Get Out of Your Own Way: Ego in Addiction Recovery

The Concept of Ego in Recovery

Let’s first define the term “ego,” as we use it in our treatment programs at Spirit Mountain Recovery. Ego – as Eckhart Tolle best describes it, is an individual’s conditioned “mind-made sense of self.” It is who someone believes they are, based not only on what they think about themselves but on what others have told them about themselves as well. Ego is often characterized as that “voice in your head.” 

In other words, ego can be defined as a superficial “form construct” of the mind. It’s often expressed by someone as “their story,” which has evolved from birth. This man-made “identity” of the mind also appears to have evolved as a primal construct in the development of the human brain. Sigmund Freud said, “The task of the ego is to find a balance between primitive drives, morals, and reality.”

By its nature, the “egoic” state of being is evidenced by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and superiority. This egoic state is also accompanied by a negative outlook on life and overreacts emotionally in stressful or anxious moments—the ego judges and labels people. The ego can cause an unhappy state of being. Ego in addiction recovery is a significant factor and potential roadblock to complete healing. 

The 12 Step Program of AA describes ego as “selfishness, self-centeredness… the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows, and they retaliate.”

At Spirit Mountain Recovery, we believe ego to be a superficial “man-made” construct of the mind. Someone’s inability to suppress or obliterate their pride and ego in recovery may severely impede them from fully recovering from addiction. 

Man talking to his therapist about ego in recovery.

Pitfalls of Ego in Addiction Recovery

An inflated ego in AA and other programs can be particularly hazardous during recovery from addiction or any form of personal struggle. It can manifest as overconfidence or a belief that one is immune to relapse or further challenges.

This mindset can lead to complacency, overlooking the need for ongoing support and vigilance. It can also strain relationships, as the focus shifts inward, neglecting the importance of external connections for recovery.

Additionally, an inflated ego can hinder introspection and growth, as individuals may resist acknowledging their vulnerabilities or seeking help when needed. In essence, an inflated ego can sabotage recovery by blinding individuals to the realities of their situation and preventing them from accessing the resources essential for lasting healing.

Pride and Ego in Recovery

In recovery, pride is often a double-edged sword. Healthy pride fuels motivation and a sense of achievement, driving individuals to persevere through challenges. However, when pride morphs into unchecked ego, it leads to arrogance, resistance to feedback, and a sense of invincibility, all of which may hinder progress and jeopardize recovery.

Unfortunately, as this is often the case, the key to defeating swollen pride and ego in recovery most often comes from severe desperation. Typically, as the result of experiencing the pain, suffering, and calamity of the everyday life of someone suffering from alcohol or drug addiction.

It is through experiencing this state of hopelessness that a significant deflation of the ego occurs. Where the ego dissipates enough for someone to truly realize the severity of their condition, let go of their self-will, and ask for help. For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), individuals often find that the effectiveness of AA hinges on their ability to let go of their ego. Ego in AA can be a significant barrier. Only by humbling themselves can individuals fully engage with the program and accept the support and guidance it offers.

Moreover, individuals in recovery must strike a balance, embracing pride in their accomplishments while remaining humble and open to growth. This delicate balance allows for continuous improvement and sustained sobriety.

How to Free Yourself of Ego

Egoic thought will have to be severely deflated or suppressed to make way for a new world of self-consciousness to occur. A critical step needs to occur for someone to be able to free themselves from ego in recovery. Hence, transcend from their previous life of self-harm and chaos to a new way of perceiving and healthily reacting to life. 

As Eckhart Tolle would put it, “To be free (of your ego), you awaken to who you are beyond your life story.” In other words, you discover your “essence identity,” where you become aware of yourself at a deeper level. 

Your “essence identity” is free of ego. In other words, you live in a more conscious state of being, free of your mind-made sense of self, “your story.” You have become more conscious or aware of your destructive mind-talk and dysfunctional egoic-driven actions and can better avoid them.

It is in this deflated state of ego that someone can transform their lives. Fracturing one’s ego leads to a more conscious awareness that one will not be able to recover from their addiction by oneself or by their means. This “surrender” that occurs for 12 Steppers typically leads to Step One: acknowledging that I am powerless over alcohol (any substance) and that my life has become unmanageable

Then, Step One leads to more evidenced consciousness in the embracing of Step Two – the realization or belief that there is a power greater than themselves that, if sought, can help them.  Now aware that a power greater than themselves exists, they commit to turning their lives over in the direction of this new life force.

Ways to Access a Deeper Consciousness

Besides the deflation of the ego that occurs as the result of the spiritual experience as outlined above, there are additional ways of suppressing ego.  Therefore, accessing the peace and calm that comes from discovering a deeper level of consciousness. They are as follows:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapies that deal with learning to mitigate stress and anxiety and to correct belief or thinking errors.
  2. Meditation, Yoga, and Focused Breathing are vital mindfulness recovery regimens that direct the participant to concentrate on living in the present moment, or what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “living in the now.” Spirit Mountain Recovery provides both meditation and yoga therapy programs for addiction.
  3. Lastly, other experiential activities center around being outdoors in nature. Spirit Mountain Recovery provides experiential therapy for addiction issues in Utah.

Group therapy session, where therapist discusses the ego in recovery with clients.

Overcoming Ego in Recovery at Spirit Mountain Recovery

For those who struggle with substance addiction, the most crucial question of their life is: who am I? The answer to this question can mean the difference between living a wholesome and healthy life. Or, being subject to the typically dissatisfied and discontented nature of one’s ego. It’s often the difference between life and death for those addiction issues. 

The discovery of your true “essence identity” comes from learning to access a deeper, greater state of consciousness within you. It means choosing to live in a way that’s no longer conducive to a self-destructive ego in addiction recovery. A state of being at its deepest level is the power that connects all of humanity.

Contact Spirit Mountain Recovery today. Learn more about how our drug and alcohol rehab in Utah can help you overcome your addiction issues.

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