Recovery is the process of becoming fearless. This means shedding the layers of psychic armor we’ve built around ourselves to hide and protect us from the unknown. Without armor we feel vulnerable and this feeling of vulnerability is the thing most addicts fear the most. The irony is that this is where our greatest strength can be found.
Addicts come into recovery with decades of built up armor. Maybe it went up early in life, before drugs even entered the equation, as a defense against other dangers such as violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse. Then drugs came along adding even more layers. In active addiction there’s good reason to not to feel safe. In the world of active addiction vulnerability is a sign of weakness, a sucker waiting to be had.
In recovery vulnerability is strength. When we meet someone who is open and unguarded we experience feelings of safety and warmth. We feel their authenticity. What you see is what you get. These people have courage to embrace life without the need for armor. We are attracted to this.
Armor limits our capacity for real intimacy. It protected us from danger but it also distanced us from our own painful experiences and locked away the feelings that were too difficult to process. In recovery, whether we like it or not, our emotions begin to thaw. This is how we start to shed our armor. By sharing our stories, our feelings, our confusion, and acknowledge our need to connect to others we learn to expose our true selves. This process is natural and gradual. We find people we feel safe with – usually people whose own strength lay in their vulnerability, their compassion and empathy – and we begin to reveal ourselves to them. This is how we shed our armor. As we learn to trust we make authentic connections based in honesty. We grow in our capacity for intimacy.
In time we experience the freedom that comes from not having to hide behind image or attitude. We are multi-dimensional. We’re more than the clown or the gangster, a haircut and an outfit, the party girl, the wild one. When our armor comes off we no longer need to pretend to be any more or any less than who we are. We discover our greatest strength comes from being ourselves.