Who are you without your addiction? Who are you when you’re sober? Who are you in recovery? Are you funny? Are you shy? Are you sentimental? Are you a jerk?
By the way, you’re allowed to be a jerk. Today, I am many, many things, and only one of them is a jerk. In my addiction, I was only a handful of things, none of them stellar. None of them anything I wanted to be, if I had the chance.
Who did you think you were when you were out there in active addiction?
I thought I knew who I was. In my addiction I believed (deeply believed) that I was a defective human. Anorexia was a part of my life since I was a kid, and I thought that I simply sucked at the most basic act of feeding myself. I thought, if I couldn’t even eat, I must be quite the pathetic excuse for a human.
So I clung to any other bit of identity I could to try and forget about that. I was proud of how skinny I was. I was proud of how many hours I couldn’t remember when I drank. I was proud that every person in my life—and people I didn’t even know—knew me as a massive pothead. It was a crazy little version of fame, and I always wanted to be famous…
That stuff gave me identity. I knew who I was—I thought I knew who I was! For whatever reason (for many reasons) humans are obsessed with identity. Whatever identity we have, whether we give it to ourselves or it comes from somewhere else, it’s ours. Our own. It’s something to hang the rest of our selves on: what we do, what we say, what we think. It’s comforting, and powerful.
And sometimes it’s all we have; we hold onto it with all our might because we’re afraid we might disappear into oblivion without it.
Well if it’s that important to us, don’t we want to make sure we know if it’s actually true?
Don’t you want to know who you actually are?
(The paradox is that we can’t know we don’t know until we know…so just go with me here…)
Whether we were drinking, using, doing disordered things with food or body, obsessing about other people, gambling, whatever…no matter what we did, we did things that kept us from truly getting to know ourselves. We couldn’t look in the mirror long enough to wonder, “hmmm, is there anything else in there I don’t know about?” We couldn’t sit still long enough to ask ourselves, “so, uh, what things do you like to do?”
- What things do you like to do?
- What do you want to like to do?
- What are you good at, and what would you like to be good at?
- What do you want to try?
- What do you want to love?
- What do you want to say you’ve done?
- What do you want to say you don’t do anymore?
I don’t deny myself food anymore. I don’t think I’m defective anymore. I don’t believe I am only that handful of (rather unpleasant) things anymore.
Granted, sometimes I’m a jerk. Sometimes I’m selfish and dramatic and ridiculous.
I am not perfect. I NEVER thought that I would want to NOT be perfect. I’m allowed to be messy, or weird, or shy, or lazy, or weak. I get to be an artist, a storyteller, a leader. I get to feel inspired, enthralled, in awe. I have the honor of feeling a broken heart after I had the courage to love. The privilege of crying over the loss of someone I had the gift of knowing.
I used to think my identity was permanent, and that certainty felt good in its own twisted little way. Uncertainty is terrifying, but it’s also freeing. I don’t know who I will be tomorrow, which parts of my every-changing, immensely multi-faceted self will show up. Sure, the jerk might be in fine form tomorrow. But there is also a chance I’ll spend the day with the part of me that says YES PLEASE to life and connection and adventure.
Who do YOU want to be tomorrow?
Someone who’s friendly, hard-working, learning a new skill, making a new friend? Someone who sings “too loudly” (don’t listen to them haters) in the car, who dreams of new ways of doing things, who appreciates and celebrates other people’s success and happiness, who holds the hand of the suffering? A teacher, a craftsman, a painter, a parent, a performer, a meditator, an inspirational voice, a calm presence?
What do you want to DO?
One of the things I’m most grateful for is that I’ve stuck around enough years to see people follow their crazy dreams to success, to joy, to fulfillment, to changing people’s lives, to making a difference, to seeing the splendor of the world, to “the sweet enjoyment of partaking” (thank you George Washington for the inspo of sweetly partaking).
My crazy dreams took me to incredible places around the world, to graduate school, to classrooms teaching the coolest kids ever. Then my crazy ideas got me to rehab and gave me a brand new life (because let’s face it, thinking that leaving your life behind and going to rehab is a good idea felt pretty crazy at the time). And right now…my dreams have me chasing the idea of living in a van (more on this later, hashtag vanlife, hashtag YOLO) and making every day a quest for learning and adventure.
Who am I without my addiction?
Someone who partakes in life, in a way that feels right to me. I’m someone dedicated to being nice to myself for a change and helping others do the same. I’m someone who does things I’m afraid of because I have survived that which I was most afraid of: letting go of my addictions, including my old identity. That’s who I am.
Regan Spencer is a writer, filmmaker, recovery advocate, and person in long term recovery. She currently resides a town called Hope (and yes, she loves the metaphor) in Idaho, USA, where she is preparing to take her life and her recovery on the road in a converted van. Obsessed with wildflowers, roads that curve, and smiling at strangers, she is always looking for the next adventure and another good story. Regan would love to share her journey with everyone who’s interested at ReganSpencer.com or @ReganSpencerWriter on Instagram, and she welcomes anyone with a desire to reach out to continue the conversation with an email to ReganSpencerWriter@gmail.com. The primary purpose of her work is to help engage and connect people because, despite her stubbornness, life has convinced her we can’t recover alone.