We identify with the world a million ways each day, but none so powerfully — for better or for worse — as what we say about ourselves.
How we identify ourselves can either facilitate complete and permanent transformation, or keep us from ever fully realizing our gifts, talents and ability to positively impact the world.
This was especially true with my story of recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
I got clean and sober just shy of my 24th birthday and came in swinging bags of crazy ideas about who I was and what I was or wasn’t capable of, based on old information from my time under the influence, most of which was pretty shameful.
I was an alcoholic and drug addict after all, and that’s rarely a pretty picture.
But soon after I stumbled into my first 12-Step meeting, I found close-mouthed, open-hearted friends who taught me that my time in active addiction was a small part of a very big story, one that was still in the making; one that could be used to help countless people if I let it.
By “letting it,” they meant changing it. They meant that I should deliberately gather evidence of a promising new future — through intentional shifts in my thoughts, language and action — rather than continue to make old, humiliating choices minus the chemicals. And becoming someone that was free, happy and useful sounded like a great alternative to the insecure, ego-driven wreck I had become. It didn’t sound likely to my limited brain in the beginning, but it did sound like it was worth shooting for.
Of course, in order to have a shot at this renewal, I had to do some work, starting with acknowledging the powerlessness, unmanageability and insanity that had brought me there to begin with. I had to open myself up to the notion that a power greater than me not only existed, but awaited my transformation. I had to examine my past, not to beat myself up, but to find clues for how, when and where to grow. I had to identify my character defects and be willing to rid myself of them for the sake of the better self I might become. I had to clean up the wreckage of my past by making sincere amends to those I had harmed. And I had to continue, through conscious thought and action, to connect to that greater power, for the sake of who I could serve.
I did this work, again and again and my life changed. Completely. That work transformed me from an angry, cynical, self-centered girl, who wanted nothing more than to meet the days cravings, into a giving, creative, funny, warm and loving woman.
Through it all, I learned some key things about how better to identify myself and my potential. For example, before, I would say things like: “I always make a mess of things, I never think things through.” That statement became: “I used to make a mess of things by not taking the time to think things through.”
In addition, I learned to declare a new reality, in this case: “Now, I am willing to examine the situation and get curious about my options before rushing into a decision.” Then, I would repeat this version as many times as it took for it to “take.”
Here’s how to boil it down to a practical exercise for transformation:
What do I say about myself that isn’t positive?
What would I prefer to say about myself in that area?
What is the “I am…” statement that reflects that desire, in present day terms, as though it’s already happening?
Finally, we can learn to express our identity in a way that not only serves us, but also has an impact on others. For instance, I am not shy about being in recovery, but I don’t lead with how my life was in my active addiction; I focus on how it is now, which opens the door to deeper conversation with people who may want more information to support their own journey.
“I am an alcoholic and drug addict” is about me.
“I am in long-term recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol” is about sharing today’s truth in a way that might help someone else achieve the same.
It comes down to this: ditch the limiting language of “always” and “never.” Declare yourself to be whomever and whatever you want to be, in present-day terms, over and over as though it’s already so and watch your world align with that. Then reveal your identity for the sake of who you can serve. The brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined: we get what we think of most.
So, what do you think of you?
Featured image by DigiDragon on Flickr