When you are stuck in addiction or alcoholism, you have a very distorted relationship with yourself. This is because you are essentially self destructing due to your addiction while trying to convince yourself that this is somehow OK. So you lie to yourself. You say things to yourself such as “If other people had my problems, they would drink too.”
This is known as denial.
Of course when you finally get clean and sober, breaking through this denial is a massive part of the total transformation. And perhaps more importantly, getting past your denial is a necessary part of the transformation.
In other words, it is fundamental to recovery. Everyone who sustains sobriety and transforms their life has to go through this process, the process of working through their denial. Of realizing that what they have been doing in their active addiction is no longer working for them, and that there has to be a better way.
Breaking through your denial and facing the person that you have become in your addiction is a necessary first step
I never understood denial fully when I was stuck in addiction.
I was confused. No one could explain it to me like I am about to explain it to you.
Here is what I learned:
There are two parts to denial for the alcoholic.
The first part is obvious. You are probably well aware of this phase of denial. The alcoholic declares: “I don’t really have a problem, because (blah blah blah).”
It is outright denial. I think everyone understands this.
But there is a second part of denial that is much more subtle. And that part, for me anyway, was something along these lines:
“I know I am a hopeless alcoholic but AA will never work for me and I have tried the meetings and I went to two rehabs and nothing works so there is no solution out there for me so I may as well just drink and try to get a tiny bit of happiness out of the buzz.”
That is denial as well. It is much more insidious, because obviously I am admitting that I am a hopeless alcoholic.
But that’s the lie right there–that there is no hope.
Of course there is hope. Stop kidding yourself.
Do you really think that you are the only person who has ever loved to get drunk?
Do you really think your alcoholism and the things that drive you to drink are so special or unique?
I mean, don’t get me wrong….we all have our own unique set of problems.
But ANY alcoholic can sober up and transform their life if they do the required work in recovery. Anyone can achieve success in recovery by surrendering and putting forth a real effort.
But before any alcoholic or drug addict can do this transforming work in their lives they have to first get honest with themselves. Really honest.
And that is scary and uncomfortable. No one wants to see the real truth.
When I first got sober the nurses in the detox I was staying at told me to really look at my body the next time I was about to step into the shower. They told me to look in the mirror. And when I did this I started to cry because I was such a beat up mess of a kid (at 25 years old). I had bruises all over my body. I was thin and sickly looking. I had no defined muscles at all. Just sad and pathetic.
And I didn’t even know this. I had been in denial for so long that I was not even really aware of my physical body. Just sad.
So that was part of my process (though at that point I had pretty much already broken through my denial completely, and was in treatment). I had to get honest with myself about what I had become, about the person I had turned into. I had to get real with myself about what my addiction had really done to me. No more making excuses for alcohol and marijuana. No more trying to convince myself and others that they were mostly harmless and all of that other B.S. That was just a story that I told myself so that I felt better about the abuse I was doing to myself. That story that we tell ourselves in the midst of our addiction is a lie. That lie is called denial. In order to get well again we have to stop telling ourselves lies, and we have to really look and find out what the truth is.
No one wants to do this when their life is a train wreck, when they have lost jobs, ruined relationships, hurt their families, and so on. No one wants to get this honest with themselves, in the light of day, all at once….so suddenly, when reality hits and they are no longer drinking, no longer able to medicate away the uncomfortable feelings. No one wants to face that cold, hard reality.
But this is the path to sobriety. You gotta walk through the fear, face the pain, find out who the real YOU is inside.
And in the end you will find out that it was never as bad as you thought. Because as you sober up, you will start to see the good as well. And you will gain real humility, and realize that your life has value after all. This is how you start to rebuild your self esteem in early recovery. It all starts with breaking through your denial, seeing the truth, and deciding to get help.
One of the building blocks of successful recovery is self honesty
They say that three of the most important principles in addiction recovery are “honesty, open mindedness, and willingness.”
