While giving up alcohol and drugs is the first step in combating addiction, ending the cycle of substance abuse involves much more. One of the main psychological problems that recovering addicts face is defined as an identity crisis. As an addict, addiction becomes a huge part of an individual’s identity. For years, an addict’s life revolves around the consumption of substances. As a result, their whole identity may be impacted.
When an addict gives up drugs and alcohol, they feel as if they have lost a part of themselves. In fact, it is common for recovering addicts to go through the grieving process in relation to their addiction. Due to this, it is vital for recovering addicts to learn to let go of their identity as an addict. Building a new identity may be one of the most difficult aspects of recovery, but it can be done.
The Addicted Identity
Typically, identity is built by our lifestyle choices as well as our values and morals. Once someone becomes afflicted by addiction, their whole life and identity will begin to revolve around just that. Therefore, causing a person to adopt the addicted identity, commonly unknowingly.
The addicted identity is centered around a few ideas, beliefs, and behaviors such as:
- Believing that sober people are dull.
- Drinking or getting high is a priority above all else.
- Nonconformity and criminal activity become a badge of respect.
- Addict-specific sense of humor – sometimes referred to as gallows humor.
- Willingness to use dishonesty as a way to get what they want.
- High tolerance for sexual promiscuity.
- The belief that substance abuse promotes creativity.
- Believing all achievements should be celebrated with substances.
- An “us against them” bond with other addicts.
- Distrust of addiction professionals and therapists.
- The belief that substances provide comfort during rough times.
How to Rediscover Your Identity
During early recovery, it is normal to become completely consumed by treatment, recovery fellowships, and the overall language and behaviors of addiction recovery. While this is not necessarily bad, it is important to find a balance between your recovery identity and your personal identity. At this point, you have moved on from the addiction stage of your life. However, you probably are still affected by the “addicted” identity. Because of this, you may feel as if you do not know who you truly are. In order to discover your true identity, there are a few steps you can take.
An individual’s identity typically stems from two things:
- Personal uniqueness
- Choice of social connections
What Makes you Unique?
All too often, people become consumed by the negative aspects of their personalities. This causes their identity to become something negative, such as the “addicted identity”. When considering what makes you personally unique, you should begin to look at the neutral or positive aspects of your personality.
Examples of personal uniqueness include, but are not limited to:
- Problem-solving abilities
- Talents or hobbies such as making art or playing sports
- Being empathetic
- Having a strong sense of spirituality
When discovering what makes you unique, you should come up with a list of things. Your identity should not be made up of one single skill. Rather a combination of skills, values, and personality traits that make you one-of-a-kind.
Choosing your Social Connections
Most of us have heard our parents say, “you are who you hang out with”. As cliche as this may be, it holds some truth. Any social group that we are involved with has the ability to shape our thoughts, actions, and beliefs. For example, social groups based on religion, career aspirations, political views, or common goals all play a part in creating your identity. Therefore, if you are a part of a social group that you are passionate about, that may be a good place to start when rebuilding your identity.
One good example of social connections shaping an individual’s identity is being a part of a recovery fellowship. Recovery fellowships like AA, NA, or SMART Recovery contain like-minded people with common goals and ideals. While this may make up a good portion of your identity, you should always make sure to tap into every aspect of your personality.
One common issue among recovering addicts is the belief that their identity is wrapped up in their actions, rather than how they feel about themselves and others. All too often, people believe that their identity is related to their daily responsibilities such as work or parenting. In order to truly know yourself, it is vital to look into what makes you an individual.
Additionally, many recovering addicts suffer from issues with self-esteem and worth. This is due to our complete neglect of self-care during active addiction. In order to truly learn about your identity and who you are as a person, you must begin to love yourself. For example, a good way to combat low self-esteem is to ask your loved ones how they truly see you. Often times, our loved ones are able to see us without the personal bias that we carry around. This will allow you to begin to notice the positive aspects of your personality.
When you begin to learn about your identity, you can then start to build upon that. The whole idea behind letting go of the addicted identity is to create a view of ourselves that we love and appreciate. Once you have identified the positive aspects of your personality and ideals, you can begin to highlight those things in other areas of your life. As a result, you will be able to fully enjoy the benefits of sobriety.