How do we ever know who we are supposed to be? Which version of us is the real one, and which are fabrications of our imaginations, finely tuned by our habits and daily living?
An advert for the Christmas film, Elf, played on the TV earlier, the voiceover setting out the premise of the story as being about someone who finds out one day that he isn’t who he thought he was and suddenly armed with this truth, he sets off to discover exactly who he really is.
And hearing these words, I began to think that this kind of narrative is popular with people because it is a phenomenon many of us can relate to. Maturity has much to do with self-discovery and exploration of self, but I think for those of us who have lived through and emerged out the other side of addictions, the need and desire to understand ourselves is particularly strong.
As a regular and heavy drinker, I thought I was outgoing, flirtatious, bubbly, a little bit of a daredevil, something of a maverick. As a sober person, my opinion of myself has altered drastically. I found out that I am not much of a party animal in actuality – the excessive socialising served as a cloak by which to disguise my urge to go out and get hammered. It was an easier pill to swallow if I got drunk with other people who were also getting sloshed, rather than staying home alone with just a couple of bottles of wine for company.
I’m much more interested in politics and humanity at large than I ever thought I was back in my drinking days. I simply had no energy to care about the world outside of my small and mostly inebriated existence. I now love setting myself challenges and achieving my goals, especially in running and creative projects; it is so rewarding seeing things come to fruition after hard work and planning. Pre-sobriety, running was a bit of a chore, something I did to keep in shape. I enjoyed it when I actually managed to go, but I didn’t have the same passion for it as I have now. And creativity wasn’t even in my vocabulary back then.
In Elf, Will Ferrell’s character journeys to New York in order to find out who he is and what his place in the world is, but in reality the process is a little less exciting than that. When you begin on the road to true self awareness, you just have to start walking, armed with a lot of patience, take a few tentative steps in a direction that you hope might be the correct one, see how it goes, find out how it will make you feel. Weeks and months of going nowhere, of experiencing little in the way of change may pass and it feels as though you are simply treading water and moving neither backwards nor forwards. And then you get a breakthrough.
Out of nowhere, you begin to see a new element of your self coming to the fore, seeking its place in your world. After time, the jigsaw begins to look more complete, and eventually, just the odd piece remains unfixed around the edges waiting to slot in somewhere.
Occasionally, a new situation arises and I feel unable to deal with it, not knowing whether to rely on the old me, or to try and find a different way of coping. It’s a no man’s land of emotions, a sensation of being lost in your own body. I do know how to get through these periods now though; I have finally learnt how to respond to the unknown – plod along, get your head down and get on with it, run as much as possible, stay true to living without alcohol, and eventually the sun comes out again and shines on the answer, right in front of your face.
It’s called self discovery and it only begins to start fully when you stop drinking.