Part of what made (and makes) recovery complicated for me is that, over time, it seemed I had built almost my entire personality around my symptoms.
For a long time, my social “persona” revolved around being outgoing and charismatic— but what nobody knew was that I had essentially constructed that persona to compensate for what would otherwise be crippling social anxiety.
In professional situations, I acquired a reputation as being a nonconformist, kind of a “maverick” who would’t conform to rules or expectations— but what nobody knew was that I’d essentially constructed that professional persona to compensate for anxiety and anger responses that got triggered by authority figures.
Almost every aspect of my personal and professional life had been not just impacted by, by constructed around, my symptoms of depression, anxiety, and later addiction— all of which had been stoked by my history of abuse and neglect.
Part of the problem, ironically, was that my elaborately constructed personality and behavioral defenses were kind of working. Working well enough, anyway.
I was able to pawn off certain self destructive behavior as just me being “intense.”
I was able to justify isolative behavior— which exacerbated my depression and enabled my addiction— as just me being a “loner.”
I was able to pawn off my disorganized behavior— which, I know now, was my unmanaged ADHD running the show— as just “Glenn being Glenn, whatcha gonna do?”
And people bought it. Because what else could they do?
How were they to know that a lot of my personality and behavioral patterns resulted from me working around nearly debilitating symptoms of depression, anxiety, addiction, and trauma?
I had a problem that a lot of people have: even though a lot of my personality had been constructed to compensate for my symptoms, I functioned more or less well enough to keep people off my case.
At least, most of the time.
Fast forward to finally getting serious about recovery, and I ran into a problem that may be familiar to you: I realized that to really work on eliminating or reducing some of these symptoms, I’d be forced to essentially become a different person.
That seemed overwhelming. It still does, sometimes. Maybe you can relate.
After all, who am I, if I don’t have to put on a performance to compensate for my social anxiety?
Who am I, if I’m not isolating for the purpose of secretly getting high and avoiding meaningful attachments that I’m afraid will tie me down?
We don’t have to deny how huge the task in front of us is: when we’ve constructed big parts of who we are around our symptoms, healing may ask us to literally become someone else.
Choosing and creating who we WANT to be— not just who we “have” to be to compensate for our symptoms— is a BIG ask.
Many of us can’t even imagine what a calm, confident, secure version of us might look like.
If we can’t even imagine it, how can we possibly become it?
Make no mistake: a big part of recovery, especially in the beginning, involves experimenting with different ways of being “us” out in the world.
We may have to make it up as we go along for awhile.
We’ll definitely have to do certain things that feel unnatural and uncomfortable.
And we’ll definitely be tempted to just go back to the way things were— being the person who was constructed around our symptoms— just because it’s easier and more familiar.
Resist that temptation.
Yes, imagining a calm, confident, secure you is going to feel like a stretch at first.
Yes, putting words to our thoughts, feelings, and needs, is going to feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first.
But stick with it. Visualize it.
Construct the new “you” from the ground up.
You deserve the opportunity to be more than just a series of reactions and responses to painful symptoms.
You deserve to be a whole person— not a person constructed to compensate for or hide pain.