If you take a really close look at how these three things work together, you will realize that they are inseparable. In fact, they are almost all the same exact principle in some ways. They are so closely intertwined that you often cannot have one without the others.
So you have to get honest with yourself. This is a complete transformation from the way that you probably were in your addiction.
Because it is not rational to slowly kill yourself with drugs and alcohol. That is irrational behavior. And your mind has to somehow make it be OK with you. So it makes excuses and it lies to you.
When you first get clean and sober, your mind may still be in gear to make up random crap and lie to you about it. Why wouldn’t it be prone to do this? Your brain has been doing that for years, just to keep your ego protected from the truth. The truth being that you hate the person you have become and you are more comfortable when you are totally medicated and off in la-la land.
As you remain sober, self honesty becomes even more important to the sobriety journey. This is because you have to do some serious work in order to avoid relapse in the long run.
Essentially what has to happen is that you have to figure out what all of the negative stuff is in your life, and then come up with a plan to eliminate it.
Maybe you are in a particularly nasty and toxic relationship with a significant other. And of course there may be some denial about this because it is comfortable, at least you are not alone, and even though you may be miserable or drained emotionally from this relationship at least it is familiar, at least it is comfortable, at least it is known. If you broke away then you would be alone, single, it would be new, unknown, completely scary. No one really wants to face those fears. It is much easier to stay in the chaos and the madness.
That is complacency though. You are living in denial, too comfortable to face the truth and take action in regards to your situation. It is a bit like ripping off a band aid. You try to do it slowly, and the pain is excruciating. But if you were to get honest with yourself and realize that you are unhappy and just sever all ties immediately, you would then be on a path of healing. You might be in great pain and despair for a short while, but at least you would be healing again.
That is just one example, that of being in a toxic relationship. There are many other examples of things like this in your life when you are on a journey in sobriety. I suffered from self pity when I first got sober, and I had to figure out:
A) What the problem was (self pity).
B) How it was affecting my sobriety (I used it to justify relapse).
C) How to get help (ask people how to deal with self pity, how to eliminate it).
D) Gather information and make a plan (raise my awareness of the problem).
E) Execute the plan (redirect my mind, use gratitude as a daily tool, etc.).
So I had to get honest with myself in order to go through this process. Heck, if you are not truly honest with yourself then you can’t even acknowledge that there is any sort of problem to begin with. So self honesty is a huge key to sobriety, and it is vital to the process of personal growth that helps to keep people sober.
Realizing that your ego is almost always working against you
One of the most important things that you can do in recovery is to realize how your ego is almost constantly working against you.
You have to learn to identify the ego and recognize that is stamping its feet like a little baby, just trying to get its way. And often times you cannot give in to it or you are going to regret it.
If you meditate you can start to get a feeling for how the ego really works. And if you meditate a bit every day then over time you will have this realization about your ego and about your mind. There is this voice in your head that chatters away and never really stops, it never slows down. And as you meditate you start to realize that there are sometimes these gaps in between the thoughts. And you start to explore that presence that is behind the thoughts, that thing inside of you that lies beyond the mind, that watches the mind. The thing that is watching your thoughts. That thing is the real you, and it lies beyond the ego.
The ego is the one that is doing all of the chatter. But that is not the real you. And if you practice meditation for long enough then one day you will experience anger, and as you are living through that moment you will suddenly realize that the anger is not really you either, it is just coming from the chatter of the mind, from the ego, from the ceaseless voice inside of your head. And you can step back from that and realize that you don’t have to run with that anger, it is just your ego, and you can sort of ignore it if you want to. You can rise above that emotion and take control back, because you have watched your mind enough during meditation to know that the real “you” lies somewhere beyond the thoughts.
This is a pretty amazing transformation but it requires some real effort to get there. It takes discipline to meditate every day for several weeks or months on end. But if you do the work then you can get these sort of results and that part of your life will also be transformed.
Transforming the self through elimination, so that you can find the real you that is left behind
Another way to transform your life in recovery is to eliminate the negative.
