In the process of recovery, we will spiral through the question “Who am I?” many times. Each time, we grow closer to knowing who we really are, and we have the opportunity to let go of who we are not. Breaking through the denial about addiction is difficult for anyone. What may seem hardest is accepting that there is something you cannot figure out or control. The acknowledgement that you are an addict is the beginning of your opportunity to look at every aspect of what it means to be a man in our culture and to determine what you want to accept and what you want to reject. Ultimately, you get to choose who you want to be as a man and even who you want to be as a man in recovery.

Part of exploring one’s self is recognizing what one feels. Men who have problems with alcohol and other drugs often do not know what they are feeling and have limited vocabularies for describing their feelings. Feelings are not “manly.”  Anger, indifference and sarcasm often become a catch-all for the variety of feelings a man has. Yet these can damage a man’s relationships as well as his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Who Am I?

Most of us have been taught to think of ourselves in terms of our roles as providers, fathers, husbands, relationship partners, employees, teammates and so on. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, our connection with others will tell us much about who we are.  However, our roles, do not tell the whole story about who we are. In recovery, it is important to develop our relationships with others (our outer selves) and our relationship with our inner selves–our thoughts, feeling, beliefs and values.

We are often uncomfortable focusing on our relationship to our inner selves. We may have been brought up to consider these things to be “un-masculine.” We ignore how we feel and how other people in our lives feel. We focus on sports, work or possessions, and tend to define ourselves according to our successes in these areas.

How Do I Want Others to See Me?

When there is a difference between how we want others to see us and how we see ourselves, we dedicate energy toward creating fronts and avoiding being genuine with most, if not all, of the people in our lives. We forget how to be real! Especially if we feel shame about some part of who we are, we usually try to hide it. Then our inside and outside selves become disconnected.

What Does It Mean to Be A Man?

We may not have spent a lot of time thinking about our beliefs regarding what it means to be a man. For some of us, life up to this point has not involved any serious reflection about who we are as men. If being sober is our priority, we will benefit from looking at how our ideas and society’s ideas about masculinity could interfere with our recovery. We learn rules about what it means to be a man from our parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, friends and so forth. We also learn some of the rules about masculinity from books, movies and television shows. Some of these rules may be very healthy and productive for us, but some of them may impair our ability to fully realize our potential.

Societal Man Rules

This is certainly not a comprehensive list and we could all dig into making our own. But here are traditional examples of so-called “Man Rules:”

  • Be strong and independent. Think of who the role models are, such as Rambo, Gladiator, Terminator, Marlboro Man…the Lone Ranger (OK, that’s going way back). Most male role models in the media kick butt and takes names. Strong and silent!
  • Be the leader/provider. Which can also imply, don’t ask for help. Men take care of the family. We don’t ask for help; we do the helping! God forbid we ask for directions and if we had them, we wouldn’t read them anyways. The manly thing to do is just figure it out without help.
  • If you fail, you just are not trying hard enough. It is the American way to sacrifice your body in order to get through that wall. If you can’t figure it out, work more hours or hit it with more strength. Muscle up that ego and let’s run faster into that brick wall. The wall will fall through sheer willpower.
  • Be tough; real men don’t cry. “You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about.”  “Rub some dirt on it.” We were taught early on in life to avoid showing pain.
  • Don’t show emotions. Well, don’t show most emotions. Certainly, don’t show emotions that convey weakness and being “like a girl.” Bite that bottom lip, push that feeling down and be a tough little soldier.
  • Be loyal, committed and dependable. So, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Many of our man rules can be maintained and carried forward as successful pieces of our recovery. Perhaps we keep these!

We probably have recognized that some of the traditional values and ideas about being a man are consistent with being in recovery and some of them can hinder or complicate our recovery. We may realize that, in order to be in recovery, we are being asked to do some things that conflict with our ideas about what it means to be manly.

Principles of Recovery

Let’s look at a couple principles of recovery that could be in direct conflict with the “Man Rules:”

  • Ask for help. The disease of addiction requires garnering support from others. This may be a sponsor, a counselor, a life couch, a family member, a pastor, a yoga instructor… the list goes on and on. Key principle: don’t do this alone!
  • Share your emotions, thoughts and feelings. Our ability to understand the source of our addiction lies in our knowledge of our internal workings. We must feel comfortable going inside ourselves and sharing those internal concepts with others.
  • Gain a spiritual understanding of the world. Giving ourselves permission to rely on something bigger than us provides security and safety. We don’t have to be the solo, powerful “Lone Ranger.” Learn to let it go!

We will have to choose whether being sober is more important than following the rules that we have adopted or taken on about being a man. We have a choice.

Conclusion – Growing Up Male

From the moment we were born, people started treating us differently than they treated girls. Societies have ideas about what “manhood” is and they treat boys accordingly. We develop our self-images, in part, by learning from other men and women how we are “supposed” to be. At some point, we decided that there are rules about being a man. We may not even be sure where we got all these rules, but we have been following them for a long time, and they have had influence on our lives. It is important, at this point, to examine our rules and decide whether they are true and help us to be what we want to be. Enjoy the exploration; enjoy the true recovery!