Exactly what is the “Recovery Identity”? It gets talked about a fair amount, but what exactly are we talking about? I can explain my own journey with this concept, as well as what I’ve seen in patients through the years who have sought to develop their own “Recovery Identity.” It is in essence, a revealing of the true self of the person. It is the core of who I am after chipping away at all the distracted, maladaptive coping skills and behaviors that get in the way of authentic self-expression.
Hello, it’s me!
When I look back at my years of active addiction, I can easily see I was struggling with what so many of us are up against, Identity Development. It is a rite of passage. It is also grossly uncomfortable for so many of us. That discomfort made me ripe for a relationship that provided ease and comfort in both social situations and in myself. When I found the balance of various substances I used, I achieved a sense of peace, and I felt much more at ease with who I was. The catch- being that sense of who I was wasn’t really me at all. It was me being allowed to try on different masks to meet the expectations of who I thought you, or the other people around me, wanted me to be. It was, in reality, putting me into a role play, an actor in a production, but not really who I was. It also robbed me of actually finding out who I was and how I could be genuine in all aspects of my life.
When I entered recovery at age 18, the veil was lifted. There were no more chemical enhancers to buffer the discomfort of daily life, and there were much fewer outlets for my own self-deception. I simply could not hide any longer. And that was again, grossly uncomfortable. The change was painful, it was unknown. Ah, there it is, the unknown. YIKES!! And if it’s me that’s unknown, nope, not going there. So, I found other outlets to hide in, other roles to try on because I knew no other way. Until I was given the opportunity to find out, to say out loud, “I don’t know who I am.” That came while I was in treatment.
I come across this same dilemma in most patients. They either never were given the opportunity, or never felt safe enough to explore and find out who they really are.
Enter the “Recovery Identity.”
Who do you want to be? Who do you think you really are underneath all that wreckage, emotional entanglement, trauma, mental illness, whatever you have going on? What if you could believe there was a way to find out? And so, it begins.
We first look at the pain we are in, then we address the pain we have caused. Both of these limits our ability to self-assess, find value in who we are, and then move into the real role of being a person in recovery, of being ourselves in recovery. We are so used to chasing everything outside of us to get what we think we need in addiction; we never learn to look within to find out what we can offer. We may not think we have much in that regard, and that may be true early on, but that can and does change with effort and guidance. We then learn to honor what we can offer to ourselves, to others, to this life we’ve been given. This is the first glimpse of “Who I am.” This noticing of what we can bring to the table, of purpose, of selflessness, of love really. Yeah, I said it. LOVE.
My recovery identity is solely based in what I have found to be at the core of myself and everyone I’ve treated – LOVE. There may be plenty of darkness around and inside of us, but love is in there too. We have to get in touch with that. That is the work of treatment, of therapy, of the recovery communities around the world, and of each one of us trying to express our true identities. The work involves getting knocked off our balance points, finding center again, and continuing to walk the path. It involves mending relationships within ourselves and with others. It involves continuing to say “I don’t know” regularly so that we are in a position to find out new truths about ourselves, and continue to evolve our “Recovery Identities.”
Embracing this is not easy. I know you understand that. But development and maintenance of faith in the process is crucial to discovering who we are, and more importantly, who we aren’t. In addiction I was very much in the role of someone who was not me. I did not understand half the things I did, much less the damage it caused. I got into recovery and looked back at it like, “How did that happen?” I then had to own my part in it, and clean it up. The payoff? I found out not only who I was, but gained a better sense of who I could be. That gave me hope, and a belief in my worth and purpose. That gave me a true “Recovery Identity.” One that could withstand struggle, pain, and even defeat. I found the person inside that was solid, no matter what was going on outside of me.
My hope is that in every patient I see, I instill a feeling of value in the pursuit of who they are. I try to help them access those meaningful components of themselves that they find valuable. And then we build, or rebuild, or level, or whatever the process requires. Whatever is asked of someone early in recovery, if the pursuit is based in growth, it is entirely worth it. It leads us all to our own “Recovery Identities.”
– Bogie Bowles, LCSW