How do you go about “finding yourself” in addiction recovery? What does the process look like, and what steps does a struggling addict or alcoholic need to take in order to discover “their real self” again?
In my experience, the process begins with surrender. You have to let go of that person who you were in addiction completely. Just drop the old “you” and be ready to move into a brave new world of whatever recovery consists of.
The reason I say “a brave new world” is because it is going to take some courage in order to do this. There is no way for the alcoholic to know what recovery is really going to be like, and they have no idea if they will ever find happiness or peace or freedom in sobriety, and therefore it is going to be a bit scary for them to walk away from their drug of choice.
This is why people generally do not get into recovery unless they are at absolute rock bottom. It is not the pursuit of happiness that causes people to pursue recovery, but the avoidance of misery. You have to be so thoroughly sick and tired of your life, and of yourself, that you are willing to do just about anything in order to escape the misery that you are living in.
My biggest suggestion in this regard is that–once you reach the point of total and complete surrender–you should ask for help and go to inpatient treatment. This is the natural stepping stone to set yourself up for a life of success in recovery. Inpatient rehab may not be an absolute necessity from a technical standpoint, but in practical terms, you would be foolish to try to avoid rehab. It is the single best thing that you can do for yourself in terms of early sobriety, and you will begin the process of self discovery while you are in treatment with a group of your peers.
Now during this time when you are first checking into rehab and just getting off of the drugs or the alcohol, you are going to feel quite a range of emotional states. You may feel as if you are a bit lost, and that is perfectly normal for early recovery. Each day, if you stick it out, sobriety is going to become more and more comfortable for you. The initial transition is awkward and sometimes uncomfortable, and that is why you should be in the safety of rehab when you go through it.
The people at inpatient treatment will try to help you in several ways. One way is by educating you about how recovery works and what things you should be focusing on when you eventually leave treatment. Another thing that they will likely do is to introduce you to support systems such as AA or NA, outpatient therapy groups, and individual counseling sessions. You should definitely try to take advantage of any of those resources that you might be directed towards. You need all of the help that you can get in early recovery, and all of those things can be part of your recovery process as you journey towards “the new you.”
Now after you get through the short term residential rehab program you will be back out in the real world and probably going to meetings and aftercare. This is the time when you are really starting to define who you are and what your life is going to shape up to look like in recovery.
Do not be afraid to let other people dictate this to you at first. What I had to do was to let go of my own self will and make an agreement with myself. The agreement was essentially this: I agreed to ignore my own decisions for the foreseeable future, and instead to rely entirely on the suggestions of trusted people in recovery. I would live my life according to their recommendations rather than to “pursue my own happiness.”
Throughout my addiction I had done the opposite of this: I had ignored the advice I was given and I just drank and used drugs as much as I could in pursuit of my own pleasure. In the end that did not work out well for me, and it just created misery. So I had to flip the equation around and do the opposite: Ignore my own pleasure chasing and instead do what people told me to do.
Very quickly I could see that this new agreement that I made with myself was working. I can remember being amazed when I had just a month or two sober at how much happier I was already, and how following the advice of other people was working out so incredibly well for me. It was like finding a cheat code or a magic shortcut to happiness. All I had to do was to get out of my own way, do what people suggested to me, and my life kept getting better and better.
It was through this process of surrendering self will that I slowly began to discover myself.
Really I think that over the next year or so of my recovery I slowly began to take back small pieces of self will, figure out what I really wanted in life now that I was sober, and then I started executing on pursuing my own unique goals and desires.
This is how you “find yourself” in recovery: You figure out what you really want once you quit drinking and taking drugs, and then you have the sort of discipline and stability to be able to actually pursue your dreams.
But you cannot start with this dream chasing. If you do, you will fail and relapse.
Instead, you have to start out by going to rehab, going to AA, listening to a sponsor, and doing what you are told.
Why is this the case? So that you can learn the discipline that real recovery requires of you. You cannot chase your dreams until you have built a solid foundation.
So forget about your dreams for a while, just put everything on hold and focus on going to rehab, going to meetings, and digging into a recovery program.
The real “you” is not lost, and it never will be if you choose recovery. You just have to be willing to put your ambitions to the side for about a year while you work on the foundation of sobriety. If you try to move too fast and chase after your goals too quickly then you will probably end up drinking again.
This is why hitting bottom and humility is so important in early recovery. You need to be able to take a step back from your life and allow others to tell you how to live and what to do for a while. While this may seem like you are letting other people define you, what you are really doing is allowing other people to show you how to avoid your destructive nature. Once they have done this and you build the discipline and the stability to enjoy a clean and sober life of recovery, you will then be in a position to discover who you really are. Until you reach this point of stability, you are not going to be able to put together a happy life for yourself where you feel like you are able to truly be yourself.
Recovery is the process of self discovery. But the secret twist is that you have to completely abandon the “self” when you begin the journey, let go of the “old you” from addiction, and allow other people to shape and sculpt you during your early recovery process. Good luck!