Death of Ego in Addiction Recovery
Acceptance in Addiction Recovery
A word you will hear over and over in rehab, meetings, and other addiction treatment is “acceptance.” Addiction inspires a lot of self-denial. You deny there is any problem at all for a long time. You justify why you drink or use drugs. You want to take care of yourself and make healthy choices, but continue to use regardless of health consequences. You want to be a good person, but you lie and mistreat others. The list goes on and on.
These kinds of deep denial and self-contradiction are extremely difficult to come to terms with. Most people in early recovery feel ashamed of these behaviors, which makes them hard to face. It seems easier not to think about any of it at all. To achieve healing and growth, though, acceptance must happen.
Ego Death and Acceptance of Addiction
In his essay “The Paradox of Self-Denial,” Alan Watts says something on this that seems poignant.
“[W]hat I have called the death of the ego transpires in the moment when it is discovered and admitted that these ultimate feelings are irresistible [ultimate certainty of death, overall helplessness of men within the vast tide of life, feelings that arise when we are faced with a conflict of feelings which cannot be resolved] … When life compels us at last to give in, to surrender to the full play of what is ordinarily called the terror of the unknown, the suppressed feeling suddenly shoots upwards as a fountain of the purest joy.”
Watts believes that this “purest joy” isn’t achievable without acceptance. Addiction hijacks the brain, so that alcohol or drugs are prioritized above almost anything else. This causes people to do unthinkable things and often to lose sight of things that were once of great importance.
While the burden of guilt can seem unbearable, you have to let go of self-judgement and shame. You have to let go of how you wish things had been different. Once you surrender and accept what has happened in the past, to you and by you, a space for relief and self-forgiveness will open. This is the ego-death of addiction recovery.
Control Complex and Addiction
The forces at work in this life are inevitably greater than you and your decisions. Many people who struggle with addiction have control complexes. You want to feel in control of your mood or experience, by using, and you want to feel in control of your using. Yet, you are not in control. To accept this powerlessness and lack of control is a kind of ego death as well.
This isn’t to say that everyone is completely powerless in life. In treatment, people learn coping skills, how to regulate stress in healthy ways for example. These new skills can create agency in your life, but there are many things that cannot be controlled. The past cannot be changed or undone, for example.
Addiction Isn’t Your Fault
Once you get clean and sober with the proper help, and develop the coping skills needed to maintain sobriety, you can hold yourself accountable again. It is important to remember, though, that addiction is a disease. It physically changes the brain. Someone with undiagnosed Diabetes and no medical care will not be able to avoid dangerously high blood sugar levels.
With the same logic, someone in active addiction cannot to avoid their own ailment, without medical and therapeutic intervention. Seeking the professional care you need is the most important thing you could do. Only then will you be able to heal. Call (877)670-8451 to speak with someone about treatment options and resources that are available.