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For many of us, the recovery process is about rediscovering and reinventing ourselves. Throughout our struggles with addiction and mental illness, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves. We feel out of alignment with our inner selves. We’re afraid to be our authentic selves and express ourselves. We don’t feel we’re being true to ourselves, in our daily lives, in our interactions with people, in our relationships. Our self-perception is often based on feelings of shame and insecurity. We define ourselves by our regret from the mistakes we’ve made and things we’ve done wrong. We don’t have a healthy self-image based on self-love and self-acceptance. We’re insecure, self-hating and ashamed of ourselves. As we’re working to recover, some of the most important emotional work is the work we do around reinventing ourselves.

The reinvention part of inner healing and personal development can feel foreign and unnatural to us. We don’t even know who we are – how are we supposed to reinvent something that is unknown and unfamiliar to us? We’ve spent years of our lives feeling trapped by our addictions and mental health issues. We don’t have a clear sense of our identity, our personality, our likes and dislikes, our goals and dreams. We haven’t made peace with the trauma of our pasts. We still feel haunted by our fears and our unhealed wounds. To reinvent ourselves, we have to look forward, but we also have to look back. What pain is still driving you? What hurt has been fueling your addictive patterns and mental illnesses? Where did your destructive habits and behaviors come from? Why were you so self-destructive in the first place?

Let’s work to really uncover how we truly feel about ourselves, how we formed our past identity, especially before addiction took hold and changed everything. Do you feel you were a good person? Did you have values that were important to you? Did you feel you knew your life’s purpose and direction? Did you feel connected to your inner self? Did you feel you were living in alignment with your spirit and in tune with your intuition? Many of us felt lost, empty, hopeless and unfulfilled long before our addictions and mental illnesses set in. We were already struggling to understand ourselves and make sense of all our many thoughts and feelings. It’s so important to ask ourselves these questions now, now that we’re working to gain clarity on who we are and what we want in life. Don’t be intimidated by these questions, and don’t feel impatient with yourself to have all the answers right away. The self-reflection process takes time (a lifetime!), and there is no rush, no timeline or deadline. Take as much time as you need. Work to really get to know yourself. Use meditation, spiritual practice and self-care to reconnect with your inner self.

Part of the reinvention process involves learning how to love ourselves so deeply and unconditionally that we essentially fall in love with ourselves. We want to be able to establish and maintain boundaries in our lives that we hold other people to, as well as ourselves. We want to be able to look in the mirror and feel as though we know who we truly are, that we’re not so full of shame and regret that we can’t recognize ourselves or even look ourselves in the eye. We want to be so full of self-acceptance and self-respect that we’re able to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes and stop beating ourselves up for them. Self-forgiveness is a huge part of reinventing ourselves. If we’re trapped in guilt, shame, remorse and disappointment in ourselves, there’s no way we can move forward in a healthy, productive way. If we’re flogging ourselves and inundating ourselves with guilt, we can’t make meaningful, lasting change in our lives. There isn’t room for change or progress in the future if our energy is consumed by the past and all of our regrets.

Here’s an exercise you can try. Write down your biggest, most shameful secrets and regrets. Sit with them and meditate on them. The process of facing them head on, really confronting them, and seeing them written down takes the sting out of them, desensitizes us to the pain of them, and helps us come to terms with them. Seeing it all in writing shows us in a tangible way that maybe it isn’t all so bad after all. Now work to make peace with that pain. Visualize yourself surrounding all of that pain with light, forgiveness, and self-love. Picture all of your shame contained in a big, dark cloud, then picture the sun’s light piercing that cloud and causing it to dissipate, until the last little bit of the cloud has drifted away in the wind. Work with a therapist or spiritual guide on your self-forgiveness. There’s no way we can reinvent ourselves and move forward if we haven’t forgiven ourselves for the past.

Once we feel more at peace with ourselves, and this of course is an ongoing healing process, we can focus on stepping into the identity we want to create for ourselves. Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want your days, your routines and your lifestyle to look? Where do you want to be, today, next year, five years from now? Who do you want to be with? If you were truly happy, truly fulfilled and satisfied in life, what would you be doing? Meditate on your answers. Make lists, create vision boards, repeat affirmations. Set intentions to help you manifest your goals. The work we do to reinvent ourselves is some of the most important and rewarding work we’ll ever do for our recovery.

Riverside Recovery is a drug and alcohol treatment center offering a full continuum of care for people suffering from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Call us today for more information: (800) 871-5440.