The terms identity and self-image are often used interchangeably. However, when you leave a treatment center, not only is your self-image (your view of yourself) in question, your actual identity (who you feel that you are) is, too. You walked in addicted to drugs or alcohol. You are walking out as a recovering person. Now what?

When you enter treatment, you are stripping away a large part of your identity. Your whole world has revolved around drinking and using drugs. While you are in rehab, you learn ways to let go of that part of yourself, but once you return to the world, it will be time to put the things you learned into practice.

It is not uncommon for a person in early recovery to feel like they have lost a part of themselves. Indeed, a majority undergo a mourning period as they process the loss of that part of their identity. That psychological loss is why it is imperative to release your identity as someone who drinks or uses drugs. This change might be one of the most challenging aspects of sobriety, but it can be done.

The Addicted Identity

Our identity evolves in relation to how we are raised, lifestyle choices, morals, and values. Once addiction comes into play, our identity centers around drinking and using, eventually entirely so. According to a study found in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, identity changes relating to substance abuse start early and cause us to adopt, usually unknowingly, the “addicted identity.” 

This identity is rooted in certain beliefs, ethics, and behaviors, including:

  • That people who do not “party” are boring
  • That alcohol and other substances provide the best ease and comfort during any crisis
  • Drinking or using is the top priority
  • That substance abuse and altered states promote creativity
  • Lack of ability to maintain safe boundaries in sexual situations

Over time, the addicted identity becomes ingrained. It replaces your former identity, the one your friends from childhood and old acquaintances remember. However, that old identity isn’t who you are anymore, either. Once you go to treatment, you will begin to peel away the addicted identity. 

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How to Discover Your Real Identity

Once you leave a treatment center, you will be absorbed by outpatient, 12-Step fellowships and the camaraderie, behaviors, and language of those fellowships. These are all good things, but it is also essential that you find a balance between your identity as a recovering person and your underlying personality (what makes you, you). 

Not everyone is in recovery, and you will have to learn to work and live with people who are not. You are no longer in the addicted stage of your life; however, you are probably still plagued by the parts of your “addicted” identity. This identity conflict might have you questioning who, in point of truth, you actually are. 

There are some steps you can take to find your authentic identity. Your identity originates from two things:

  • Your particular uniqueness
  • Your preference of social contacts

How Are You Unique?

More often than not, people with a substance use disorder (SUD) become overwhelmed by the objectionable parts of their character or personality. With that in mind, when you are discovering what makes you unique as a person, start looking at the good, or at least neutral, areas of your identity.

Some illustrations of what constitute unique traits can include:

  • Talents like singing, painting, or sports
  • Having strong problem-solving skills
  • Being deeply spiritual
  • Having a strong sense of empathy

This is by no means a complete list. Everyone has unique traits and abilities. Come up with a list unique to you. Your identity should not center around a single skill or attribute. Instead, it is a fusion of talents, ethics, and qualities that distinguish you from others.

Choosing Your Social Connections

You have probably heard the expression, “You are known by the company you keep.” While it is a cliche, it is also true that people are judged by those they spend time with. Social groups that we spend time with can mold our thinking, behavior, and ideas. 

If you belong to social groups based on a particular career, politics, or common goals, these groups are all at play in shaping your identity and how the world perceives you. If you are already enthusiastic about a community group you belong to, that is an excellent place to start building your sober identity.

Another way of making social connections that shape your identity is becoming part of a recovery fellowship, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These are filled with people sharing common objectives and principles. However, while your recovery fellowships might — and should — make up a large part of your identity, make sure that you cultivate all aspects of your personality. It is essential to stay well-rounded.

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Learning to Love Your New Self

One of the most common hurdles recovering people face is the idea that their character is attached to their actions and not how they feel about others and themselves. People think their identity is dependent on their roles at work or as parents. However, to fully understand yourself, it is imperative to see what makes you an individual.

Many recovering people also suffer from problems involving their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. These issues stem from our absolute lack of self-care while using. For you to learn about your new identity and who you are, you must start loving yourself. One way to battle low self-esteem is to ask those you trust how they see you. Often, other people see us without the spin we put on things. Doing this will allow you to start noticing the positive attributes of your character.

Once you learn about your identity, you have a foundation upon which to build. While in treatment, you started to learn new ways of interacting with people and looking at yourself as a recovering person. Now you will be taking that to outside 12-Step fellowship meetings and applying it in a real-world setting. That can seem intimidating, especially without the camaraderie of the friends you had in treatment. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we know that you might need extra support discovering your identity in recovery. We offer aftercare programs to help you cope with self-esteem and identity issues, as well as relapse prevention and other topics. Remember, your past is what you did; it is not who you are. You are a person of worth and dignity; the possibilities from here are endless. Call Hawaii Island Recovery at (866) 390-5070 to discuss finding your new identity as a person in recovery.

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