Finding the real “you” in alcoholism recovery is a process. It is a journey.
I would say that it took me at least a few years to really “find myself.” At least to the level where I felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin.
Of course the journey continues to this day, years later. I am still discovering who I really am, uncovering deeper layers of understanding about myself, and so on.
This is because it is a process and not an event. You don’t wake up one day and declare yourself to be “recovered.” That would imply that there is no more growth to be had, no more improvement that you could possible make in yourself.
No, the real you is something that is continuously discovered and crafted over a lifetime. It is a journey of reinvention that never ends.
I believe that this is at least partially due to the random nature of life. As new things happen in your world you have to change and evolve. This is part of how we grow. There is an inner journey happening but there is also a set of external circumstances that influence your journey.
This is why the alcoholic who has ten years sober may have a very different daily practice than the person who has ten weeks sober. They may claim to “work the same program” but their daily routine is probably not identical. And that is OK. The point is that they both need to discover themselves in that moment, to find out what they need to do in order to move forward and maintain sobriety.
Discovering the real you is an exploration in self honesty.
Losing your identity in early recovery through surrender
I have to admit that I was terrified to get clean and sober.
I had wrapped up my personal identity in the drugs and the booze. I felt like self medicating was part of who I was.
I used some excuses like “Getting high and drunk makes me more social. I am more fun to be around when I am drinking. I am more outgoing.”
Those were some of the excuses that I told myself because I was afraid to get sober.
In reality, my addiction did not make me any better of a person, and in fact it made my personality quite a bit worse in some ways. But I could not see that through my denial.
Before I ever drank I was a naturally shy person, and getting drunk and high tended to bring me out of that shell. Of course sometimes it got pretty ugly and I was complete and total mess, but I clung to the false belief that “alcohol fixed me.” I thought that it cured my social anxiety. I foolishly believed that drinking every day was a net positive for my personality.
Everyone else who knew me in life could tell that I would be much better off sober, even if I was a little bit shy and quiet. But I could not see it for myself.
And so because I had been drinking for several years and I felt like alcohol was a part of my personality, I was afraid to let it go. I was afraid that if I got sober I would be like the hole in a donut. I was afraid of becoming a non-person. Wouldn’t I just be boring and sad if I got sober? This is what I really thought at the time. This was part of the fear that kept me stuck in my denial. I was afraid to face life sober.
And it is tough for a (somewhat) young person to get sober because you are essentially walking away from all of your drinking buddies.
My whole world was made up of people that I drank and got high with.
Think about that for a moment. I was 25 at the time and my entire life consisted of getting drunk and high with a bunch of friends.
And some people tried to convince me that these people that I got high with were not real friends, but I don’t buy that. It was darn hard to let go because some of those people really were my friends. Don’t discount that. It’s not fair! And it is not fair to do that to other people. You may drink or use drugs with these people, but that does not mean that they are not real friends. Sure, in some cases they might just be using you or hanging around out of convenience, but in other cases it is possible for drunks and drug addicts to form real friendships.
And that is tough.
Because the truth is that you have to walk away from those relationships. Whether they are “real friends” or whether they are just “worthless drinking buddies,” it is tough to walk away from those people and be totally alone.
But wait! they say. You are not totally alone. Because you can go to AA, you can go to treatment, you can meet new people in recovery and you can have all of these new friends who are sober now.
Well, yes and no. That is true that you will probably meet new people who are sober today. And you can rebuild your life and find healthier relationships. But it’s not necessarily easy for everyone to do that. This was one of the challenges that kept me in denial for so long. I am not one to run out and make quick friends because I am rather shy. So it was hard for me to do that. (This is ultimately why going to long term rehab worked so well for me. It automatically gave me a new set of friends and a new support system).
Early recovery is a bit like being shot out of a cannon. At least it was for me. I went to rehab, I never saw any of my drinking or drug buddies ever again, and I had to rebuild my life and all of my relationships from scratch. This was like being dumped into an icy cold lake while you are still asleep! It is quite a shock to the system. And it is a whole lot of fear and unknown to deal with all at once.
