Addiction - the identity crisis

I would like to speak about a subject very close to me, from both a professional and personal standpoint. I’ve worked in the field of substance misuse for seven years, primarily in residential rehabilitation centres, and the notions expressed in this article are invariably said by every client I have met, whether working directly or indirectly with myself.

These are “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.

This is a scary experience when the reality of what drink or drugs has done to them starts to sink in. Using drink and drugs has robbed them of so many parts of their lives; their family, loved ones, children, finances, career’s and finally their identity, to name but a few. The loss of oneself is usually the last one that is noticed and often the final straw.

For those who have been using illicit substances or alcohol for five, ten or even in some case twenty-plus years, they suddenly find themselves in a body that has aged, yet 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 is truly a terrifying experience.

Many alcoholics and addicts are tied to a certain identity through the lifestyle they have lived, from time spent in prison or living on the streets, to their job and the lifestyle they have been leading.

For many, there is comfort for them in this identity. For some it is all they know, so the idea of changing this identity is not only a shock for them when they stop using or drinking, but also at times seems like an impossible task and difficult for them to accept. Many of the behavioural characteristics which have been formed through this identity, such as being dishonest, will have become deeply ingrained within them, 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 is scary for everyone, but imagine if you are just discovering who you are for the first time in your life and having an identity crisis coupled with very low self-esteem and self-worth. Taking a risk to try something new feels like climbing Everest.

I have had many clients say to me that they don’t even know what their favourite colour is, or what music they like, or what their much-loved film is. One case which stands out for me involved a client who told me that they realised, after getting clean, they hated the music they had listened to all their life, and that 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 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 content be found? Yes. Can they overcome the identity crisis they face now, sober and clean? Yes.

What is needed for anyone who is in recovery from an addiction is the time and space, through love, care, guidance and support, to reach their true potential and find out “who they are”. Part of the joys of being a counsellor and working in the field of addiction is being a witness to someone making these changes before your eyes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hertford, Hertfordshire, SG14
Written by Gary Aldridge, Dip.Couns (MBACP) (FDAP)
Hertford, Hertfordshire, SG14

My background as a counsellor, comes from working within the field of Mental Health and Addiction.I have worked in this sector for over 8.5 yrs now. I currently work as a team leader in a residential drug and alcohol treatment centre located within Hertfordshire and have a strong passion for helping those affected with addictions and mental health.

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