How To Navigate The Early Recovery Identity Crisis

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

‘What we do’ is ever-changing. Our habits can feel defining at times, but they can evolve and adapt to align with what makes you, you. When we match our habits and practices to our character, we can achieve more harmony and a stronger sense of self. That’s a big part of this journey. Changing your behaviors to match your character, and becoming the best version of you.

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

Another reframing technique is to meet fear with curiosity. Can you be intrigued by the things that you are unsure about in your life? Are there ways to observe these unknowns as possibly delicious toppings?

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 online alcohol 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

Avatar photoMonument is an online platform for those looking to change their relationship with alcohol. We connect members to a free anonymous community, therapist-moderated groups, and a collection of resources to provide the support and information they deserve. Members seeking medical treatment are introduced to a licensed physician and a specialized therapist to develop a personalized treatment plan specific to their goals. Monument is affordable, accessible, and research-based, so a healthy relationship with alcohol is attainable and celebrated by all.