laura mackay

Guest Blogger: Laura Mackay of Addiction is the Symptom

Identify with your true self, not all the crap on top of you


Self-identification is a powerful thing. Because the mind is a powerful thing. Whatever you attach to "I am" can become self-fulfilling. Makes sense, right? So what are the consequences of saying, over and over, for years on end, "My name is [your name here], and I'm an alcoholic"?

Identifying as "an alcoholic" (or "a sex addict" or "a binge eater" or . . . ) is not a great way to free yourself to be something else. Like for instance the healthy, empowered, fulfilled person you were born and deserve to be.

That's why I was psyched to see your Sobriety Collective host, Laura, in her July 10 post "Rent-a-Program Part 1", publicly moving away from “My name is Laura, and I’m an alcoholic” to “and I’m in long-term recovery.” That's progress, IMO.

The first time you say, “My name is ___________ , and I'm an addict,” it's a huge step. Change isn't possible until you get off the denial and face reality. But when you identify as “an addict” or, later, as “a recovering addict” ("in long-term recovery" is definitely an improvement), you define and even experience yourself as the very thing you don't want to be. As if the condition were integral to who you are.

The assumption, of course, is that addiction can’t be healed, only treated, the best outcome being a perpetual state of recovery. It's true that someone who has suffered from alcoholism may never be able to safely drink again. But so what? Imagine getting so far past chemical addiction that it simply is not relevant to you anymore.

It can happen.

Dr. Rosemary Brown, whose book Addiction Is the Symptom: Heal the Cause and Prevent Relapse with 12 Steps that Really Work I cowrote, once suffered from a serious addiction to alcohol, complete with a two-year relapse. But Dr. Brown, a psychologist, long ago quit calling herself "an alcoholic" or even "a recovered alcoholic." She's just Rosemary.

The irrelevance of the "alcoholic" identifier to her comes partly from not having had a drink for 43 years, thanks to developing a systematic approach to the 12 Steps that has prevented relapse for both her and her many clients and sponsees. But it also comes from a recognition that infuses her step process: we are fundamentally spiritual beings. And spiritually speaking, we are by definition perfect.

The whole range of addictive behaviors that we humans engage in, Dr. Brown argues, stems largely from deep-seated, near-universal conditioning imposed on us in childhood. Her step process is designed to bring that conditioning to consciousness. Then, it can be both understood and experienced (as I can attest) as separate from our spiritual selves. Not to mention unlearned.

One of the many results of that profound shift in experience is that you feel a whole lot better about yourself and—oh!—no longer need a drug to dull the pain of mistakenly believing yourself to be a loser. Or whatever it is you’re calling yourself on your darker days.

I like what one teacher of Hinduism said: “Perfection means . . . to be oneself—one’s true self.”

You are not your addictive behavior. There is nothing wrong with your spiritual self, your true self. What's wrong is all the garbage—the conditioning—piled on top of you. Take that thought to the mirror each morning, and try, for even a moment, to see who you really are. And then start telling it like it is. Go ahead, try it on for size:

My name is ____________ , and I am beautifully, perfectly myself.



Laura MacKay cowrote Dr. Rosemary Ellsworth Brown's Addiction Is the Symptom: Heal the Cause and Prevent Relapse with 12 Steps that Really Work. While working on the book, Laura realized that she could benefit from the process she was helping to define and describe. She completed Dr. Brown's step process in April 2014.