What does it really mean to find the “essential you” in sobriety? What does it mean to find yourself?
When it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction, most of us who have been struggling with substance abuse have been running away and hiding from our “true selves” for a long time now.
In early recovery, you go through the process of reconnecting with your true self and discovering who you really are in life.
When I was stuck in my own addiction and alcoholic binge drinking, I came to define myself based on the fact that I used drugs and alcohol very heavily. I defined myself as a “party person” and someone who loved to live it up, get loaded, have fun, and so on. That was the image that I held in my own mind, the happy go lucky party animal who was always excited to drink, to experiment with drugs, or whatever the case may be.
That image that I kept in my mind wasn’t even all that accurate–at the end of my time with drugs and alcohol, I was often isolating and miserable rather than being any kind of party person. I was the opposite of a party, I had become a recluse because I drank and used drugs so heavily that it was anti social. So I started to isolate and keep to myself rather than to risk offending people by getting so intoxicated around them.
That wasn’t the real “me.” I wasn’t born to just get drunk as possible all the time, and that is not what anyone aspires to in life. I wanted more for myself but when I was stuck in addiction I had no idea what that would possibly look like. My only real fantasy when I was stuck in addiction was to have plenty of money and free time so that I could just sit around and self medicate all day. Again, that is not something that anyone should really aspire to become, but that was what my addiction was driving me to desire.
So when I finally got clean and sober I felt like the hole in the doughnut–I did not know where I fit in or what I had really become. People told me that it would take me some time to really “find myself” in my recovery journey, and they were right. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time, but that did not make it untrue.
When you enter recovery your whole world changes. They have a saying in recovery programs that “the only thing that you have to change is everything.” This is true in the sense that your entire identity was wrapped up in your drug of choice, so when you walk away from that substance you no longer know how to self identify. Suddenly you become like the hole in the doughnut, just drifting through early recovery without really knowing what you are, what you stand for, or even what you like to do for fun and entertainment (because you used to just get drunk or high for that!).
So the process of self discovery begins, quite often, at an inpatient treatment center. Now it should be noted that you are not generally going to feel as if you are in the process of self discovery when you have 2 weeks sober and you are struggling to find a path in recovery.
This is one of the paradoxes of early recovery: that while you are making tremendous amounts of personal growth and self improvement, you are going to feel as if you are flailing, out of sorts, and generally not “joyful.” But one day you will eventually look back at your time in early recovery and realize that you were, in fact, “right where you needed to be” at the time.
No one wants to hear that, though. You tell the newcomer to keep up the hard work, to keep taking advice and to continue to strive for self improvement, and you tell them that they are making progress and that they are “right where they need to be,” and they get annoyed with this. Because they are working hard, they are struggling, and they are going through the growing pains of early recovery, and it is difficult, it is uncomfortable, and it is hard work. So they don’t have the perspective that you might have, they don’t realize that things are about to turn around for them, they don’t quite see the light just yet.
But just because it is annoying to be going through this process of self discovery, that does not mean that it is not a necessity. Everyone who succeeds in recovery has to pay their dues, they all have to go through this process of personal growth, they all have to adjust to life in sobriety and figure out how to live a “normal” life in recovery.
Through that process you are going to figure out who the real “you” is, because now you no longer have the escape of addiction. Your substance abuse can no longer shield you from the world, nor can it cover up who you really are any longer. It is just you and your soul, laid bare for the whole world to see. So you begin to discover that you have thoughts, dreams, opinions–things that you used to gloss over because all you really cared about in the past was getting drunk or high.
In recovery, the little things start to matter again, because suddenly you are able to pay attention, you are able to remember, and you are able to become a responsible adult again. So you start to care, and that sort of begs the question: What is it that you care about now that you are clean and sober? Because during your first week or two of sobriety, the answer to that is probably not going to be super obvious just yet. What you care about and what you want to focus on is part of a journey of self discovery, and you will need to be open to new possibilities and have a certain amount of willingness in order to find out what those things are.
My best advice to the newcomer in recovery is to take a huge step back and realize that they do not have all of the answers right now, but that more will be revealed shortly. Therefore the best thing they can do is to find people in recovery that they trust and to start taking advice and direction from those people. This would include treatment professionals, therapists, sponsors in AA or NA, and trusted peers from recovery groups. If you want to make serious progress in terms of personal growth then the “shortcut” to this is to stop making mistakes and start taking advice. That way you bypass all of the mistakes that others have already made in the past, and their advice and direction for you will naturally bypass all of those old mistakes.
Of course it isn’t very exciting to live this way, but if you can stay the course and put your head down and just follow the advice you are given, then your life will get a whole lot better in a very short period of time. This is how you find the real “you,” in recovery–by doing the hard work and persisting in the face of temptation. It does get better! Good luck.