The second part of our new counseling approach, the Alpha Series, focuses primarily on the development of a true and healthy identity. Some may wonder how this differs from biblical self-awareness, a series of lessons which also focuses on the development of our identity. And in many ways, the two are similar. But some may see the second phase of the Alpha Series as an extension of the first, one which takes the lessons we have learned from the scriptures and begins putting them into practice.
Our struggles to develop an identity are nothing new. Many addicts and alcoholics have encountered this type of struggle throughout their entire life. The good thing is that the Alpha Series carries many of the same positive messages that we receive from programs such as AA. One such message is that we cannot develop a new identity under the banner of recovery if we continue to live as we used to—by the faulty power of our own self-will, with no faith in a Higher Power. Instead, we must believe that things will turn out as they are meant to. More importantly, we must accept that we do not know or decide our fate to the extent we might like.
Upon reaching this point of acceptance, we will be ready to develop a healthy identity. But it will not always come easy. Even after becoming sober, we will often find that our lives are full of conflict. If we can see past the conflict, instead of using it as an excuse to hide our true selves behind a veil of drugs and alcohol, we will develop a sense of freedom that we have hitherto barred ourselves from experiencing. And it is this freedom, above all else, that should convince us of the need for sobriety.
Living By Faith Instead of Self-Will
As noted above, the first step in forging a healthy identity is to embrace faith where we once utilized self-will in all things. We must trust that God, or fate, or whatever we choose to call our Higher Power is setting in motion a plan to free us from the lives of bondage and dysfunction with which we have grown so familiar. We can’t always see it happening before our eyes, which is why faith will require a great deal of trust. It is in those moments that our faith becomes shaken that we will wonder if we will ever get what we want, but we must maintain our identity throughout these moments. Coach Eric Taylor gives the following inspirational speech in an episode of Friday Night Lights, which seems quite relevant to this point:
“Every man, at some point in his life, is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight, and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is that, in the midst of that battle, he does not lose himself. This game is not over. This battle is not over.”
We’re getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, since the next section is about conflict. But when you really think about it, it’s nearly impossible to separate our fear of conflict from the importance of faith in our lives. People who have never prayed a day in their lives have turned to a Higher Power because of fear. What’s much harder is to practice faith when all is going well. We must accept that, while we have played a part in our lives, self-will has often failed us. But faith, no matter how blind, allows us to be malleable. It allows us to accept our losses, to move past the occasional failure while still remembering who we are.
This sometimes requires us to hold up a mirror, and take a good, long look at ourselves. If we wish to live functionally and to maintain healthy relationships, we have to believe that the sum of our experiences has made us into who we were meant to be. In our past lives, we resisted our identity by trying to dull it down through drugs and alcohol. But faith in a Higher Power, as strange as this may seem, is faith in ourselves. Self-will is the embodiment of fear, and it will get us nowhere. Especially when we encounter conflicts that no mortal man or woman can overcome on their own.
Developing Identity Despite Conflict
Human beings often operate on the basis of guilt, fear, and pride. Instead, we must overcome our conflicts through the powerful grace provided us by a life motivated by faith, hope, and love. Unfortunately, it is easy to pervert our notion of a Higher Power and use it to skew things in our favor. We claim to pray and meditate when we are really just thinking of what is best for us. And because of this false sense of faith, we believe we have a license to live wrongly. Here’s a clue: if your prayers are telling you to commit one of the Seven Deadly Sins, you’re probably just hearing what you want to hear. And in the end, this type of skewed prayer will only bring further conflicts of the nature we are trying to avoid.
Do not become a slave to false righteousness. If you truly wish to live by faith and overcome the conflicts in your life, you must be open to a new way of thinking. In Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, the highest level is one at which we learn to overcome our previous ideals and learn new perceptions of right and wrong that have previously eluded us. Through a life of faith, we can develop such an identity. We can learn to overcome conflicts in new ways, without simply hiding behind a pipe or a bottle every time the going gets rough.
The Alpha Series focuses on overcoming conflict without condemnation, but the underlying key to the lesson is to find salvation through grace. Of all the conflicts we face—legal, social, etc.—the most trying battles we fight will be the ones we fight within ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are cured, and can take another drink. And because we did not practice proper methods of relapse prevention, we will find ourselves back at the bar. Unfortunately, almost nobody enjoys their second or third or fourth time out. If they have a sense of identity that enables them to realize this, they will eventually return to the fold. If not, then they may be lost forever, soon to be buried and mourned.
Faith will not end our suffering completely, nor will sobriety. But the sense of personal identity that we gain will help us to overcome our suffering in new ways. Instead of succumbing to negative emotions such as anger and depression—not to say we will not still feel them from time to time—we will deal with things in a healthier manner. Many have said that their worst moments in sobriety were better than their best moments in active addiction and alcoholism. Those who have suffered without relapsing are all too aware of this truth. Identity and faith bring with them a level of spiritual comfort, and this is often what we have been lacking while in active addiction. This gift should never be overlooked, no matter how long we have remained sober. Because the second we lose sight of this gift, we won’t be sober for very much longer.
Finding Our True Sense of Freedom
Again, our greatest conflicts will occur within ourselves. But through the faithful development of a healthy identity, we learn to forgive ourselves in time. We accept that our struggles with our many character defects do not detract from our humanity. If anything, it is our ability to recognize our personal flaws that keeps us in touch with our humanity. And as we strive to overcome these flaws and have them removed, we realize a healthier sense of identity that will transform us into a better version of ourselves than we have ever known before.
We will not overcome all of our character defects for good, but we may lay several to rest before our lifetimes are up. Our newer, healthier sense of identity will be one that does not have to grapple with as many urges to do the wrong thing, and we will find comfort in the power of the indwelling spirit that we have come to know as the source of our faith. Through the provisions of our Higher Power, we will find a new freedom and a new happiness. By seeking solace in this freedom and embracing it above all else, we will find the power to remain sober for at least another twenty-four hours.
Our personal work to develop belief in a Higher Power and to forge a new identity around said belief will do much to improve our sense of personal assurance. The Alpha Series has an entire lesson focused upon the benefits of the spiritual remedy that we will gain through this identity, as well as many lessons based on the comfort we will gain through overcoming our personal trials. But again, the most important benefit is simply freedom. We will discover freedom from a lifestyle driven by the lashes of drugs and alcohol. We have taken a whipping, but our shackles are now off and we are free to become whoever we want.
With a new sense of identity fully formed and ready to act, we are prepared to move on to the next stage of the Alpha Series: relational empowerment. But we cannot move on until we are confident that we have become the people we want to be. Just as we recommend that people avoid dating within the first year of recovery, we suggest that people be comfortable in their new skin before trying to engage in too many new relationships. In similar fashion, it is best to hold off for a while before ministering the new things you have learned to others in need of help. Service work may be an integral part of recovery, but we all must learn to listen from time to time. We cannot develop a new identity without the help of others in our support network, after all.
The idea of a new identity may feel wrong to some. Perhaps we already feel comfortable with who we are, in spite of the problems that we have brought upon ourselves in the past. Nonetheless, we will gain much from following these new teachings. And upon the discovery of our new selves, we will be freer than ever. “Happy, joyous and free.” These are the promises made by recovery. Let us never forget them, lest we suffer the return of the dark way of life that we have fought so hard to overcome.