To Overcome Anything: First, Identify, Next, Dis-Identify

My brother said something brilliant to me a few days ago in reference to a real recovery from a pill addiction, but also recovery from losing his mom, dog, home, and childhood, too, a few years ago.

He said, “I just feel like I was always in recovery mode, never moving forward.”

For a few months after getting clean and sober, he was working at an Intensive Outpatient Unit, helping other kids get clean and sober, too. One day he up and quit. It was hard for any of us to understand at the time. It seemed that spending time in service of himself and others had not only correlated with (caused?) his cleanliness and sobriety, but also with his newfound happiness. The fear, of course, was that if he’d stop going, he’d become depressed again, seek out the same friends again, and relapse.

In the conversation we had a few days ago, it hit me why he quit the job. When you are “recovering” from something, which we all are from time to time, the first step in the process is to identify with the issue itself. That’s why, in the 12-step programs often referenced in the recovery community, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

But after awhile, when you’ve really nailed the problem into your head, identifying with it becomes your entire life. Over and over again, he went to these meetings. Four times a week. And every day he walked in, as a patient or as an employee they asked, “Did you have any cravings today?”

At first, that question was empowering; then, it wasn’t.

They never talked about the future ahead of him--his hopes or his dreams. Everything was about staying clean in the present, nothing more. He hit a breaking point when he realized he was less likely to stay clean and sober talking any more about his addictions, and more likely to stay as such working a pizza delivery job.

To move to the next phase in his recovery, he realized that he had to stop identifying mainly as an addict and start identifying as a young man on the path of overcoming addictive tendencies, trying to establish a movie career, etc. A brother, son, boyfriend, and friend. A human with a bright future ahead of him, no matter his past.

Addiction is part of him, but it isn't him.

It may seem like semantics to you, but I don’t think it is. I’m watching the world in front of us get trapped in a similar cycle, over and over again. We are identifying so closely with the problems we face and not enough with what the future will look like when those problems are solved.

The truth is: sobriety makes it more possible to have a better life. Addressing the problems we face will make it possible for a better collective future. But these things, in and of themselves, won’t transport us into a compelling future.

We have to do that.

Kate Ward