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Addiction does not define you.
March 31, 2017

The Discovery That Addiction Doesn’t Define You

Addiction does not define you.This month’s theme is overcoming addiction … but what does winning in recovery look like?

That’s the focus of my next couple blogs, each of which will examine a different dimension of overcoming addiction. This week’s is “the discovery that addiction doesn’t define you.”

The analogy of a topographical relief map may be helpful here. The raised bumps indicate mountain ranges; when you run your finger over them you know you’re at higher elevations. The same might be said of the discovery that addiction doesn’t define you: like those mountain ranges you can run your fingers over on a relief map, the realization that you no longer draw your sense of identity from drugs or alcohol is a very concrete sign you’ve reached new heights in your recovery. By way of example, I love sharing about the very first client to come through our doors. Today, almost one year later, she is still successfully sober, having made the same discovery for herself.

3 Signs Addiction Doesn’t Define You

It can happen almost overnight that you wake up to the realization that addiction doesn’t define you. The process of actually getting there, on the other hand, is far more gradual. Below are three signs you’re headed there (and you may have more to add to the below list, in which case, please share them with the rest of us!):

  1. Greater engagement, collaboration and connection with others – Addiction is a disease of isolation. The more connected you are — with friends, family and a peer support group, and via a sponsor and therapist — the less time you’ll be spending alone with drugs or alcohol. And the less your life will be revolving around the addictive thoughts and behaviors that contributed to an addiction. These new rhythms of engagement and connection may initially seem counter-intuitive to those in early recovery. Some may even resent them, finding them a chore. Over time, though, with some hard work and self-discipline, these human connections can become a critical source of self-discovery, fulfillment and joy, so that one day, maybe sooner than you think, it will dawn on you that you’ve gone one whole week, maybe one whole month, without giving even one thought to drugs or alcohol.
  2. More life balance – Related to this greater engagement and connection with others is more life balance, as an important antidote to the extremes that, in addition to isolation, feed substance abuse. A healthy lifestyle, such as eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly, is one component here. Another would be learning to take life stressors in stride, with the help of some good stress management techniques that encourage more realistic, less extreme cognitive and behavioral approaches to setbacks. The more mind, body and spirit are all engaged in healthy outlets for self-growth, too, the more within reach life balance will be.
  3. Greater self-empowerment and self-efficacy – “Self-efficacy” is a bit of a technical clinical term. It’s really your self-evaluation of your ability to meet the demands of what life throws at you. To what extent you think you are up to the task of mastering your life circumstances, whatever they may be (stress, life transitions, traumatic events) — that’s a measure of your self-efficacy. When addiction defines you, it’s very difficult to see how you can manage life without the crutch of drugs or alcohol; but the more you prioritize getting to know yourself in sobriety, and taking new risks in pursuit of the happy and fulfilling life you want for yourself, the more you will be building these inner resources that are so essential to resilience and self-efficacy. This process of self-empowerment will introduce you to parts of yourself that were hidden by active addiction. Over time what will emerge is the person you want to be: someone who is strong, free and grounded in who they are.

How to Get There

If recovery is a journey, what does it take to arrive at the discovery that addiction doesn’t define you? Let’s return momentarily to the example I shared earlier regarding our very first client. During treatment, she was willing to be authentic about her fears and insecurities related to carving out an identity apart from substance abuse. She was willing to voice these things, so that together we could work through them. That took authenticity.

She also was careful to take a gradual step-down approach to the transition to life after inpatient treatment, choosing to stay within close proximity to our center, making use of our alumni and outpatient services, and continuing to attend AA meetings locally. This allowed her to nurture the same supportive relationships with healing professionals and peers in recovery.

In the process, she made the exhilarating discovery that addiction didn’t define her. So will you.

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