My boyfriend is in recovery too. In dealing with the wreckage of his past he also has a back that gives out from time to time and causes him pain. Today he was talking to me about how the thought crossed his mind, “Man, I wish I was a normal person so I could take a pain pill”. He shut that down, realizing that the disease of addiction is cunning, baffling, and confusing. When you’re an addict you never know if it’s your addiction speaking to you or your recovery self.
I replied with a half-smile, “You can still take ibuprofen.” He told me he felt guilty this morning for taking three ibuprofens instead of two. In case you aren’t familiar, ibuprofen is NOT a mind altering or mood changing substance; it’s a simple anti-inflammatory. But in the path of recovery many of us have to vigilantly put up boundaries. No cough syrup when I have a cough, no using narcotic pain meds when home from the dentist. He said, “Yeah my mind makes me feel guilty. I hate that. I’m like ‘Mind, mind your own business’”. It made me laugh.
It’s funny to have this feeling that there are two different people trying to run the ship. The you before recovery wants instant satisfaction and to be able to do whatever you want. The recovery self is driven to move through unavoidable suffering like a badass, avoiding medicating pain: be it mental, emotional or physical. We’re always monitoring the previous version of ourselves for trickery or resurfacing. Sometimes to a fault.
People have come up with many ways to divide themselves up: mind-body-spirit, true self-false self, Jungian archetypes, how others see you vs. how you see yourself, etc. It is an ongoing discussion because we are such dynamic, changing, complicated beings that we can’t even understand ourselves.
I was talking to a newcomer to recovery the other day about catching myself being myself and flipping the script. She rightfully questioned that. Aren’t we supposed to be ourselves, be authentic? I went into an explanation using my own transformation as an example. There is an authentic self, our values, our true needs and wants, and then there is how we actually think, feel, and behave on a daily basis. And when someone is in active addiction, those two are less alike than any other life situation I can think of. That is where the pain comes from.
In recovery we often have to learn that we have an authentic self, and how to get in touch with that person. It is a process, but it is the stuff of growing and truly living. In A Woman’s Way Through The Twelve Steps, Covington suggests using your Inner Self as your Higher Power. While that isn’t exactly my Higher Power, I love this concept. It is so simple – the good is in there, but our personalities, made up of our habits, and our unhealthy worldview, and our messy avoided feelings, get in the way. So when I said “catch yourself being yourself”, I suppose I meant catch your personality getting in the way of your inner self. Your best thinking got you to recovery, so open your mind to a new way of thinking, one that truly resonates with you.
My personality changed dramatically in recovery, but I am still me. I am closer to the me I always wanted to be today. I wasn’t happy, content, or at peace with myself. Not just what I was doing, but myself. I stopped being negative, worried, angry, full of desire, lonely, and hopeless. I stopped ruining relationships, embarrassing people, and being a cynical pain in the butt. But I’m still funny, smart, determined, articulate, patient, and a good listener. And parts of my personality have flourished that were really never active, but I always wanted. Like positivity, and acceptance. We change our perception of ourselves, our perception of things that happen to us, and it changes everything about us. Many of us call this a “spiritual awakening”.
I believe we all have divinity in us. I am a tiny part of my Higher Power and it is only a part of me. My old personality can take the wheel whenever my spirit lets it, so I need to do continuous spiritual practice that engages my body mind and spirit, and to convince myself to make my spirit the leader of the three.
When I entered recovery I didn’t realize this was what was going to happen. I thought I was going to have to be my same old self, without substances. [Sarcastic “Yay”]. But the beauty of recovery is that you get to let go of all that old nonsense and really become yourself. Just look out for your mind. Sometimes it needs to mind its own business.
Carlee Whitcome, Counselor