The Evolution of Identity
By David B. Bohl
I used to identify in a very specific way. In the beginning of my recovery journey and my adoptee journey I was given two words to describe myself and my story, and I used those words to signal to the world who I was – “My name is David and I’m an alcoholic” in 12-step meetings, and in the context of my adoption, “I’m an adoptee”.
I was okay with using both terms for a while because they served as shortcuts – for example, I didn’t have to go into long explanations over why I was at an AA meeting or not drinking at a wedding. And I would tell people I was adopted for similar reasons – so that they would understand something about me or would be able to identify with me (if I was, for example, at an adoptee conference).
But eventually I realized that I’m doing myself a disservice by boxing my identity into labels.
I cannot limit myself to these descriptions of who I am because they actually don’t describe at all who I am – they describe the problem I have. I am not an alcoholic – I have a problem with alcohol. I’m not an adoptee – I was given up for adoption. So in that context, I now say, “I’m David, and I was relinquished and adopted”.
I’m not trying to be contrarian, especially when it comes to 12-step programs where admitting to being an alcoholic is simply part of the deal: From The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5, How it Works: “[That] we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.” No, I’m just saying this: calling myself an alcoholic doesn’t work for me anymore. It is reductionist and limiting. I’m so much more than that. I can concede that being an alcoholic was my singular identity the day I went to hospital detox, but my existence has not ended there, and I have grown in many different ways. The Big Book language suggests that as an alcoholic I am selfish and self-centered, but I beg to differ – I am not the problem. The problem is alcoholism / substance use disorder. I am not the problem.
The problem is the problem. (alcoholism / substance use disorder)
I’m happy that I’ve grown beyond the labels that I used to give myself – it is so liberating. Every time I think I’ve reached some new level of self-discovery, I find myself in front of another door. This time, opening the door revealed that I have much more freedom than I thought I did. Labels are limiting. They are actually deceptive as shortcuts. They’re a bit more like dead-ends.
When I tell a stranger – who is not in the world of recovery – that I’m an alcoholic, he probably forms all kinds of ideas about me that might be false. He might not see me as a father, a husband, an accomplished professional, or a successful author. He might possibly just see me as the proverbial drunk behind a dumpster with a brown paper bag or whatever the stereotype dictates. And if this stranger is indeed bringing some horrible stereotype into learning something about me, another human being, it’s not my pride that’s being hurt – it’s just that that’s not an honest picture and, in the end, I have not become known to him. So what is really the point?
I have developed beyond the labels. And because I am able to accept the fact that I am always evolving, my world becomes bigger and more enriched and I feel closer to reality and I feel freer than ever before.
David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.
You can visit his website here: David B. Bohl.
Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.