How To Navigate The Early Recovery Identity Crisis

By Sabrina Spotorno, LCSW-CASAC, therapist with Monument


Imagine your identity as a pizza pie 🍕. The slices are what make you a full-fledged, complex, and unique human-being: your beliefs, relationships, knowledge, lived experiences, and characteristics. And your toppings are your habits that bind the slices together.

If you’re confronted with a loss of sense-of-self while navigating the early days of moderation or sobriety, ask yourself this: is this a slice issue or a topping issue? It can be challenging to differentiate what we do from who we are, but it’s an important distinction to make to gain a stronger grasp on our identity.

A huge aspect of an early recovery identity crisis is the fact that alcohol can hijack the very systems that help us build our sense of who we are, leaving us to assume our alcohol use defines us.

Distinguishing Character vs. Habits

Even if this concept makes sense, it can be hard to conceptualize our character and identity. What would you say if you were asked to finish the sentence “I am a…?” Chances are you would identify your roles, your appearance, your affiliations, or your job titles. These just skim the surface of you.

A deep dive into self-exploration will come with its own set of challenges. Some may call it an identity crisis. Deep breath. I know the idea of an ‘identity crisis’ sounds terrifying, so I’ve laid out two techniques you can use to reclaim your sense of self and help define your character as you navigate this new chapter.

Cognitive Reframing & Re-Attribution (Excuse me, what?)

Let’s break this one down. Cognitive reframing means changing the way we view situations, experiences, events, ideas, and emotions. This practice can help us ‘take back’ the things we used to associate with drinking.

Then comes the “Reattribution” part. Reattribution is a fancy therapy word for finding new explanations for why things happen and challenging some of our deeply ingrained ideas by considering alternatives.

Let’s use an example.

Say, for example, you associate socializing with drinking, so your instinct is to believe that your new sobriety means you can’t be social anymore. Suppose you take a look at the other moments, memories, and experiences in life that are both social and sober. Think about how you can integrate these experiences into your new life without alcohol. Re-associate what socializing means to you, because it doesn’t have to mean drinking. It can mean intimate conversations with friends, clarity in relationships, high-energy, clear-headed parties, and more.

Challenging our thoughts and associations can be uncomfortable, but by changing our perspective we can build new associations and get to know ourselves better without alcohol.

Meeting Fear With Curiosity

A huge aspect of an early recovery identity crisis is the fact that alcohol can hijack the very systems that help us build our sense of who we are, leaving us to assume our alcohol use defines us. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!) In deciding to drink less or stop altogether, you will have to reconnect with what it means to hold space for yourself and your recollections. This can be very unsettling, particularly for those experiences that you would rather avoid thinking about. That’s where coping skills like mindfulness, self-soothing, and cognitive reframing come in. These practices can help regulate the intensity of these emotions as you find new ways to write your narrative.

Things are changing, so it’s natural to feel unsettled and unsure. But this change is good. I hope you take this time to reconnect with the beautiful things that make you, you with newfound clarity, perspective, and self-appreciation. If you want to stay in touch along the way, join us in the Monument Community, come check out our Support Groups, and explore Personalized Treatment options. You can do this!

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Sabrina SpotornoSabrina Spotorno, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with an affinity for working with children, adolescents, individuals, and families. She is a therapist on the Monument platform, and is trained in several modalities, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Narrative Therapy. She’s passionate about empowering her clients to recognize their strengths amidst their life transitions to optimize their sense of efficacy and alignment of their actions with their beliefs and dreams.
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