Tears began to roll down the mother’s face as she talked about Emma. “She was always kind and considerate, such a beautiful girl …and then it all changed when she started using drugs. Now she lies, is so angry, and has stolen from my husband and me. Some days I don’t even know who she is.”
Frank’s wife voiced similar despair. “When he is drinking, I am afraid of him. There are periods of rage that scare us. When he is out drinking, I have no idea what he is doing, but I’m sure there are other women. Alcohol has destroyed the man I married.”
Addiction ravages everything it encounters. It undermines and changes the person we know into someone we cannot recognize and who behaves in ways that defy belief. Addiction is a thief, and one of the first things it steals is character.
The values that we uphold as good, right, and fair crumble during addiction. Trustworthiness is replaced with dishonesty, deception, cheating, and stealing. Compassion fades as the addicted person becomes consumed with the need to have and use their drug of choice. Responsibility is chipped away until life is a scrap pile of broken promises, missed deadlines, and incomplete tasks. Character—the quality that defines who we are and the standards by which we live—is lost.
I recall the words of a teacher during the early days of her recovery from several years of prescription drug abuse. “I have become such a terrible person,” she stated. “My career requires that I be a role model to the boys and girls who look up to me. I have a responsibility to help them learn how to become good people and strong citizens, but I am a hypocrite. The person standing at the front of the class is a chronic liar, a thief, and a neglectful parent. How could I have let myself come to this place?”
Recovery is filled with change and new beginnings, and no task is more important than rebuilding character. As the addict or alcoholic replaces lies and manipulation with fairness, kindness, patience, self-control, and other virtues, his or her self-image changes and life takes on new purpose and meaning. On your journey into recovery, reflect on who you want to become. What should your character be? When people look at you, what do you want them to see? When your friends and family describe you to others, what do you hope they will say?
As Helen Keller wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Addiction steals a person’s character and drags it down to a very low level. Recovery gives us the opportunity to rebuild character and create the selves we want to become.