Addiction is a subject very close to me, from both a professional and personal standpoint. I have worked in the field of substance misuse for seven years, primarily in residential rehabilitation centres.
The notions expressed in this article are invariably said by every client I have met. “WHO AM I?” and “I DON’T KNOW MYSELF! (Now that I have stopped using alcohol or drugs). These two statements bring about a deep realisation for the recovering alcoholic or addict, and not always a comfortable one.
The Effects of Long Term Addiction
It is a scary experience when the reality of what drink or drugs addiction has done starts to sink in. Using drink and/or drugs has robbed them of so many parts of their lives. Their family life, loved ones, children, friendships, finances, career and their identity, to name but a few. The loss of oneself is usually the last one that is noticed and often the final straw.
Those who have been using illicit substances or alcohol for many years, suddenly find themselves in a body that has aged.
However, emotionally and spiritually they are stunted. This is the identity crisis! The realisation of waking up one day to the fact you don’t know who you are and what you like. This is truly a terrifying experience.
For many, there is comfort for them in this identity. For some it is all they know. The idea of changing this identity is not only a shock for them when they stop using or drinking. Also, at times, it seems like an impossible task and difficult for them to accept.
Some behavioural characteristics which have been formed through this identity, such as being dishonest may have become deeply ingrained. This may be to the point that it is out of their awareness. They may be at the point where they are unable to tell the truth or even be honest with themselves.
Trying new things can be scary for everyone. But imagine if you are just discovering who you are for the first time in your life? Having an identity crisis coupled with very low self-esteem and self-worth? Taking a risk, trying something new can feel like climbing Everest.
Many clients say to me that they don’t even know what their favourite colour is. They don’t know what music or films they like. A client once told me they realised after getting clean that they hated the music they had listened to all their life. They had only listened to it because this is what their associates had done. They continued to listen for so long because they just wanted to be a part of the crowd. Now clean and sober they couldn’t stand it.
The Role of Addiction Counsellors
The task of treatment services, and us as addiction counsellors, is to support our clients to realise who they really are. They will have already created so many negative views and aspects of themselves. It falls to us to guide them on their journey in their quest to discover their true selves.
Is this an easy task? No. Does it take time? Yes. Is the painstaking task of looking within worth it? Yes. Can happiness and contentment be found? Yes. Can they overcome their identity crisis they face, now sober and clean? Yes!
What is needed for anyone who is in recovery from an addiction, is to be given time and space. Through love, care, guidance and support they can reach their true potential and find out “WHO THEY ARE”.
Part of the joys of working in the field of addiction is being a witness to someone making these changes before your eyes.
This is the first of a series of articles I will be publishing on Addiction and Identity.
Written by Gary Aldridge