Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey that involves different paths for each person, but there is one commonality everyone in recovery must go through: the process of self-identity. Addiction consumes a person’s thoughts, time, finances and more, with no room for self-exploration. The activities that a person once used to enjoy slowly become replaced with pastimes of substance use and relationships built with quality time often become withered as the addiction’s demands continue to be ever-more increasing.
What is self-identity? The Handbook of Self and Identity states, “Making sense of oneself – who one is, was and may become and therefore the path one should take in the world – is a core self-project.”
Recovery often involves a lot of reflection as a person is now facing a new and very different reality from what they’re used to. It’s a time of change, a time of processing and a time to make better sense of what has happened, what is happening and what might happen to them in the future. It’s safe to say that there no definitive “concept” of who you are, because you’re always growing and changing. As life evolves, so do you – and you learn more about yourself along the way.
According to a 2015 study published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory, even moving from an identity involving addiction to a new identity of recovery and sobriety can take time. Different characteristics take place within these realms and not just within the individual, but also within society as their new social role changes.
With that being said, there are a few steps you can take as you process your experiences. We’ll take a look at each of these.
Steps to Moving Forward
It’s often the first and foremost difficult aspect of recovery, but awareness is what serves as a catalyst for change. If you are aware of something, you can take additional steps if it’s needed – if not, you can continue on the path you’re currently on. For example, you may have reached recovery because you gained an awareness that addiction was negatively affecting your health, happiness and life. Perhaps friends and family helped you gain this awareness or maybe it was a major event that sparked it. The best way to make appropriate changes in your life is to stay aware – because then you’re able to learn and grow from it.
- Creating a Sense of Community
As we’ve opened ourselves up to awareness and accepting what new information we can learn from ourselves and others, we can start to cultivate meaningful relationships that reinforce the identity we’re connecting with. For those in recovery, a clear indicator of this is to spend time with others who are in recovery or with alumni who have maintained their recovery for many years. Many people find that these connections make them feel like “home” – and that’s where social identity really strengthens.
The process of connecting with yourself and with others is largely based on exploration; it’s these new experiences that we find ourselves sparked with a new understanding, a new idea and a new awareness of what life means to us. Throughout your recovery, continue to push your boundaries by trying different hobbies, practicing different mental health tools you’re learning in therapy, allowing yourself to move forward with opportunities that are good for you and more. It’s when we place ourselves in seclusion that we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow.
- Strengthen Your Spirituality
Spirituality doesn’t have to mean following a religion – it could mean simply giving back to others and practicing kindness each and every day. Spirituality and religion are emphasized in 12-Step programs because it’s found that people’s happiness potential increases when hope, faith and goodwill are present. Dr. Ernie Kurtz, author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, explained the intersectionality of spirituality and addiction recovery as this: “The earliest A.A. members, then, discovered that some kind of spirituality – some kind of sense of the reality of some ‘beyond’ – was essential to their sobriety but that another aspect of that same spirituality was acceptance that they did not have all the answers…”
Recovery is Subjective
Of course, each person’s path is different and there are certainly many other facets of recovery that can be considered. A review published in the journal Drugs: Education Prevention and Policy highlighted 76 total concepts that many doctors, therapists and healthcare team members associate with recovery. Some of the top aspects listed were: reduced drug use, practicing relapse prevention, accessing treatment, engaging in private therapy, having good mental health and more.
Over time, you’ll be able to find what recovery really means to you – and that will become one component of your identity. As humans, we’re made up of so many different pieces. While recovery might seem like a major part of your identity right now, you need to remember the most important one of all – that you’re human.
Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.
Call us today at 1-800-646-9998 to take the next step towards your happiness and health.