Discovering Who You Are After Addiction

By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

In active addiction, much of what we identify with is in direct relation to our addiction. In fact, many of us become quite known for our partying antics. Unfortunately, some of us become less labeled as the life of the party and more associated with the legal issues we find ourselves in as a result of the party.

Whether our reputation as an active addict becomes one of popularity among groups which have seemingly perverted the definition of fun, or finds us labeled “the black sheep,” our identity becomes defined by the drugs we do, alcohol we use, dealers we know, bars we frequent and friends (or enablers) we find in active addiction. That fact leaves the majority of us who enter treatment grieving not only our substance of choice and the connections we had, deemed toxic during recovery, but our very identity as well.

Because that can pose a very real and challenging threat to our longevity in recovery, we must find ways to discover who we are after addiction. Here are some steps to take in an effort to do just that:

  1. Shift your perspective. When we enter into recovery, it is vital to our success that we switch our perspective from one that sees a lost identity to a view which gently reminds us we simply gained one. We are now in active recovery, and that will be a new, positively-defining part of our identity. That does not deny us our need to grieve. However, it does give us a way to maintain gratitude and hope for a new normal within our experience of grief.


  1. Get back to basics. Entering treatment may threaten the identity we have unfortunately embraced throughout our active addiction, but it does not rob us of our basic identifiers. Our gender, race, culture, religion, ethnicity, etc., are still intact. Moreover, our role as daughter, son, brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, family member and friend are not lost to us. In fact, many of those aspects are potentially strengthened. Returning back to basic identifying factors can help us ground ourselves in times where we feel as though we have no anchor.


  1. Embrace the new. Change is not easy for anyone. It can be a terrifying experience, even when we are aware that which we are leaving behind was destroying us. It is the fear of the unknown. And, as such, it is a common one which branches far beyond that experienced by active addicts entering into recovery. However, if we merely embrace the new life that lies before us and the simple fact that we get a chance to actually live it, we have a better chance of not only discovering who we are after addiction, but falling in love with the newfound freedom to become whatever we dream.


Though the challenges to losing a sense of one’s identity can be overwhelming, the aforementioned simple steps can truly lessen that load. Though the grief will still be valid and certainly needs to be processed, the journey forward will be an easier one if we are open to the progress. A great recovery community, addiction specialists and counselors can assist with the journey as well.