And I can remember going through this process, of checking into rehab, of meeting new people, and drifting away from my old relationships, and the feelings that came along with that. It was a whole mess of feelings all at once. And it was scary because I did not know what was going to happen each day. And I had no assurance that I would ever be happy again.
And that terrified me almost to death. At least with alcohol, even though I was miserable 99 percent of the time, I knew that it worked every once in a while. Sometimes I could have real fun while drinking. And that was something to hold on to, even though most of my addiction had turned to misery.
But in sobriety, there was nothing to grasp on to at first. There was no real hope. How would I ever be happy again? I had no faith. I had to hope that I would become happy. And that was very scary.
Building a new life in early sobriety by taking suggestions from others
So I was in treatment and I started to act and feel a little bit more like a normal human being. I went through detox and I started to eat healthy meals and I started to (try) to sleep on a regular basis. For what it is worth, my sleep was pretty sporadic and messed up for the first year or so of my sobriety. Later on it straightened out a whole bunch and got much better. But that took about a year or so if I remember right.
But I was in rehab and I was still pretty scared. I had no real confidence that I would stay sober for the long run. I did not know what to expect. But it felt different, because I had actually surrendered this time. That was new to me. In the past I was still using self will, trying to figure out how I could control my drinking, or what drugs I could successfully substitute for alcohol. That wasn’t real surrender. But this was different. This time I was serious. This time I really was ready to change, ready to listen.
So I started listening. I took suggestions. People told me what to do, and I did it.
Interesting. I did not believe that this would make me happy, mind you. I did not really believe it.
They told me that if I went through treatment and then went to meetings every day and started doing all of these things for my recovery that my life would get better and I would be happy.
I did not believe it.
I did not think that it would work for me.
I thought: “Well maybe it works for some other people but they are not like I am. They are different. So I might never be happy.”
But I had no real option other than to go with it. Actually I did have an option, my option was to go relapse and drink. Or I could stay in recovery and listen to what they told me to do and to try and follow through with it.
So I stayed, even though I did not think it would work. I was so afraid that I would be miserable forever. That was my big fear.
And slowly my life started to change.
Very slowly at first, my life started to get better.
I would notice that I had gone for several hours without thinking about how miserable I was supposed to be. You know, because I was depriving myself of alcohol and drugs.
And then later on in my recovery I even had a whole day where I never thought about drinking. I had been so happy and distracted all day long that I never thought of drinking.
That was a miracle.
This was somewhere around the six month point of my sobriety. Only six months! Today I have over 13 years sober. And it just keeps getting better and better.
I had falsely believed that the real me was someone who was always going to be craving alcohol.
Seriously, that was part of my identity. Or so I thought.
But it turned out that this was wrong. That part of me fell away after only six months in recovery. And it was replaced by someone who was happy to be on a journey of self discovery.
I can remember feeling excited about recovery, somewhere during that first year, because I was learning so many new things about myself each day. It was sort of like waking up and rediscovering life all over again. And it was fun.
And it still is fun. But in order to get to that point you have to make it through that initial detox, the surrender process, the hard part that is the start of every recovery journey.
It gets greater later. It really does.
Figuring out what works well for you in recovery and learning more about yourself in the process
What does it mean to reinvent yourself?
Change. It’s all about change.
Recovery is nothing if not change. You are trading in an old set of habits for a new set of habits.
This is a process of self discovery. You have to try new things. You have to be willing to listen to people and try their ideas and actually put them into practice.
When they suggested that I go to AA meetings, I was terrified of doing so. But I went anyway, because I felt like my only alternative was to drink.
When my sponsor suggested that I chair an NA meeting in a recovery center, I did that too, even though I was afraid to speak in front of others. I did that for 2 years straight, one night each week. It was definitely good for me. Though I never would have just done that on my own, unless someone had suggested it to me.
