16 Jan What Recovery Means for Your Identity & Sense of Self
“What is everyone else going to think about this?” How often does this question come to your mind when you need to decide about whom to date, what kind of job to apply for, and what kind of car to drive? Does your opinion matter, or is it more important to you that others approve of your decisions? For the love addict, relationships are the place where one seeks a sense of self — a form of validation — for one’s intrinsic value as a human being. They allow a partner to define their worth because they never received it from anyone else, especially from the sources they should have received it from (namely, their parents). For those who struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, getting that next fix seems more important to them than the possibility of losing their job, home or health, because such repercussions are not as painful as the emotions they are trying to bury. On a conscious level, addiction is a short-term relief for individuals who seek to hide their pain, but oftentimes that pain is rooted in lack of identity.
What is “identity” and what does that have to do with recovery from substance abuse addiction? According to an article published in Psychology Today, identity is based on our values that determine the kind of choices we make pertaining to our goals and desires. Not only is our identity tied to our pursuit of happiness, but it reflects how we feel about ourselves. “Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Would I feel secure enough about who I am even if everything in my life falls apart?” The answers to these very foundational questions are found in our upbringing. When drugs and alcohol are introduced to one’s life – be it by one’s own choices or one’s parents’ – an identity crisis occurs, and in most cases, this happens during childhood.
“The identity crisis…occurs in that period of the life cycle when each youth must forge for himself some central perspective and direction, some working unity, out of the effective remnants of his childhood and the hopes of his anticipated adulthood.”
– Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson (1902-1994) is known for his contributions to the field of psychology, notably for his concept of an identity crisis in psychosocial development. Erikson’s psychosocial theory divides a child’s developmental stages in chronological order:
• Trust vs. Mistrust
• Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
• Initiative vs. Guilt
• Industry vs. Inferiority
• Identity vs. Identity Confusion
• Intimacy vs. Isolation
• Generativity vs. Stagnation
• Integrity vs. Despair
In a healthy family environment, children master each stage and grow up to be well-adjusted adults in society if they receive the necessary stimulation and support from their parents. Unfortunately, with the rise of substance abuse in America, developmental trauma has increased at a disturbing rate. Traumatic stressors such as physical trauma, abuse, neglect, domestic and/or community violence are experienced by 78% of America’s children by the time they reach five (5) years of age, and in one study, more than half of young children ages 2-5 have endured trauma in their lifetime, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
The Impact of Parents’ Substance Abuse on Children’s Identity Formation
Researchers studied the relationship between childhood trauma and the onset of substance abuse addiction in veterans. The findings, which are published in The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, reveal that 77% of the participants were subjected to severe childhood trauma, and 58% developed a lifetime post-traumatic stress disorder (Triffleman, Marmar, Delucchi & Ronfeldt, 1995). When children’s brain developments are prematurely disrupted by severe traumatic stressors during their early formative years, the changes in the child’s brain result in social, behavioral and cognitive impairments (Huang, Gundapuneedi & Rao, 2012). Consistent and frequent stress imposed upon children rendered them vulnerable to substance use disorders later in life (Khoury, Tang, Bradley, Cubells & Ressler, 2010). The normal psychosocial development that would usually occur is instead interrupted by the need for basic survival in a tumultuous unstable environment. Parents with substance use disorders are unable to provide their children the love, attention, and nurturing they need to become confident adults.
Transformative Powers of Recovery
When individuals complete a dual diagnosis program that integrates evidence-based clinical and holistic therapy methods, such as those at New Method Wellness, they will experience a powerful transformation upon completing a 30-, 60- or 90-day program. Skilled, licensed addiction therapists and board-certified substance abuse counselors assist clients in achieving the following:
• Transitioning from a “substance user” identity to “recovery” identity
• Renewing their pre-addiction identity
• Self-actualizing with a new identity after addiction
Once you gain a better understanding of who you are, what you value and what you want out of life, you will no longer be a slave to people-pleasing tendencies, conflict-avoiding behaviors, and self-destructive habits that may lead you to relapse or other addictive behaviors. You will be able to face your fears instead of hiding from them; your decision-making will be based on your strengthened sense of self-worth, which will result in a meaningful life as you move forward as your authentic self.
Best, D., Beckwith, M., Haslam, C.S., Haslam, A., Jetten, J., Mawson, E. & Lubman, D.I. (2015). Overcoming alcohol and other drug addiction as a process of social identity transition: the social identity model of recovery (SIMOR). Addiction Research & Theory, 24(2). Retrieved from <ahref=”https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/16066359.2015.1075980″ rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>www.tandfonline.com