Recovering Your Former Self in Addiction Treatment

Recovering Your Former Self in Addiction Treatment


The idea of “recovery” is that you are actually recovering the person that you were before drugs or alcohol ravaged your life and screwed everything up.

So what really happens is a bit more complicated than that. When you recover from an addiction, what you are really doing is taking an inventory of the good parts of yourself, and the bad parts of yourself, and then making a deliberate effort to recover your positive assets while fixing or eliminating the negative traits.

For example, when I got clean and sober I realized that one of the things that I liked to do in my mind was to try to position myself in the victim role if I possibly could, in any given situation. Why did I do this? It was a defensive mechanism and a way to shirk responsibility. And I realized that my brain had been operating that way even before I had become addicted to drugs and alcohol. It was just how I was wired; how my brain worked.

So in recovery I had to identify that tendency. I had to first recognize that my mind was prone to playing this victim role, and then I had to figure out a plan to eliminate it.

I can remember being in early recovery and realizing that my brain was still making up excuses and reasons as to why I deserved to drink alcohol or take drugs. And yet there I was, in a rehab center, trying my best to overcome my addiction. I had made a decision, but my brain was obviously not “fully on board” with that decision yet. What was going on, and I was I supposed to fix it?

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Part of fixing your thought process in recovery is about recovering your former self. Getting back to healthy living will help you to get aligned with healthy thoughts again. They have discovered that you cannot really fix your thought processes just from willing them to change, but you instead have to make a commitment to change your behavior first, and then the thought process will follow behind that.

In other words, take advice and start living right in early recovery, and eventually your brain will catch up with these changes and reflect your new values.

When I got clean and sober I sometimes wondered: “What am I supposed to do for fun now that I don’t drink or take drugs?” And the answer from a lot of people was “Go explore the things that you used to do for fun before your addiction started.” So I went back and I looked at things like art, gaming, literature, and writing. I explored some of those things, slowly at first, and I realized that some of those interests were beginning to spark something in me again. Note that this did not happen overnight–it took some time for my brain to wake up again and start firing those old connections with various interests. In other words, when you first get clean and sober, your brain is still going to be operating as if your drug of choice is the only thing that makes it happy. You have to be willing to give it some time for those old interests to rekindle.

Many people can look back at their life and remember a period of time when they were in better physical shape than they are when they first get clean and sober. In my experience, one of the most important things that you can do during your sobriety journey is to reclaim that level of fitness and physical health.

Think of your recovery as being physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. At various points in your life you have been up or down at various points within those different categories. And at one point in your life you were in the best shape of your life when it came to fitness and physical health.

I am contending that one of your responsibilities to yourself in recovery is to take care of your physical body. That means that you need to “recover” that previous level of fitness. This is important on several different levels, and I have watched many of my peers in recovery who neglected this principle end up getting sick and potentially relapsing as a result of their poor physical health.

So eating healthier, getting a good night sleep, quitting cigarettes, and physical exercise–all of those things need to become a priority for you in your recovery journey at some point. When you have 30 days sober you do not need to tackle all of those at once–that could be overwhelming and even backfire on you. But you do need to make your physical health and fitness a priority. Failure to do so will eventually become a sobriety risk.

Relationships are another area where you may need to do some work in order to restore the peace. The 12 steps of AA obviously speak to this concept, and you may need to give yourself enough time to heal in early recovery before you can attempt to patch up these relationships. And sometimes the way to “recover” these old relationships is to redefine it through your sobriety itself, which is going to take some time. It takes time for people to trust you again in recovery, because most of us vowed to quit many times before we actually did. So in some cases you have to be very patient before you can get what you want in terms of restoring these connections in your life.

Spiritually your journey in recovery should lead you to place that is beyond what has existed for you in the past. All of us who become addicted to substances drift away from whatever higher power we may have had in our lives. Everyone who lands in recovery at the moment of surrender is basically spiritually drained and is fighting an uphill battle. So the journey in early recovery is very spiritual because you are operating from a place of faith and hope–hope that you can somehow live a normal life again one day in spite of your addiction. And so you slowly rebuild your spiritual foundation from this point of absolute surrender, and eventually your connection to the spiritual realm is fully restored and even exceeded where it once was.

If you ask any addict or alcoholic in AA what their spirituality is like today compared to pre-addiction, they will almost universally tell you that they are more spiritually connected in addiction recovery than they ever were before they started drinking or taking drugs. In other words, because they went through this struggle of addiction their connection today is deeper and more meaningful than it ever was in the past.

Recovering your former self takes time and patience, and if you are willing to put in the work and take some advice then you can restore the absolute best parts of your personality while correcting and “fixing” the negative aspects. Good luck!

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