‘Losing a Self: Lying to Yourself’ by Stephanie Brown

rsz_41a-shrpktl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_sx342_sy445_cr00342445_sh20_ou02_I’ve made reference to Stephanie Brown’s brilliant book A Place Called Self: Women, Sobriety, and Radical Transformation in past blogs. I’ve recommended this book to several women in early recovery and they have really like it.

Here, Stephanie describes how one’s self (or identity) changes in a negative manner during the process of addiction. She focuses on lying to oneself.

‘… addiction develops over time, and it involves changes in the way you behave but also changes in the way you think: the way you think about drinking, the way you think about yourself, and the way you think about life.

You start to build your sense of self on a a false belief, the belief that you can control your drinking or other addictive behavior. This isn’t an easy thing to do. Since you really don’t have control, you’re going to have to lie to yourself in order to believe you are not addicted.

You have to tell yourself more and more elaborate lies over time, as evidence to the contrary becomes more and more compelling, and you have to rationalize or explain it away. All your energy goes into pretending…

… Our need to tell ourselves that we can control our addiction becomes the organizing principle for our lives; it dictates everything we say and every move we make. It’s a heavy burden, and ultimately it becomes one of the heaviest burdens of all, the burden of emptiness.

Alcohol, other drugs, or whatever substance you are addicted to, becomes the substitute that is missing in your self. The substance makes you feel like you are powerful… It gives you such a delicious sense of well-being, a sense you can no longer get in any other way. It’s false, but it sure feels real. It’s quite a bind.

You need the substance to feel okay about yourself, but if you admit you need the substance, you can’t feel okay about yourself. So you have to pretend, even to yourself.

The result is a smaller, narrow sense of self. You ultimately shut down your deepest experience of self. As a woman who is an active addict organizes her life around her need to drink and her need to pretend that she doesn’t need to drink, her life shrinks down.’

If you (woman or man) are struggling with an addiction, why not purchase and read this book? It’s well worth it.



  1. Sounds worthwhile, thanks. However it would be interesting and helpful to learn of a book which doesn’t just cover a loss of identity through addiction, but which covers an absence of an identity or “real self” in the first place. Perhaps, as in my case, as a result of emotional neglect/traumas/infantile sexual abuse. I.e. very early Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs as per Felitti and Anda).

    At 68, and sober for 25 years, I’m still struggling to “be me”, as opposed to “doing me”. In the words of Steve Biddulph – “Most men don’t have a life, they’ve learned to pretend”. (Boy! That one pushed my buttons when I first read it)

    Fortunately, I’d developed socially acceptable personae, and, chameleon like, have adapted to most social settings through keen observation, and maintaining suitable social camouflage.

    The price I’ve paid is never having been “in love”, never trusting anyone, wary of being touched,(but longing for it) being constantly afraid, suppressing/repressing all powerful emotions, and being aware of “something” missing every day of my life.

    Nobody’s fault. My parents were both abandoned children themselves, and there’s a clearly identifiable trail of suicide, depression and addiction on both sides of the family going back to, at least, my great grandparents. If anything, I admire my forbears for having struggled through their lives without the help and support that I have, and still receive, from professionals and support groups.

    Thanks for this site, and best wishes to all.

    John F.

    • David Clark says:

      Thanks John for this very interesting, thought provoking and moving comment. I don’t know of a book that specifically talks abut what you say. There needs to be something out there and I am sure there is. In books on trauma? I have been reading a wonderful book that holds a great deal of relevance (I think) in that it talks about Australian Aboriginal people affected by historical trauma who lose or never gain a real identity. The book also discuss an important therapeutic approach. The book is called ‘Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines – The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia. You can get it on Amazon.

      I feel for you, John, and believe there are probably many men and women who feel like this. Many of us to at least some extent, I am sure, not necessarily to the extreme that you describe. As humans, I think we do need to find the true ‘self’ and many people probably only get there later in life.

      Your comment is certainly thought provoking! Thanks for visiting, writing and for your thanks about the website. David

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