I was afraid that if I did this work through the 12 steps of AA that I would become like the hole in a donut. I was afraid that I would become a non-person, that I would lose all personality. Because the idea was to identify my character defects and then work to eliminate them. What would be left of me? Weren’t some of those defects and quirks a part of what made me into….me?
Well, the truth is that those fears were unfounded. Because when you finally surrender and do this sort of work (either using the 12 steps or just pursuing personal growth) you will transform your life in a way that you never could have predicted.
Repeat: You cannot possibly anticipate what your life will be like after doing this sort of work in recovery. If you work the steps or if you strive for personal growth and you improve your life continuously then your entire world will transform in a relatively short period of time. It is going to blow you away. Period.
Now this assumes that you actually do the work, that you follow through, that you are consistent and pushing yourself hard to actually become a better person.
What will happen is that in as little as about three to six months you will eliminate all sorts of negative characteristics about yourself and what will be left will be this amazing and exciting person in sobriety. What is left behind, everything that remains after you do this work, is a blank slate that can then become the person that you were meant to be all along. And that person is amazing.
I started doing this work and it was a real transformation. I was able to get out of my own way and good things started to happen. My idea about what was important to me in life started to slowly change.
Please note: I did not believe that this would work. Even after I got through denial and I accepted a new solution in my life, I did not believe that doing this work (such as the 12 steps of AA) would actually transform my life. I was completely indifferent. I didn’t care much about anything or anyone. Because I honestly believed that I would be miserable forever if I was sober forever.
So I didn’t think it would work. But of course, as you can guess, it DID work. It worked really well. And I started to change slowly and all of a sudden I had a few months sober and I realized that I was going through each day without so much as a single thought about alcohol or drugs.
Repeat: Within less than a year of recovery I was already free from the obsessive thoughts about drinking and taking drugs. I was free.
That is amazing considering that it took less than a year, given how hopelessly addicted I was to begin with.
If you want to transform you relationship with yourself then you have to do some serious work.
That work amounts to:
* Identifying what is bad, negative, or wrong in your life. Both inside of your head, and in your external circumstances.
* Getting help from others as to how to both identify and fix these issues.
* Doing the work and taking real action in order to fix these negative things.
* Following through so that you don’t slide back into old behaviors.
That is how you do the work. You can do this both in the program of AA, as well as outside of it. Believe it or not, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot what recovery program you use. I would recommend that you accept one into your life as your new solution and follow it religiously for a few years. That is one way to transform your life and leave your addiction behind in the dust. It takes commitment, it takes real work, and you have to be honest with yourself. Actually somewhat simple to do, though of course it is never easy. If it were easy I could bottle it up and just sell it to you direct. But sobriety, unfortunately, takes real effort. The rewards are well worth it.
A whole new level of honesty and introspection
As I remain sober in long term sobriety I notice a whole new level of introspection.
I want to become a better person. I have already become honest with myself in many ways, on many levels.
But I have noticed even after 13 years of continuous sobriety that there is always another layer of self honesty to discover.
I have heard it described as “peeling an onion” when referring to these layers of honest in your life. You can always dig a little deeper, experience a little more discomfort, face a little more fear in finding out who and what you really are.
And that is always where the most growth lies. You have to go to the challenge, find the hard part, the thing you do not want to do, and then face it. Because that is where the growth is.
And that is how you prevent relapse. You keep growing, keep getting honest with yourself, keep reinventing yourself through constant change.
Your life is doing one of two things at any given moment:
1) Getting better, or
2) Getting worse.
If it gets worse for long enough, you drink again. Period.
Therefore the choice is clear: Make sure your life keeps getting better.
In order to do that, you are going to have to transform your relationship with yourself. So that you can get honest about where you are really headed, so that you can find your fears and face them, so that you can work through those uncomfortable moments.
All the things we don’t want to do! And yet they unlock our freedom…….
Has your relationship with yourself transformed in sobriety? How? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!