Updated: Sep 11, 2018
Many people believe all that is required to recover from addiction is to stop drinking and using drugs. They equate long-term abstinence with complete success. If this were true, there would be no 12-Step Programs. There would be just one step - admit we are powerless over our addiction and that it makes our lives unmanageable, then stop. This view of addiction is too simplistic. In fact, in Alcoholics Anonymous it is only Step One that even mentions alcohol. The other 11 Steps are about developing a practical faith, figuring out how to be okay with ourselves and others, and becoming a contributing member of society.
In our active addiction we had developed an identity. For many, our drinking and using was what we did and became who we were. It was our identity. But just what is identity? The dictionary mentions some different aspects:
Who someone is; the name of a person
The qualities, beliefs, etc. that make a particular person or group different from others
Sameness of essential or generic character -- oneness
The distinguishing character or personality of an individual -- individuality
As the disease of addiction progresses, it takes from us many of the essentials of our identity. It gradually takes away the values and beliefs we once held to be true. It takes our feelings of self-worth. It takes our pride and our dignity. It takes our hopes and dreams. It takes any feelings of oneness with others as we slip into isolation. It takes our interest in hobbies and outside activities as our lives become focused on "the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more" (Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, page 3). It takes our individuality as we become more and more just like the people we hang out with, usually people who are using the same drugs we are or drinking at the same bar we frequent.
In short, we have developed the identity of an addict. So how do we begin to discard that identity and develop an identity as a recovering person? I believe we start by changing the "externals," which will naturally cause some of the "internals" to change, too. We stop associating with people who drink and use and begin associating with people in recovery. The easiest way to do that is to attend 12-Step meetings. We begin to feel some degree of acceptance, which will eventually lead to self-acceptance. We find a way to stop using. This may require medical detoxification, treatment, counseling and divine intervention -- maybe all of it. Through the process of inventory and disclosure, we begin to more clearly see the truth that has been hidden by our denial. We develop some relationships that offer both support and accountability. We learn to take direction, recognizing that it takes over a year just for our brain to heal. We clean up the wreckage of our past. We make changes in our diet and develop a discipline of physical activity, giving our body a chance to produce its natural feel-good chemicals. We develop a relationship with a loving God.
I believe it is critical to have a strong support system in place to maintain recovery. But it is only when we begin to see ourselves as God sees us that we truly solidify our identity. So how does God see us? The Bible makes it very clear:
He created us in His image.
He will never leave us or forsake us.
He has forgotten our sins as far as the east is from the west.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
We are His workmanship (His poem).
The Bible goes on to say that God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind and that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us. When we begin to really believe this, we are well on our way to establishing and maintaining an identity that will sustain our recovery.