“To thine own self be true.”
William Shakespeare is credited with this quote. “To thine own self be true.” This is Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes, as he boards a boat to Paris. In Elizabethan times, this phrase was not simply the phrase of self-acknowledgment that it appears to be. In Shakespeare’s time, this phrase suggested that Polonius’s son must be true to his character, and borrowing money, lending money, carousing with women of dubious character, and all other intemperate pursuits result in falsifying character. Take care of yourself first, the wise father counsels, and that way you will be in a position to take care of others.
Today, this quote speaks to our world differently, as we struggle to maintain our own identity in this modern world. I think that was one of my biggest struggles when I became clean. I needed to maintain the person that I was, and also find the new person I would become. Sometimes, I found it hard to incorporate the light with the dark.
Some people would argue that I would have done best to just leave the dark alone, but I beg to differ. That attraction to the darkness is a part of me, and it is a part that I do not want to shed. I realized that I just needed to look at it in a different light. While I could still be attracted to the dark, I just did not have to immerse myself in it.
Early into my recovery, I remember my mother asking me when I would start writing about something a little more light. She wondered when I would stop writing about my addiction, and also my subsequent recovery to write about something a little more acceptable.
I think that a lot of people who have not battled an addiction do not understand that we cannot just simply walk away from it all, acting like it never happened. Just like we cannot walk away from the person that we are inside. My mother also was unhappy about my decision to write about addiction and recovery for a living, and she argues that I am still immersing myself in addiction.
But, for the addicts in recovery…we know that we simply cannot walk away like it never happened. That is how we get sick again. For some of us, we may hope to go on about our lives, hoping that others will never find out about our dark pasts. And for others of us, we must share our stories. We must share our stories to simply get them off our chest. We also share our stories in the hopes that our message will help someone else.
So, in the beginning of my recovery, I battled with myself to discover who I really was, and how I was going to come to terms with this new life. For a while, I decided to shed the Doc Martens and chain wallet, trading them in for a V-neck sweater with a collared shirt. But, that persona just did not work for me. Once again, I felt uncomfortable in that skin.
So, much to my mother’s dismay, I put the Docs and chain wallet back on while I turned the punk music up even louder than before. Just because I dress like this, does not make me any more susceptible to relapse. In fact, I might argue it makes me much less susceptible to relapse.
We have to come to terms with who we are, embracing both the good and the bad. We cannot shed our former clothing and music tastes just to try to fit in. That could be how so many of us got in trouble in the first place…trying to be someone we are not.
I have heard so many addicts say that before they started using, they never felt comfortable in their own skin. One of my good friends remembers trying to fit in as a young kid, where she always felt like an outcast. Her father was a cop, and she was expected to be a good daughter. Her parents were appalled at when she started wearing all black, and they were mortified when she joined an all-chick punk band, as she screamed into the mike. Her friends she had grown up with were equally as appalled, but for the first time my friend found herself. For the first time, my friend felt comfortable with who she was.
We are not all made to play golf on the weekends, while we work in the office the rest of our time. And we have to come to terms with the person that we really are. We cannot lose sight of that person, as we try to create the life that we want.
Recovery teaches us to embrace who we are. Running from that person only causes us heartache. I would guess that is probably true of most people. It is just that those of us in recovery often must figure this out in order to save our life. The good thing is that we can go on to live a truly happy life, where as some people may live their whole life pretending to someone they are not. And although they may be successful, they may not ever be truly happy. Sometimes, fighting for our lives makes us realize how precious it really is. And that fight makes us realize how precious each piece of ourselves also is.
To thine own self be true. We must be comfortable in our own skin to maintain sobriety. And we must learn to embrace all parts, both light and dark. After all, this is our life…not anyone else’s. This is our future, and our recovery. We must hold true to ourselves, and we must carry those truths with us.