sense of self

Developing a Sense of Self in Sobriety

Before I got sober, my life was utterly consumed by alcohol. And when I first got sober, it was utterly consumed by avoiding alcohol. My days were all the same: wake up, try not to drink, go to a meeting, try not to drink, call my sponsor, try not to drink, think about drinking but decide not to drink, go to sleep. Rinse and repeat.

But after enrolling in drug rehab, working the steps with my sponsor, attending meetings and getting some time under my belt, the obsession to drink that I thought would be an omnipresent devil on my shoulder gradually faded more and more into the distance.

When you drink the way that I drank, drinking isn’t something that you do – it’s something that you are. And now that I was no longer drinking,/obsessing about drinking/obsessing about NOT drinking, I came to the sad realization that that was ALL I was. Aside from my alcoholism, I had absolutely no sense of identity. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a stranger. I couldn’t tell you anything about me, from the small things (like what hobbies I enjoyed) to the big things (like what I wanted to do with my life).

As active addicts and alcoholics, our sense of self is often tied to our drug and alcohol abuse. We are defined by our addictions and everything that goes along with them: the people, places and things we surround ourselves with as a result of them and the things that we must do to feed them. And in our very early sobriety, we are often defined by our efforts to heal from those addictions. But what comes after that?

In sobriety, we get the chance to develop a true sense of self, often for the first time. Without the obsession of drinking or using, we get to come to know and define ourselves in a completely new way. What do we like? Who do we want to surround ourselves with? What direction do we want to steer our lives?

At 25, I felt like I was starting from scratch. I had to completely redefine and rediscover everything from the ground up. At first I had to take baby steps: do I like to watch horror movies or comedies? Do I like to work out in a gym or outside? Do I like being around big groups of people or spending time with friends one on one? It sounds silly, but I really didn’t know these things about myself – up until that point, my singular focus had been on my alcoholism. None of these questions had mattered.

It was a slow, exciting and sometimes painful journey, but 4 ½ years later, I am happy to say that I have come to know myself in sobriety in a way that I didn’t think was possible. I am confident in my hobbies, choices, preferences, goals and abilities. I know that I like to wake up early on the weekends so I can run on the beach before it gets too crowded. I know that I prefer spending time with friends hiking than going out dancing. I know that I have trouble expressing negative feelings. I know that I am a hopeless romantic and believe in the power of love. I know that I can run a marathon and make an excellent zucchini pasta.

Every day that I stay sober, I discover something new about who I am and what I want out of life, and I continue to grow and change. Now, when I look in the mirror, I no longer see a stranger. I see me.

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