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Who Are You? Finding Your Spiritual Identity in Recovery
By: Rick Fannin
How would you respond if I asked you, "Who are you?" Would you answer that you are a father, a wife, a mother, a son, or a daughter? If you are like me and have struggled with addiction, would you identify as an alcoholic or an addict? Or, if you are still struggling with guilt or shame over all the damage caused by your addiction, would you respond that you are a mistake, worthless, hopeless, a disappointment, out of control, a felon, untrustworthy, or a failure? What you believe, you will achieve. Do not believe these lies that trauma and addiction have told you. Many of these lies are rooted in fear, and fear is a liar. You are so much more than the mistakes that you have made.
The process of recovering from addiction is complex, multifaceted, and highly personalized. Recovery is also a process of discovery and rediscovery, and of letting go of old ways and embracing a new way of living life. This process includes grieving the loss of the addicted version of yourself and your addiction identity and finding your identity in recovery. After years of abusing drugs or alcohol, you may have completely forgotten who you are, what you value, and your worth. Full recovery from addiction includes the development of your identity, which includes having a solid understanding of your core values. You may also discover that your core values closely align with spiritual values and virtues. Recovery also consists of living your life with authenticity and integrity guided by these newly identified personal values.
When You Know Who You Are, You Make Better Choices
Spirituality is a pathway to finding your life's true essence and meaning. This spiritual journey out of addiction is your individual personal growth and transcendence path. Not only is spirituality a pathway to connect with God, but it is also a pathway where you will discover and connect with the genuine and authentic version of yourself.
In defining spirituality as an individual process for understanding the beliefs, virtues of positive moral character, and path of personal growth and transcendence, you simultaneously define the process of addiction recovery.
Recovery is learning to live life with purpose and new connections with others whose aim is to find ways to deal with the chaos of everyday life without drugs and alcohol.
Addiction has blinded you from your purpose. Once you disconnect from actively using, you begin to take your power back. Recovery is a process of self-awareness and identity development. Once again, you can freely choose who you spend time with, where you go, how you act, and what you put into your body and mind.
Having the ability to choose for yourself is vital in recovery because up until recently, your addiction decided everything for you.
Taking time to reflect on your meaning and purpose allows you to make better choices
Finding Your Recovery Identity
Recovery can be a long road to walk, especially if you attempt to travel this road alone. Unfortunately, social isolation is a common characteristic of addiction, but it doesn't have to be a part of your recovery journey. Many discover the AA phrase "I can't, but We can" is true, and there is power in developing a strong sober support system. In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers found that connections with social groups help transition away from addiction and create a new social identity in recovery, or a recovery identity. These tips can be helpful for treatment planners, family and friends, and especially for those in recovery:
Recovery is more than just quitting drugs or alcohol.
An essential first step in addiction recovery is stopping the abuse of drugs or alcohol. But this is rarely enough to ensure improvement and long-term sobriety. The study found that "social relationships have been shown to have significant impacts upon health through behavioral, psychological, and physiological pathways."
Addiction is not an identity.
It can be challenging to know who you are when it can often feel like your addiction defines you. Being a part of a group can help you find a new identity. The 12-step program can help you identify as a "recovering addict," which has been shown to increase feelings of belonging and support. This can help you connect to others who are also recovering. By working the twelve steps, you begin to identify a new set of spiritual principles that guide your way of navigating life on life's terms while maintaining peace regardless of what life throws at you.
You are not just a "recovering addict."
While this may be an essential identity for you, being a member of multiple groups can lead to a healthy and balanced social identity. This identity will take you beyond recovery.
The study results "also underscore the importance of social network diversity in recovery, indicating that it is important to foster connections with a range of groups beyond those solely associated with recovery." Maintain connections with family and friends. Go to support groups. Join a softball team. Start a book club. Get involved and find your recovery identity.
Discovering Your Core Values
Values are a part of us. They identify what we stand for. They can represent our unique, individual essence. Values guide our behavior, providing us with a personal code of conduct. When we have a firm understanding of what we value, we begin to have a stronger understanding of who we are. When we consistently honor our personal core values, we experience fulfillment and joy in living life. When we don't, we are incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits like abusing drugs or alcohol.
One of my favorite exercises in working with someone new to recovery is a core value alignment exercise. From a list of over 220 values, they select the top ten core values and select the top 10 values that ruled their life while in the deepest and darkest of their addiction. After comparing the list, they discover how out of alignment they have been living their lives.
When asked to identify their top core values, many identify that Family and Close Relationships are something that they value the most. However, when asked, "Besides yourself, who did your addiction hurt the most?" this person hits the stark reality that they have deeply hurt the things they value the most in their addiction. I ask them to imagine that they introduce me to their mother, and upon meeting her, I proceed to smack their mom and ask them what their reaction would be towards me. This exercise helps them to see that if they have such a visceral reaction if I damage something they value, then internally, they are having a similar reaction against themselves for damaging these things they value. They begin to see that they do not have an addiction problem, but they have a core value alignment issue.
Discovering Your Spiritual Identity
Your Spiritual journey out of addiction may lead you to become a completely different kind of family and group member. You may become a member of the family of Christ Jesus, and you may become a member of a new church community. After joining this new family, you begin to take on a completely new identity. You begin to see yourself as God sees you. The old you pass away, and, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of addiction, a brand-new spiritual version of yourself emerges.
To be able to understand your identity as a follower of Christ, you need to understand how He sees you. It's tempting to build your identity on what you accomplish, but this is not a stable foundation.
Your true identity is ultimately based on what God has done for you. In the Bible, God describes how He views His people. Let's take a look at what He says about you. Your new Spiritual identity includes identifying yourself as:
- A child of God
- A new creation
- God's workmanship
- Chosen by God
- Called according to God's purpose
- Not condemned because of past mistakes
- Holy and beloved
- Blameless before God
- A Holy temple
- A conqueror
- A friend
- Capable of doing impossible things
- Have power, love, and self-control
- Able to do all things
- Created in God's image
- Alive and saved by grace
- Not a slave but an heir to God's kingdom
- Child of God
- One with God
- Called to be a saint
- No longer a slave to sin
- Have strength
- One with Christ Jesus
- Loved so much that Jesus laid down his life for you!
- Cleansed from all unrighteousness
- A citizen of heaven
- A servant of Christ Jesus
- Have a bold confidence
- Predestined for a purpose
- An ambassador
- Part of the body of Christ
- A high price was paid for your freedom
- Cannot be separated from God's love for you
- Have a good future, and hope
- Competent and equipped
- Cared about
- A forgiver of others
- Have been raised with Christ
- At peace
- The shiner of His light
- Kind and tenderhearted
- A member of the household of God
- Saved because of your faith
- Know the truth
- We are adopted by Jesus for his purpose
There is power in the truth, which is one reason why twelve-step programs emphasize the importance of rigorous honesty. Ephesians 6:10-18 describes putting on the full armor of God, starting with "The belt of truth," and John 8:32 tells us that "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." This world, our life, and the traumas we have experienced have convinced us of so many lies about ourselves. Recovery is a process of evaluating these things that we tell ourselves, separating the truths from the lies, discovering who we really are, who God has called us to be, and living our life in alignment with these things. Once we discover this new reality, then addiction and sin no longer have power over our lives. Instead of fighting life, we learn to live in harmony with God and live life on life's terms. We fully understand that our brief time here on earth is insignificant when compared to the eternity promised us in heaven. We discover new meaning and purpose for our life, and we freely share the solution with others who struggle with addiction. And, for many of us, we are amazed at the transformation from dope dealer to hope dealer.