How do you discover the real “you” in recovery from addiction? How do you go from being trapped in a cycle of abuse to living the kind of life that gives you peace, joy, and contentment?
How do you reinvent yourself in recovery?
Like anything else, this reinvention of yourself is a process. The process takes place over time, it does not happen in a week or even a month. At the very least it takes a full year or two for you to rediscover who you really are in recovery.
Let’s see what that process of self discovery entails.
Your baseline for change in recovery
Before you can discover who you really are you have to stop the bleeding. If you are still taking drugs or alcohol then you are masking the truth and you will never really make any progress. Actually this is not true, which is what makes it so tricky and deceptive, because you actually CAN make some progress while you are still using drugs and alcohol. But therein lies the trap—it is always two steps forward and then three steps back. You will always backslide if you are still abusing drugs and alcohol.
Someone in denial can cling to the “wins” that they experience in recovery and ignore all of the setbacks. Or they make excuses for their addiction or their drinking and only focus on the good things that happen in their life. Thus they minimize their addiction and rationalize away the negative consequences. Over time their life just gets worse and worse due to their drinking, yet they continue to make excuses for their addiction. They cling to the idea that drinking or drugging is the only path to happiness for them.
So in order to rediscover who you really are you have to shed the drugs and the alcohol completely. Total abstinence. If you struggle with this in any way then I highly recommend that you go to an inpatient rehab center. I would suggest a 28 day program. Having been in rehab 3 times in my life, I can say that 28 days is enough to give you a fighting chance against your addiction.
If you go to rehab and you stay for 28 days then you will walk out of treatment with a decision to make. Your sobriety is well within reach at this point. Sure, you could easily relapse as many people do. But you also have an opportunity to continue on in sobriety and to start “doing the work.”
When I talk about “doing the work” what I really mean is:
1) After you leave rehab there is a whole lot of action that you must take if you are to remain clean and sober for the rest of your life (or even for, say, another year).
2) “Doing the work” refers to the process of discovering who you really are as a person when you strip away the drugs and the alcohol. It takes effort to make these discoveries and to uncover the real you.
Your baseline for success in recovery is total abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances. You have to quit the drugs and the alcohol, period. In order to build a new life you have to start from this as your baseline. Abstinence must be the foundation of your new life.
When I got clean and sober my number one priority in life was to NOT drink or use drugs. Period.
Many people suggested that other things were actually more important in life, things such as your higher power for example. I never fell for this switch. The most important thing in my life is to not use drugs or alcohol. Period. This is my number one priority. This comes before everything else.
If you want to rediscover who you really are and build a new life in recovery then this should be your number one priority as well. Total abstinence.
How to change your life by taking suggestions from other people
Now you are probably thinking that in order to rediscover yourself that you have to take control, that you have to jump in the driver’s seat, that you have to ignore other people and go on this great quest to find yourself.
Partially correct. The part that you may not realize though is that you need other people in order to really do this correctly.
Why do you need other people? Simple. You need them to inspire you. You need their wisdom. You need their suggestions because they become a shortcut to taking action.
There are two things that could happen in your recovery:
1) You think about what you need to do to build a new life.
2) You do it.
Believe it or not, the first thing (thinking) just gets in the way. It is, in fact, a big waste of time.
Here is what I mean by that:
Assume person A and person B in recovery.
Person A figures that he has to figure it all out on his own. He has to figure out recovery by himself. He has to make all the decisions. He considers everything very carefully.
Person B asks for advice and suggestions from other people in recovery. He doesn’t think much for himself really. He simply asks for direction and then he takes action.
Which person do you think is going to be more effective in recovery? Which person do you think will have a better outcome?
I can tell you right now based on my experience that person B will do much better. The person who asks for advice and then takes the suggestions and acts on them will do great. The person who tries to figure it all out for themselves is going to be ineffective.
