More often than not, addiction involves living a double life. It fosters a duality between a false self we present to others and who we really are. We were in constant conflict between these selves and often clung desperately to the false self in vain, as we underestimated the ability of others to see through the facade.
If we continue this lack of authenticity in recovery, we greatly limit our sense of belonging and our sincere connection with others. I believe the true essence of recovery is discovering who we really are and having the courage to face the vulnerability, fear, and shame that surrounds showing our true selves to the world.
When identifying characteristics in people, the word "authenticity" is quite subjective and open to interpretation. For most, hearing this word probably brings to mind something like "true to", or possibly "true blue." For example, when cuisine is described as authentic, that generally means that it is true to a specific culture. In other words, it fills all the expected or typical elements of that particular type of cuisine.
However, intertwining what is expected and what is true to a person—rather than a thing—can be a fatal attraction.
Brené Brown—one of my favorite authors—has done extensive research and written about many subjective aspects of the human experience, such as shame, vulnerability, gratitude, and authenticity. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she addresses how these elements of being human tie into what she calls "wholehearted living."
Her definition of authenticity captures the importance of separating what others expect of us and what is being true to ourselves:
"Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
Embracing who we actually are comes with obstacles. In doing so, we have to face the demons which we allowed to permeate our being and actually embrace them with a new outlook of grace, humility, and gratitude.
Demons As Gifts
Rather than running from these essential elements of existence, we have to accept them as part of being alive. That involves owning our deepest fears and sharing them with others.
Brené Brown says it well: "If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way - especially shame, fear, and vulnerability."
Paradoxically, talking about these difficult topics can make us feel scared (fearful), raw (vulnerable), and maybe a little shameful. However, when we shed light on them by opening up to someone trustworthy of handling our hearts with care, we are practicing acceptance of who we are—not what others expect us to be—and taking our power back from each of these demons by turning them into gifts of wisdom and progress.
In our courageous journey to authenticity, we also need to practice authenticity when we listen to others share their fears.
True to Others, True to Ourselves
Another element of authenticity involves being true to who you are by being completely honest with another person and speaking what is true to your heart, despite what might be expected or choosing the "easier, softer way" with people.
Addiction counselor and Sober Recovery writer Kelly McClanahan wrote an article on authenticity in 2014, and I like how succinctly she describes this idea:
"An authentic person is kind enough to be honest with others, even when it is difficult."
What sticks out for me in this statement is the subtle separation of expectations from authenticity. Far too often, we say what we expect will get the desired response from others and not what might actually help them. Meaning, the essence of authenticity also includes being true to others' hearts while being true to our own.
When we strive to behave in a way that reflects what we think is expected, we deny ourselves the freedom of being our true selves. Likewise, when we place expectations on the behavior of others, we deny ourselves the freedom that comes with listening with our hearts.
In both cases authenticity is elusive, and true connection is sacrificed.
I believe that authenticity as a way of life—both with ourselves and others—is vital for long-term recovery, due to its strong relationship with connection and a sense of belonging.
Now that we're sober, we have the remarkable opportunity to ditch the double life and gratefully relish in a life where we are simply what we were meant to be—joyous, worthy of love and belonging, connected and engaged.
That means taking our demons and turning them into "gifts of imperfection."
Much wholehearted appreciation and gratitude to Brené Brown for the authenticity and inspiration she shares so courageously with others, especially those in recovery.