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Identity and addiction

Posted Feb 29 2012 2:58pm

The White Noise had a post on identity and addiction. The blogger ends up expressing some discomfort with the way many recovering addicts make their addiction and recovery so central to their identity:

I have mixed feelings on  AA . I believe in camaraderie and community in times of strain and crisis. I believe in cultivating the knowledge that addiction is not character weakness. However, I’m not so sure as to the  continual efficacy  of defining oneself as an addict day in and day out. As much as it’s all-consuming, it’s a facet of life, not a definition of being. Does it take this definition to cope?

I tend to think that recovery from any chronic illness involves an identity change, particularly for those people who are successful in the lifestyle changes that are associated with recovery from many chronic illnesses.

People who have had a heart attack or been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and change their activity levels and diets often make this part of their identity and a very important part of their life narrative.

They also often go through some developmental stages with this where they can go through periods of being pretty obnoxious–”Do you know how many calories are in that?” and “You should start working out, you’ll love it. I swear. I was just like you! You need to do it!” They often find a little more balance over the years that follow. However, when we’re talking about lifestyle changes that we want to sustain over a period of decades, isn’t an identity shift going to be an important maintenance strategy for many, if not most, people? Isn’t easier to maintain a behavior when it’s not just something we do, but, rather, who we are?

I’m reminded of this post and this quote:

“Once I became my diagnosis, there was no one left to recover.”

I think this might get at what some people, like the White Noise blogger, fear when they hear people making addiction and recovery central to their identity. I guess the question is whether they organize important parts of their identity around their addiction or their recovery.

Spending the rest of my life defining myself as someone who has type 2 diabetes might not be so good, but defining myself as a fit, healthy person who successfully manages a serious illness strikes me as a pretty good thing.

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