It is not that you cannot think your way through recovery. You actually could. But the problem is that you don’t really have the energy to do both. You have to think AND act. Recovery is all about action. You can’t just think about the stuff, you have to actually do it and make changes in your life. You don’t have the energy to do it all. Your ego will get in the way and screw it all up.
If you are doing your own thinking then your ego is too heavily involved. This will never work. You have to remove the ego from the process. You have to get out of your own way. Remove the ego and simply take advice from other people instead. Then, act. Take action based on what they tell you to do. Your life will get better and better.
You may think:
“But wait! If I just keep taking advice from other people, won’t I be living my life for others? How do I discover the real me if I am taking suggestions from others rather than following my own dreams?”
This is a trap. I am telling you right now that you have to make a leap of faith. Kill your ego. Push it to the side. Take advice from other people and tell yourself that you are not going to make any real decisions for at least one year. Only listen to the advice of others.
You think this will make you into a non-person? That was my fear. But it’s not true. You have nothing to be afraid of.
Instead of becoming a non-person I became a much better person. And my life got better and better. In fact, my life got a whole lot better very quickly. It was amazing. And I felt like I could not take credit for it, because I had effectively removed my ego from the equation and only took the advice of others.
In the end you are still in control of yourself, and of your life. But you are playing a trick on your ego. You are pushing your ego to the side and convincing yourself that you are not in the driver’s seat. This is critical. You must do this if you want to experience rapid growth in early recovery. Get out of your own way. Allow yourself to be directed by the suggestions of others.
Don’t worry about what is right or wrong. Don’t think “they told me to meditate, but should I really be meditating? Maybe I should be praying and also exercising rather than meditating!” This is your ego trying to make you worry. Just go with the flow. Take suggestions and then take action. You will figure out later if the meditation is beneficial or not. Right now you just need to try things. You need to experiment. And you cannot rely on your own ideas for this, because your own ideas will potentially get your drunk or high again.
Early recovery is a time when self sabotage is very likely. Your best ideas can screw you up and get your drunk in a hurry. So avoid this possibility by ignoring your own ideas. All of them. Ignore your ideas. Kill your ego. You don’t need your ego during the first year of your recovery. It just gets in the way.
The only thing your ego can do for you in your first year of recovery is to convince you to relapse. Ignore it.
The way to ignore it is to listen to the advice of other people. People in AA meetings, your sponsor, your therapist, your counselor, the people at rehab. Listen to those people. Take their suggestions. Do what they tell you to do. It’s boring but it will transform your life.
1) Go to rehab. Detox. Abstinence is your baseline. Get sober and clean.
2) Kill your ego for one year. Don’t make any decisions for yourself. Only take advice from others.
After that, our next step is to put your new life into motion.
We do this by taking action.
Why you need to take massive action after leaving rehab
Biggest mistake people make after leaving inpatient rehab?
They do nothing.
They fail to act.
You don’t want to do this. You want to do the exact opposite of this mistake.
Instead of doing nothing, you want to do something. In fact, you want to do a whole lot of something.
I call this taking “massive action.”
Of course I am talking about positive actions that can help you recovery.
Things like going to meetings every day, using a sponsor and working closely with that person, reading recovery literature and implementing the ideas, living in long term rehab, going to therapy, and so on.
Actually if you want to take massive action then you need to do all of those things. Or at least more than one thing. It takes a massive effort.
One way to think about it is this. Imagine that you are dedicating your entire life to recovery. Everything in your life is going to revolve around recovery. Everything in your life is dedicated to helping you to stay clean and sober. Do this for one full year.
The one year suggestion is somewhat arbitrary, but it is still very helpful in my experience. For example, I told myself that I was going to kill my ego for one full year. I also made an agreement with myself that I would not engage in any self pity for one full year. After a full year you lose track of time and you just adopt this stuff as permanent habit. So don’t worry about the one year thing. Really we are just trying to fool ourselves into making a permanent change.
So you go to rehab. You get detoxed. You make a decision that you want to change your life.
