Folks seem to agree that different aspects of recovery are often unique to each individual. Some folks immediately are able to abstain from their addictive substance with little problem from the very start. I had little desire to drink alcohol after the first year of sobriety. However, for the first 15 years of sobriety, I continued to use nicotine in the same way I had used alcohol and other drugs. I struggle with my eating disorder today. I actively practice(d) all of those addictions toward the same end.
I find addressing what are often called “character defects” is truly a long-term process. Understanding issues such as anger, self-centeredness, accountability, self-respect – the list goes on – these are all long-term developmental processes that I did not achieve just because I quit drinking.
I think of this developmental idea in terms of handling something as simple as grief. When my beloved maternal grandmother died in 1978, I drank and felt nothing. I was sober for quite a few years before I went to her grave to begin the grieving process. When a good friend died just a couple of weeks ago and I was physically and emotionally present in a true celebration of his life. I will remember that experience forever. I remember nothing of my grandmother’s death other than leaving the funeral home, going to a bar, and calling up my girlfriend to commiserate with her on how stupid funerals were.
I have come to believe that participating in all such human experiences for the first time sober makes me better able to participate more fully the second time. Such a statement seems obvious at face value, but as addicts we are often quite fearful of the first holiday sober, the first vacation sober, the first time with difficult relatives sober, and so forth.
A line I often quote is from the epigraph to the book Demian by Hemann Hesse, that goes: “I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?”
What I get out of this statement is that coming to understand and discovering our true selves is a lifelong process. For my first 30 plus years of life I spent it anesthetized without even trying to understand who or what was my true self. I could not really expect that on the first day of sobriety, all would be revealed.
Understanding that recovery is truly a lifelong process and not a singular event is a very exciting realization. For me, that includes the recovery of true self.