Recently, I was in a recovery meeting during which an “old-timer” (this fellow had been living a program of recovery and was 30-plus years “clean and sober”) brought up the topic of being our authentic selves. Everyone in the room (including me) shared reflectively about what that means and how it has benefitted us.
One of my sponsors once said (paraphrasing him here), “Living an authentic life is when our actions and words are congruent with our beliefs and values. It is being our true selves, not a mask or image we hold up, not acting in a way we feel others would accept, or behaving how others tell us we should. It is acting, behaving, speaking and living a life that is true to our personal identity.”
This process of opening ourselves to becoming more authentic, one day at a time, involves being willing to really look at who we are, and mustering the courage to know ourselves just as we are… including being honest about what we truly want from life.
If we find ourselves living to gain the approval of others, or compromising our values, morals or beliefs, we are not living an authentic life.
We nurture our recovery, we nurture the emergence of our true selves, when we maintain a commitment to health, well-being and personal growth. Ultimately, the practice of living authentically helps ensure we’re creating a sense of self and our lives we can be proud.
Most of us who have lived through the nightmare of a substance use disorder (a.k.a., chemical dependency, addiction to alcohol and/or drugs) have lost our authentic selves. Many of us took on roles and became whoever we believed we were supposed to be in our family, with our friends, in our jobs, and in society. Eventually, we’d become merely a shell of who we really are.
Embracing a life in recovery replenishes and restores our authentic spirit, bit by bit, one day at a time. We begin discovering the person who we are now and the person we’re becoming.
Our progress will not be perfect, and this journey will bring us face to face with many challenges and uncertainties. And even a solid foundation in recovery doesn’t exclude us from these and many other problems that can and often will arise. But leaning into our commitment to be authentic, to respond to life as honestly, integrally and authentically as we possibly can will help us navigate our way forward and back into calmer waters.
Sure, learning a new way to think, feel and be takes time. And yes, an impulse to slip back into old patterns of thinking and acting may rear its head up out of the blue, even for the “old-timers” among us.
That’s why the fellow in that meeting I mentioned at the start raised the topic – because even with many years of sobriety, he found himself watching his authenticity slip away before his eyes. But the good news is he caught himself, spoke up about it at a meeting, and invited us all to consider shining a light on that occasional shadow from the past that can arise… that voice that says, “You’ll be better off if you hide who you really are or how you really feel. Show people a smiley face. You can do it!”
By the end of that meeting, he and everyone else (including me) felt empowered to stand firm in who we are and our recovery, to reap the gifts living life authentically can bring, and to encourage anyone we saw “wearing masks” or acting out to rise up and be true to themselves, their beliefs, values and principles, one day at a time.