Then you start listening. You take suggestions. You agree to get out of your own way for at least a year, and take advice from others.
You walk out of rehab and….what?
Now is the time to act. You need to follow through. This is what it all comes down to. It’s game time.
In order to do well in recovery you have to put the ideas into motion. You must take action. Everything that has been suggested to you is real advice. It is time to start taking it.
Go to meetings. Go see a therapist or a counselor. Go to your outpatient rehab. Go to long term treatment. Go take action. Go take new suggestions and experiment with new ideas. Build a new life for yourself, one suggestion at a time.
Ignore your own ideas and simply test what is already working well for other people. Find successful people in recovery from addiction and model what they are doing. If you don’t know their secrets, ask them. They will tell you. People in recovery love to tell you what works and what does not. They love to share information that might help someone. This is especially true if they happen to be at an AA meeting.
Every day you wake up. Ask yourself: “What am I going to do today in order to stay clean and sober?” Every day you need to have an answer for that. In early recovery you should have several answers for that. Take massive action. Do stuff. If you don’t know what to do, then start modeling people in recovery. Find the success stories and then mimic them. You will get similar results.
Do not worry that you are not expressing yourself, or that you are not finding out who you really are by mimicking others. This is a lie. You are rediscovering yourself by modeling others, because you will eventually adopt certain ideas while discarding others. You are actually figuring out what works for you in recovery. But it is a process. And you have to go with the flow for a while. You have to take suggestions and put them into action and then test them out for yourself.
And you have to trust that this process will work in the end. Because when you first start out it either doesn’t work, or it works extremely slowly. So you don’t see results on the first day. But if you are consistent then by the end of one year your life will transform and you will be filled with joy. Seriously.
How to change everything
In order to change everything you must kill your ego. Because if you keep your ego intact during this process of change then in the end you will probably find that nothing has really changed at all. You will have fooled yourself.
Think back to when you tried to quit drinking or using drugs on your own, and you failed at it. Yet at the time you told yourself that by cutting down a little you were “changing.” This is the kind of results you will get if you fail to push your ego out of the way completely.
They have a saying in traditional recovery, that the only thing you have to change is everything. What they are getting at is the idea of changing from the inside out. You don’t actually change every single thing in your life. My toothbrush stayed the same, for example. So did my sneakers. But what changed was on the inside, I changed because I killed my ego and I started to listen to other people and their advice. Thus my personality slowly changed for the better.
When I was stuck in denial I was terrified of this. I told people that I would never quit drinking because I did not want my personality to be changed. I told myself that I liked who I was at the time, and I did not want to be brainwashed in recovery. Well, the joke was on me.
In recovery I changed for the better. Why could I not see that, or believe it, when I was stuck in denial? Why did I have to be so stubborn to believe that sobriety would somehow turn me into a robot? These were foolish worries that kept me drunk. They were unfounded fears.
If you want to rediscover the real you then you must take a leap of faith. First, erase the real you. Do this by killing your ego. You can effectively kill your ego by saying to yourself: “OK, I am screwed up. I am a miserable alcoholic or drug addict and I want to change my life. I cannot figure out how to change on my own so I am going to ask for help. I am going to ask for help, go to treatment, and then take suggestions from other people. I will get out of my own way and I will take massive action according to the suggestions of other people. I will commit to this for at least one full year and see if I like the changes that occur.”
If you can commit to that sort of plan then you will change everything. Your whole life will change within a year’s time. Not only on the inside but also on the outside. Everything will change and things will improve dramatically.
A strategy of personal growth
The “real you” wants to improve their life.
The real you wants to engage in personal growth.
This is who you were meant to be. And you can discover that path if you are willing to take the hard steps in this article—that of killing your ego and taking suggestions from other people.
It’s a simple path but that does not mean that it is easy to pull it off. In fact it is probably the biggest challenge that you have ever faced in your life before. But because of that it is likely also the greatest reward you have ever received.