I’ve been thinking a lot about the identity crisis that seems to occur for many people somewhere along the recovery journey, probably because I’m currently in the middle of one. Not a crisis necessarily, but a new opportunity to look at and redefine who I am and how I spend my time.

I think for many of us who have struggled with our food and weight for a long time, a big part of our identity is wrapped up in that struggle. When we are used to spending so much of our mental energy thinking about food, trying to lose weight, exercising, improving our health, etc, it can be a little bit anxiety-producing when all of that mental space opens up. We are faced with the question: now that I’m not spending all my time and mental energy obsessing about food and weight… who am I? 

This is both an exciting and slightly terrifying question. When I realized recently that I have all of this extra bandwidth, I stopped meditating for several days. I think this was because underneath this question is a fear that I might not actually have goals, passions, interests, or the motivation to pursue other things. The boredom I was feeling was threatening on some level. I started busying myself with lots of mundane tasks rather than reflecting on what activities would enrich my life and what actions I could take toward this goal.

My spouse commented that by finding security and stability with my food, self-care routines, work life, relationships, finances, etc, I have reached the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, and am feeling the need for self-actualization. Self-actualization is about wanting to achieve one’s full potential, including creative expression.

Perhaps the greatest gift of recovery is that it opens the doorway for us to explore these questions about who we want to be and what we want to do in the world. When we are trapped in our food addictions, we simply don’t have the mental space to focus on our full potential. We use food or our other drugs of choice to avoid asking ourselves these questions, and to keep ourselves happy in the short-term so we don’t have to think about whether or not we are happy with the long-term direction of our lives.

Now I just have to figure out what makes me happy, and what makes me feel productive and purposeful in the world. A daunting but exciting task. I am going to invite these questions into my meditation and journaling practices in the coming weeks. I look forward to seeing what arises.

Here are some of the questions that are floating around my mind right now.

  • What hobbies do I want to pursue?
  • What skills and knowledge do I want to have?
  • How can I provide service to my community?
  • Where can I find new communities of people to connect with?
  • How can I further my education and my ability to do my job well?
  • How can I grow my relationships?
  • How can I deepen my self-awareness and self-understanding?
  • What brings me true joy?
  • What are ways I can express myself creatively?
  • How can I engage in activism in support of my values?

What kinds of identity shifts have occurred for you along your recovery journey?