What is the identity model of addiction?
In the Elephant Journal they state that It is my belief that the birth of all addictions is an identity crisis resulting from the pain of not knowing the reality of who we are. We have mistaken our identity with a false one and this is the cause of most of our pain and suffering.
You are probably already familiar with the disease model of addiction. The disease model is not necessarily true or proven, but it is a way of looking at addiction that can prove to be useful in terms of explaining it and dealing with it.
The identity model seeks to replace the disease model by suggesting that the person is having an identity crisis, that they do not really know who they are yet, and thus they are acting out and self medicating with drugs or alcohol.
What is important to take away from this discussion of addiction models is this: Is it useful for treating the addiction? Because even if a model can explain the addiction nearly perfectly, that model is fairly useless if it cannot help us to treat the addiction and help people to overcome it.
There is some discussion, for example, that labeling addiction as a disease is not helpful for certain individuals because the label reinforces the problem itself, and calling themselves an addict gives them permission to relapse. This may be true for some people more than others, of course.
The identity model looks at the pain that a person experiences, and the problem can be that an individual will identify as that pain, rather than as a person who is experiencing pain or suffering. So maybe you are going through trauma as a young teen because you are being bullied. So the pain of that trauma is taken on as part of your identity, and you associate that pain with who you are as a person. It becomes a part of you, rather than something that you experienced.
The other part of the identity model is when the person asks the question of themselves, perhaps subconsciously: Who is experiencing this pain? Who am I, really? This is the identity crisis that the person is experiencing, and they feel as if they have to seek and explore and answer this question. They are on a mystical quest of sorts, and they are looking for a deeper meaning and a hidden answer in their life. So a common place to look for such mystical answers is always going to be to look at mystical experiences, or in the case of our modern day culture, altered states of mind. Hence the exploration with drugs or alcohol.
I can definitely relate to this identity crisis in my own addiction past, as I was seeking something when I was using and hoping to have some sort of mystical and transforming experience through the use of drugs and alcohol. The sad thing is that my addiction just got more and more boring and predictable over time as my tolerance for alcohol and other drugs just continued to rise.
I wanted to believe that I was unique and that I was a mystical seeker who was pushing the limits of human experience by experimenting with various drugs, but the truth was that I was simply self medicating the pain of my own identity crisis with more and more alcohol. I did not like the person that I had become, and in truth I hated myself, and I wanted to forget this pain of who I had become, and drugs and alcohol allowed me to do that. If I drank enough alcohol I could reach a state of total oblivion, and that was a nice place to be in because at least I was no longer consciously hating myself at that point. So really the goal in my life became to reach a state of either passing out or blacking out so that I did not have to experience the feeling of hating myself.
In recovery, this all turned around for me, very slowly at first. I finally reached a point in my addiction in which I was completely miserable and very much sick and tired of trying to self medicate my pain away constantly. I had been sick of it for a long time but now I was really getting burned out on it, and I wanted it all to just go away. I did not have the guts to try to kill myself at this point, but I was willing to do just about anything to get it all to stop.
At some point I threw in the towel and agreed to check into rehab. I felt naked without the use of alcohol to dull my senses. All of a sudden I had to deal with reality, and it was like a smack in the face. I went to rehab and I started to slowly rebuild myself and my life from the ground up. I was on a journey of discovering who I really was, because when I took the drugs and the booze away, I was left with something that was no longer very familiar to me. My instinct was to self medicate and run away and hide from myself, but of course I was deciding against that now and choosing recovery. So I very slowly started to explore who I really was.
In order to do this I had to take suggestions from other people. My own ideas were mostly just to drink or take drugs, which was really my addiction talking. So I had to ignore those ideas and instead listen to the suggestions of my peers. My sponsor and my therapist gave me suggestions and I followed through with them. I took positive action. I tried various things in my recovery.
Some of these new things I rejected and eventually dropped or ignored. But a lot of what I tried in early recovery stuck with me, and it became a part of the new me. This is how I rebuilt my life. I listened and took suggestions and then put things into action.
This is how every addict or alcoholic has to rebuild their lifethrough the suggestions of other people. If you try to figure it all out on your own then you are very likely to fail, because your old identity will shine through too strongly and you will sabotage your own efforts. While discovering, or building, this new identity, you need to be open to the suggestions of others so that you can avoid the trap of listening to your own bad advice.
When you are very early in recovery and you are searching for this sober identity you are going to feel disoriented and uncomfortable. You will feel like you are flailing. It will not feel great.
This is normal and expected. One day you will look back on this period of personal growth and be able to see it for what it wasthe search for your new identity in recovery. You had to go through this time of exploration and taking suggestions from other people in order to find the real you in recovery.
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