I first started (before tolerance developed) it was surprisingly cheap. It did not take very many chemicals for me to alter my mood so thoroughly and completely.
And we all know how this story ends…..eventually tolerance developed and the magic trick no longer worked on me. I had to use more and more chemicals in order to get the same mood altering effects, and eventually I reached a hard limit in even doing that. That limit was the point when I realized that getting drunk and high no longer really brought me much happiness at all. It had almost completely stopped working for me. I was miserable 99 percent of the time in spite of using insane amounts of chemicals to try to regulate my mood. This is the endgame for any addict or alcoholic. This is where it eventually ends up. You can’t really go back to the time when you could spend 5 dollars on your drug of choice and be happy all afternoon. That is a fantasy and a memory that you stubbornly hang on to but it will never come to pass again.
Actually that is not entirely true, I can tell you how to accomplish it if you like. Just become completely clean and sober for at least one agonizingly long week of your life. No drugs or alcohol at all. Then take an afternoon and go ahead and use your drug of choice again. It will be like magic again!….for about 2 hours. And then you will get that nagging feeling that….hey wait a minute….this isn’t really enough. “I want more!” And so you will be off to the races.
By taking a whole week off from your addiction, you can recapture that “happy” feeling for maybe an hour or two at the most. And then it is back to the misery, the obsession, the craving, the obsession. Then for the next few years of your life you will be desperately trying to achieve that perfect buzz all over again. This is how your tolerance works. Eventually you will reach this point (if you are not there already) where you are miserable even while self medicating about 99 percent of the time.
And yet your ego will try to convince you that you are safe, that the comfort and security of getting drunk or high every day is much better than the fear that you would have to overcome to get clean and sober.
Recovery almost always comes down to that particular battle: Stay complacent or face your fears. Endure more chaos and misery, or dive into the unknown world of sobriety. Fear or pain, fear or pain. If you choose to face the fear then you unlock this awesome world of sobriety. If you choose to stay in the misery of addiction then…..you remain stuck.
Every day you have the same choice: Face the fear or stay in misery. And every day that you stay stuck is just another day in the life of an addict or an alcoholic. And your ego remains happy because it doesn’t get exposed, it doesn’t have to face it’s greatest fear.
Believing that you are unique in your love for your drug of choice
One of the tricks that your ego will pull on you in your addiction has to do with being unique.
Of course we are all unique in some ways, and yet we are very similar in others. This is a useless statement unless we qualify it, so let’s see how it applies to addiction.
Every addict and alcoholic goes through this period of personal introspection where they are trying to figure out why they like drugs and alcohol so much. It is not just that they are drawn to their drug of choice, but they just absolutely love it. They love to get drunk or high or whatever the case may be.
And they love it so much (because they are an addict of course) that they secretly believe that no other person in the history of the world could possibly love their drug of choice as much as they do.
For example, the alcoholic may hear of others who have managed to sober up and go on to live a healthier and happier life, but they secretly believe that this does not apply to them and their own situation. Why not? Because those other alcoholics must not have actually loved the drug as much as they do. Because how else would they have been able to get sober? They couldn’t possibly have been as big of an alcoholic or addict as I am, because they somehow managed to get sober. It was easy for them for some reason, but it is impossible for me.
We all go through this line of reasoning I believe, because we all think that we are unique.
My ego took it a step further in terms of terminal uniqueness because it had convinced me that I was not compatible with the 12 step program of AA. And of course nearly every treatment center that I had access to was a 12 step based program of recovery. And this kept me stuck for years as well. I was convinced that I was too shy and too scared of AA meetings to ever be able to get sober through them. And later on I learned that virtually all (or at least most) of the rehabs were based on the AA program and that this was pretty much the default path in sobriety. When I learned this I was devastated, because my ego was already fighting very hard to keep itself protected from this particular fear and anxiety. It would much rather stay trapped in the misery of addiction than to walk through this path of fear in sobriety. My ego did not want to face the anxiety of sitting in an AA meeting under any circumstance if it could help it.
Years later I became more and more miserable in my addiction. I had gone through two rehab centers, been briefly exposed to AA meetings, and I failed miserably. The reason that I failed was because:
1) I was not ready to get clean and sober.
2) I was too afraid to face my fears and anxieties about the recovery process (going to AA, opening up, getting honest with myself, etc.).
Two rehab visits and I was still floundering around in my addiction. I could not get it together. I was scared and I did not want to face my fears in sobriety. I was terrified of facing the world without the crutch of alcohol.
How would I ever get past this? How could I ever get sober in the face of this fear?
I will tell you how, but you may not like the answer.
The answer is pain.
Suffering due to my addiction and my alcoholism.
I became so miserable in my life that I was completely beside myself. Suicidal? Not quite. But starting to get real close to that point.
I was so miserable that I just didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about myself, I didn’t care about other people, I didn’t care about my own future. I had lost the will to care.
