A reality that nobody really talks about is the identity change that occurs when a person undergoes recovery from addiction. It’s a gradual process, but it happens – and for the better. As a person adopts a new social network and lifestyle, they begin to view themselves differently in comparison to who they used to spend their time with and what activities they used to engage in. Life begins to shift more towards a recovery/sobriety perspective, and this does change everything – but even if it’s a major change, it’s something that you should embrace, not fear.
A Change in Identity
Earlier this year, writer Seamus Kirst explained the agony that came with a shift in his identity from addiction to sober; he explained that several years ago, he knew that his drinking habits were unhealthy, but he didn’t really want to do anything about it. He stated on The Mighty, a website where individuals can share their stories of triumph:
“Radical change is an adrenaline rush. You’re initially thrilled as the new image of yourself that you’re going to create – and it dances around in your head. ‘I’m going to be the real me. I’m going to be the best me. I’m going to be stable. I’m going to be at peace. I’m going to be happy.’ But of course, nothing is ever that simple – happiness will never be the lowest hanging fruit.”
Recovery is often glorified as this mystical space in a person’s life where they feel confident, happy and healthy, but that doesn’t accurately reflect reality. Just as for anyone in life, there are going to be major changes – changes that feel uncomfortable at times. And when these “growing pains” occur, it’s going to require a lot of patience and strength on the individual. It’s not impossible – in fact, it’s very possible to achieve stability and strength through recovery, but it does take time, and it doesn’t occur easily.
A Common Occurrence for Those in Recovery
A 2015 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology involved interviews with 21 individuals residing in a drug and alcohol therapeutic community; the researchers were determined to explore that pathways that led these individuals into and out of addiction. Almost all individuals interviewed explained their personal identity through the process of being part of a recovery community – and after treatment, many people strengthened their personal identities to revolve more around sobriety.
There were several themes that derived from participants’ interviews, such as:
- The belief that people were able to restore more positive aspects of their “previous” identity through the emergence of sobriety
- Mutual support groups, such as 12-Step programs, provided participants with a more firm social support foundation from which to thrive upon
- The first month of sobriety was the hardest for individuals to gain strength in developing their personal identity, but these became more evident over time in formal treatment
- Holistically, there was a process that was identified: Before addiction, participants often associated with either a positive identity or social isolation, and when addiction became present, individuals began associating with more of a “negative” personal identity. Once in treatment, individuals reported feeling part of a “recovery identity”, which then aided in the transition towards a renewed positive identity.
With that being said, if you’re currently pursuing a path of recovery or you have a loved one who is – know that it’s a completely normal process filled with ups and downs.
Discovering Oneself Through Healing
One of the most beautiful components of healing in recovery is the emergence of a stronger version of ourselves – one whom we can be proud of for overcoming what’s previously held us back. A few years ago, the U.S. News covered the story of a woman named Pam, who previously identified as a “Super Mom” to her friends, family and acquaintances. With addiction in her horizons, Pam had to “rediscover” herself – because substance abuse had left her hopeless and in despair. She found several aspects of healing that promoted her new understanding of herself, including:
- Clearing her life of substance abuse and maintaining a life of sobriety.
- Making note of people, places and things that bring her complete and utter joy.
- Taking part in more activities that made her happy.
- Accepting that her identity is how she feels, not what she does.
Oftentimes, these aspects of identity and healing are hard to grasp because we want to easily pinpoint who we are and where we’re at in life. As human beings, we want to place ourselves in a “box” of labels because that makes everything easier to digest – but when we do that, we may exclude some amazing parts of ourselves that deserve to be recognized.
Begin Your Transformation Starting Today
If you’re ready to begin your own transformation through identity, healing and strength, speak with a professional from Cumberland Heights today.
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 two 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. For more information, call 1-800-646-9998 today.