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Friday, June 29, 2012

Identity and Addiction

Years back, there was a group of people in recovery who decided that because the 12 Steps describe addiction as a permanent condition, that their only real hope was to avoid drinking.  Nothing else.  No obligation to change their lives in any other way than to stop drinking.  Now, by my estimation, they stopped recovering at that point, since recovery is about a complete change of one's character to the extent that God changes it.

These people were able to ignore the vast body of evidence that recovery is all about transformation largely because of their interpretation of the identity of the 'addict.'  Identity is that important, and we can often use identity to combat reality, or ignore, a great deal of reality.

More recently, I've had some discussion with a person new to recovery, and this person described how his/her notions of himself/herself have been utterly shattered.

The most common response is to find new identities and labels to slap on one's self.  But, I think this is wrong.  The Steps begin with removing the worldly labels we have for ourselves and God.  To be 'anonymous' means to have no label, like the can in the back of the pantry where the paper cover has been torn off.  Now, you are truly defined by what is inside.

The problem of identity is that once we settle on a notion of who we think we are, we will often squeeze into its confines even when they do not work.  We will deny or suppress the parts of ourselves which are not in keeping with what the label says.  This is destructive, since we end up breaking out of these restrains and destroying our self-imagined identity.

True Christianity begins when we 'strip naked' at Baptism and lose the identity of our clothes.  Recovery begins when we strip off our surnames and enter the community of recovery just as humans.  If that's how you start, its probably a good idea to stay that way.

Monks renounce their family names, and with good reason: they forsake the world for God.  We out in the world can do the same thing internally, but not putting labels on ourselves.  Think of the labels you wear: son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, employee, student, supervisor, teacher, mentor... and how each of these has a definition you try to fit into.

Instead, what we really ought to do is think less about who we are and spend more time focused on what is in front of us.  Rather that trying to fit the identity, just do what is right.  If your child stands before you, stop trying to think about what a 'good parent' would do and just do the right thing.  Stop trying to live up to expectations and just do good.

Too often, our desire to live by labels causes us to ignore or hide parts of ourselves that conflict with our labels.  This robs us of peace and can drive us into sin.  We must be ourselves first and foremost, even if we are flawed.  After all, if we can acknowledge our flaws, we can repent of them and be healed.  But, if we hide them, God cannot help us.

We must learn to live without depending on labels.  We must live as ourselves.

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