I was so thoroughly sick and tired of being afraid, and I could not even admit that to myself.
If you had asked me “why are you so afraid” back then, I would have dodged the question. Or I would have responded with anger. “I’m not afraid, I have all of these problems, and if you had them you would probably drink too!”
But that was a lie. That was my ego trying to protect itself and keep me stuck in my little “safe zone.”
The truth was that I was scared, I was afraid, and I had been living in fear for a very long time.
Once you pass a certain point in your addiction you tend to cover up these fears and anxieties with…..you guessed it….your drug of choice.
And eventually even that stops working so well. So most of my drinking career in the end consisted of me, drinking large amounts of alcohol, but being afraid and anxious for nearly all of the time anyway. The only time I escaped my fear and anxiety was when I finally reached either a blackout or I passed out. But while I was building up to that I could no longer seem to medicate my fear.
This is a clear sign that you ego has lost the battle. Think about it: If you are using your drug of choice all day long and for 90 percent of that time you are still living in fear, then what is the point of self medicating? Just give it up–it no longer works! Of course denial is when we hang on to the idea that it still works perfectly, or that it still works as effectively as when we first discovered our drug of choice. But those days are gone forever. At the end of your addiction you spend most of your time in fear. The ego fights to protect itself but is a losing battle.
The solution is to say “no” to the misery and the chaos and to face your fears.
The solution is to put your ego out on the chopping block. Kill your ego entirely.
How do you do this?
You do it by walking directly into your greatest fear: Ask for help. Go to rehab. Go through detox. Go to AA and get a sponsor, work through the steps and get honest with yourself. Do whatever it takes to follow through and get sober.
Face your life sober and walk through your fear directly. There is a saying: “Your fear is a thousand miles wide and a thousand miles high, but paper thin. You must step through it.” That is what it means to check into rehab. Of course checking into rehab doesn’t do a darn thing unless you have also made that internal decision, that internal commitment to yourself, that you are really done this time. For real.
You kill your ego when you name your fear and ask for help anyway. When you admit “yes, I am afraid to get sober, to go to rehab, to go to AA meetings, but I am going to follow through and do it anyway, because my life sucks so badly right now.”
That is how to get honest with yourself and transcend your ego. It involves reaching outside of yourself.
The alcoholic or drug addict has been looking for answers in the wrong places for a very long time. When you are wrapped up in ego and stuck in denial you don’t really have access to the answers from within. They are there, actually, but you can’t get to them past the layers of fear and denial and self hatred.
So the solution is to look outside yourself for a moment and ask for help. Find someone you trust and ask them for help with your addiction. If you don’t trust anyone then call up a rehab and trust that organization. You have no assurance that this is a perfect solution, but what is your alternative? The alternative is to trust your ego and keep doing what you have been doing, which will only result in more fear and misery.
It’s time for a new solution and that means you need to ask for help from others and follow their advice. This is the path to healing.
Even in sobriety your ego is a threat to you
Once you are clean and sober your ego can still be a huge problem.
It is not enough just to maintain abstinence. You have to go beyond that and figure out how to grow in your recovery.
We do this when we learn to peel the ego back and look at the truth that is hiding in our deepest fears.
Inside every anxiety that you feel each day is an opportunity. If you want to uncover that opportunity then you have to do the work in recovery. You have to take the time to get honest with yourself, to explore those fears, to unmask those inner demons. Doing this work is not comfortable and the ego itself will tell you not to proceed. It wants to stay hidden in fear.
Personal growth is the process by which we recover. It is the process by which we maintain abstinence in long term sobriety.
And exposing those deep fears and figuring out how to conquer them is one of the best ways to overcome complacency.
If you get complacent in long term recovery then you run the risk of relapse. Too lazy, too comfortable, not being honest with yourself. These are the warning signs of complacency.
You can overcome all of these through a simple process. You can meditate and figure out what is coming up, what is bubbling up for you, what are your current fears and anxieties in life.
Then you might need to ask for help in order to deal with these things. Or maybe you know what to do and it just a matter of doing it yourself. Perhaps writing in a journal or writing in the steps will bring some resolution. Or maybe you need to talk with others in recovery about a specific issue in order to get relief from it.
This is the hard work in recovery that no one wants to do because it makes them uncomfortable. If you don’t do it though you will never be completely happy and free in recovery because your fears and anxieties will continue to plague you.
The happiest life in recovery is the blank slate where you are free to be happy and content and joyful. Not because you got everything that you wanted in the world, but because you faced all of your inner demons and you conquered them all. You faced your fears and walked through them and you lived to fight another day. This is how you defeat the ego. You must first make yourself vulnerable, you must first make yourself open to change and feedback and criticism and advice. It’s not comfortable and your ego hates this path of growth!
What about you, have you been able to overcome your ego and get sober? What about in your recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!