And so this is how the recovery process has worked for me. I had to take suggestions. Someone told me what to do, and I did it. And sometimes it worked out well and sometimes it did not. If it didn’t, then I just dropped the idea and moved on with my life.
One time a therapist suggested that I meditate every day. They taught me how to do seated meditation. They really encouraged it because it made such a big difference in their life as well.
So I tried it for a while. I meditated every day. Sometimes I did a few sessions each day. And it seemed to help a bit, but it never really clicked for me.
But then later I found another form of meditation. I took another suggestion and I started running long distances outside. This was, for my purposes, even better than meditation. It was a form of meditation.
So one suggestion worked while another one did not.
They have a saying in recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”
Exactly. But in order to do that, you have to sample a whole bunch of ideas. You have to test things out in your life and see if they work for you or not. And if they don’t, you just leave them there, and move on.
And so as you do this in your recovery, as you test new ideas out and keep the ones that work for you, you slowly realize that you are discovering who the real you is.
Self growth is driven through self honesty
In order to really engage with personal growth in long term recovery you have to get honest with yourself.
Most of us are fairly honest with ourselves. But all of us still have at least a tiny bit of denial in our lives.
When I first got sober I was still driven by a million different forms of fear and a whole lot of denial.
Since then I have slowly been uncovering the deeper truths about myself, like peeling back the layers of an onion. Finding out who I really am on the inside. And it can be scary because you may not always like what you find.
But the bonus here is that you can change it! You can change who you are, how you behave, what you believe about yourself. It is all negotiable.
And that is where “doing the work” comes into play in recovery.
I discovered early in my recovery journey that I was prone to self pity. I did not even realize this at first, that this was a game that my brain would play. It wanted to feel sorry for itself all the time.
And I realized that this was not helping me.
So I had to raise my level of awareness. I had to pay attention. I had to make a decision, and then decide to fix this problem.
And so I did the work. I became vigilant. I made a “zero tolerance policy” with myself in regards to self pity. It was no longer allowed.
Then I did the footwork. How was I going to maintain this new promise to myself? What did I need in order to pull this off?
I asked for help. I asked for feedback and advice. And I learned that I needed to practice gratitude. That was going to be a big part of my solution moving forward. I had to embrace gratitude in order to overcome my tendency towards self pity.
So this is how self honesty can lead to personal growth. In fact, without some degree of self honesty, there can be no growth at all. You have to get honest with yourself in order to move forward.
It is about elimination as much as it is about discovering new things
Who is the real you?
Is it things that you need to discover about yourself? Do you need to explore?
In some regards, what you need to do is the opposite.
Think of yourself as a blank slate. When you are at peace, when you are most like “the real you,” you are just a blank slate. Content. Peaceful. Happy. No problems or issues clouding your mind. That is the real you.
So how do you get there? Do you need to find something?
Rather, I believe that you have to eliminate.
If there is work to be done, then that work is necessary to create the blank slate in your life.
My mind is consumed with a million different forms of fear and anxiety. This was especially true when I first came into sobriety.
Each day it gets a little better, if I work at it. Each day I get closer and closer to achieving the blank slate.
What am I worried about today? What fears are driving me today? What is the source of my unhappiness?
I think doing the work in recovery means tackling those questions and eliminating things.
I eliminated my self pity. I got honest with myself and I tackled that problem and I eliminated it.
So my life became more peaceful. More content. I became happier. Closer to the blank slate.
If your mind is full of fear, anger, shame, guilt, anxiety, or any of that other negative garbage….then you won’t be happy.
Think about that.
Everything could be going perfect in your external world, but if your mind is consumed with negative thoughts, will you ever really be happy?
Therefore you must do the work. You must strive for the blank slate. Get back to peace and harmony and inner balance.
And that takes work. You may need to ask for help.
And then you take action, and you discover more of who you really are.
The real you. The blank slate.
What about you, have you discovered your true self in recovery? Are you still on that journey now, as I feel that I am? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!