Beyond Sobriety – Reclaiming Your Potential

New Life“I am an alcoholic,” the central refrain of AA is pivotal in helping addicts face their reality. This statement renders a clear and precise surrender to their affliction. This represents a bold and courageous first step in the recovery process. These addictions may stretch from drugs, alcohol, sex and porn to a vast array of other disordered compulsions. The AA approach is the gold standard for helping people achieve and maintain their sobriety alongside the incalculable benefits of fellowship. Arguably, AA does this more successfully than anyone else. Yet, in helping to secure an individual’s substance and emotional sobriety, the previously stated proclamation may ironically imperil that person’s personal growth.

Who Am I?

I was working with a man in his late fifties who had been sober for three decades. He was no longer tempted by alcohol and could even sit at a bar with friends enjoying his club soda. This gentleman was clearly well past his previous battle with alcoholism. Yet, in accordance with the AA protocol, he continued to refer to himself as an alcoholic. This imprint limited how he looked at himself. He didn’t see himself as an evolving person but remained stuck, in his self-image — one that was cemented into his psyche from the age of twenty- five. His snapshot of himself was frozen in time, as was his identity. This in turn impacted not only his relationship with himself but with those close to him. He wasn’t evolving in his life, while others around him were. This is the stuff of victimhood.

Consider the difference between saying “I am an alcoholic,” as opposed to, “I suffered from alcoholism for a number of years, but I’m sober for the last 25 years.” If we’ve broken free from the grip of our addiction and no longer feel at risk, we need to differentiate between the past and the present. If I’ve been sober for thirty years and still declare, “I am an alcoholic,” the word am betrays my progress. Reiterating my addiction reduces me to still being an addict. If I’ve broken free of my addiction, why would I still choose to identify with my victimhood? If someone says, “I’m a convict,” I’d assume they are incarcerated. If they served their time and are now free, they might say, “I’m an ex-con,” as they signify the difference. Why should it be different for addiction?

Everything Flows

As quantum physics wondrously describes, reality and the universe itself – including us humans as well – appears to be inexorably flowing and evolving. From this perspective nothing remains in a fixed state of being, everything participates in the dance of becoming. Nothing is left out of this movement. This includes the recovering addict. Addiction is a horrific affliction, but one that can be overcome. Why would we want to further the punishment of the past by carrying it with us when it no longer applies?

Victim or Victor?

Overcoming addiction — in whatever form it may present – is enormously challenging, but if you’re successful it’s also incredibly noteworthy. You should feel proud of your success. You are not who you used to be. I’d encourage you to announce your victory as you fully invest in your process of becoming, as you further advance your growth. The greatest guarantor of your continued sobriety is your forward movement. It’s your choice as to see yourself as a victim — or as a victor.

Related articles:
Who Am I?
From Being to Becoming

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10 replies
  1. Micki McWade
    Micki McWade says:

    The reason people continue to describe themselves as an addict or alcoholic is to remind themselves they have a physical allergy to a substance that when reintroduced, may start a chain reaction that may be devastating physically, emotionally and practically to them. Once a door is opened, the disease can take over. That is how addiction works and those who recognize this cycle in themselves are wise to keep that in mind. Becoming overly confident is a step in the wrong direction for many. Years of sobriety are celebrated in Twelve Step groups and long timers are the shepards for those coming up.

    • Mel Schwartz
      Mel Schwartz says:

      Hi Micki,
      Nice to hear from you. Of course confidence of one’s sobriety should not be interpreted to suggest that they can have a drink and be OK. I’m referring to their being able to move past the imprimatur of addiction.

  2. Don
    Don says:

    Being addicted to AA meetings is better than alcohol addiction. But wouldn’t it be better to work on the cause of the addiction and remove it?

  3. Dr Ian Ellis-Jones
    Dr Ian Ellis-Jones says:

    Mel, addiction is, among other things, a brain disease. One may be sober for 40 years but the disease is still in the mind of the sober person. Identifying as an alcoholic is an ongoing admission and acknowledgment of one’s powerlessness (forever) over alcohol. It is a VERY empowering concept and paradigm. Addiction permanently changes the neural pathways of the brain although it certainly is impossible to create new neural pathways that cut across the old one’s. Recovery is akin to the theological concept of salvation: I have been saved, I am being saved, and in the fulness and at the end of time I will be saved. Thus, I have recovered, I am recovering, and in time if I continue to do what is appropriate for a person with an addiction to alcohol I will recover.

    • Mel Schwartz
      Mel Schwartz says:

      I see the mind differently, not so much as the source of the disease, but that alcoholism has left it imprint there, not unlike your footprint on the sand. At any rate, our minds and bio-chemistry are very much subject to neuroplasticity and our thoughts and perceptions greatly influence that dynamic. I’m not in any way disagreeing about the stricture of continued sobriety for the recovering individual, but that the personal transformative process is abetted by our emergent quality.

      • Edith Lee
        Edith Lee says:

        I disagree that the recovered alcoholic stays stuck in a negative paradigm of self identity. Once an alcoholic recovers and goes through the 12 steps, the body, mind and consequent behaviors continue to change towards improving one’s self towards self awareness, God/Universe consciousness and living in the present. We are not enslaved by our disease but stay aware that if we do not continue to work the 12 steps, then our thinking, emotions, and behavior revert back to our alcoholic ways. In laymen terms, my self identity today is positive and I consider myself a grateful, recovered alcoholic. Without having this disease, I would not have become who I am today.

  4. Kathrine M
    Kathrine M says:

    I find this conversation very relevant to an article about children/teens developing healthy habits and FINDING THEIR PASSION as a sort of anti-drug. So, not only can finding your potential be helpful during recovery from addiction, but also as a preventative measure for addiction. Wording and such is difficult and I think it depends on the person of what they want to call their own stage of addiction or recovery.

    If you are interested in reading the article mentioned above


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