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You’re More than Just an Addict

A few years ago, I was at a 12-step meeting when one of the members called for a “group conscious.” These are periodically called for in order for the group to talk about the vision, structure, and policies of the group. The “group conscious” must be agreed upon because it allows the group to function for a short time outside the normal “no cross talk” structure. This particular “group conscious” was called for because a few of the men attending the group had a problem with expecting everyone to call themselves an “addict.”

Some people argued that you should be free to call yourself whatever you want—that some people might not feel comfortable being labeled an “addict.” Even more, it could be intimidating to someone who is attending the group for the first time. The problem with this approach, though, is that members could then give themselves alternate titles that were 20 words long! Other people thought we should stick to the traditions of the SAA meeting and announce ourselves with our first name only, followed by calling ourselves “sex addicts.”

This issue of identity is a critical one. One of the things I have noticed and that has deterred me from attending certain groups is this idea of “once an addict, always an addict.” Some people in 12-step groups cling to this idea that their main identity is that of an “addict”—as if their life depended on it. The reasons for this are many.

For some, 12-step groups give them a sense of belonging, and they find camaraderie in calling themselves an “addict” along with others. Others have entered recovery, lost focus, and slipped back into their addiction, and so calling themselves an “addict” is a way of reminding them that they are vulnerable to relapse. And then there is maybe the worst reason for doing so: others have had their lives nearly ruined because of the consequences of their actions and the “addict” label is assumed not so much by them but by their families or society (sometimes both).

For these individuals, calling themselves an “addict” almost seems like a punishment for their past actions. All of this begs the question: how does a Catholic Christian in recovery think about identity?

My Transformation in Viewing Identity

The further I have entered into recovery, the less attractive this idea has become to me. Certainly, as I attend any 12-step meeting, I call myself an “addict” because that’s the culture of those meetings. However, I have found that sticking to this concept clouds my perception of myself and influences my actions. Taking the “addict” identity to the extreme is about as toxic as the acting out behavior itself. It’s important to separate your behaviors from your identity as a person created in the “image and likeness” of God. We have all made bad decisions—maybe even more bad decisions than good ones—but our true spiritual center exists over and against our sins and faults. It can’t be shaken; it is only more deeply revealed to us through an insurgence of grace.

My attitude toward my identity shifted because of continuous prayer, Catholic friendships outside of 12-step meetings, spiritual reading, and retreats. The tipping point came when one of my close Catholic friends told me that I was a drag to be around because I was always using addiction language and acting as if I were hopeless.

After this encounter, I slowly realized that he was right and that I needed to take a different attitude in my recovery. In whatever situation we are in, I tend to believe that we should always have trusted people to give us an “outsider’s” perspective.

An Identity Rooted in Christ

Beyond anything I have or haven’t done, my identity doesn’t rest upon what others think of me or what a 12-step group asks me to label myself. This is clear in any number of the Gospel stories. Take the story about the woman at the well in the Gospel of John (John 4). We know that the woman was probably at the well during the hottest part of the day because she was avoiding public shaming from the rest of the community.

Jesus breaks social barriers in order to speak with her, slowly earns her trust, and then speaks to her about the greatest truths of her life (she’s on her fifth husband). Jesus reveals who she really is—that she has been created to “worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Instead of being buried in shame, the woman leaves Jesus’ presence and returns to the very people who have shamed her, proclaiming in confidence, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). This is a great model of how we should embrace our true identities in Jesus!

Jesus wants to restore us to our true identity. My questions are these: has “addiction” language become toxic to your identity? How is it that you need to work on separating “addiction” language from your identity in Christ Jesus? And who are the people in your life who can help you do this?


Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.


  1. Maria on July 16, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    There was an amazing guy who came to England to host an OA conference. He was full of life; exuded hope and joy as he spoke and guided us through the Big Book. He described himself as a ‘recovered compulsive overeater’ and pointed out a part of the book that said you would be recovered, not ‘recovering’ if you had wholeheartedly and faithfully followed the steps to that point. He’d been recovered and remained so for many many years and used to introduce himself that way, ‘hi I’m x and I’m a recovered compulsive overeater’. That was astounding to me. This makes me think of him, I often think of him in fact. Thank you for this.

  2. Glenn G. on August 2, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    We do recover.

  3. Catholic Roger on August 4, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    I have been sober since May 23, 1996 and that is by the grace of God and the fellowship. I am also a very devout Catholic and have been since June 10, 1995. I am a “recovered” alcoholic and I share this with everyone I meet. Why? Because I may help someone. I will never be able to drink again in this life and that is fine with me. That is what they Big Book teaches me and I will accept that truth. Once the urine test was started at my work I stopped smoking mary jane. I have never need to an NA meeting but have met many addicts. I cannot identify with Joe and his addiction or being called an addict to porn. I dont know any men that talk about this addiction even tho I have heard its a major problem with many Catholic men. I am very active in AA and have been since 22 months after I stopped drinking. And after this much time I suggest you introduce yourself as Joe and leave it at that since that is how you feel. I tie cord rosaries at meetings and give them away and I dont ask are you Catholic or anything like that. I just give them away. No one has ever refused to take one. I share that I tie them because it helps me to pay better attention. I share that Jesus is my higher power. I share what comes from within me. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and dont’t be concerned about others. I have read and studied the BB and it does not tell me I cannot share the name of my God. IF it aint in the book then I dont care. IF any group does not want me tying rosaries or sharing my God then I dont need that group. I will knock the dust off my shoes and move on. IN AA if hearing the God runs a newbie out then alcohol will send them LOL Group conscious meets are always filled with arguing but God always ends up winning.

  4. Jim Gorski on March 20, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    I love your post. I wrote a similar article awhile back entitled, “The problem with the 12 Step Model”. Words, and identities do matter. “I am Jim; a child of the most high God!” I found it interesting that in my journey toward recovery, when I went to an SAA meeting, and shared my story, I was told that I didn’t belong. I have never been with any woman other than my wife, and have only seen one woman other than my wife naked. My involvement has been limited to pornography and masturbation. Through the grace and mercy of God, I have been free from pornography for a little more than 5 years, and clean from masturbation for a little more than a year, with a few slips. Thank you for your sharing.

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