Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

I don’t believe in stagnation. I like change, but especially the kind of change that allows us to grow and move forward. I think the sayings about teaching an old dog new tricks or leopard not being able change its spots aren’t useful and aren’t true. You can always learn no matter how old you are or how set in your ways, and you can always change no matter how attached you are to your “personality.”

I’m not saying it’s bad to stay consistent—especially when it comes to good habits. But if there are traits that make your life difficult, it’s not impossible to try to do things differently. “Oh, I’m just an introvert,” you can say as you turn down another invitation to a party while secretly wanting to go. Well, I would examine that and ask yourself if what you consider a trait might be a manifestation of something else. An introvert might simply mean you feel lonely and isolated and are anxious about making connections.

Photo by Martin Brechtl on Unsplash

In my lifetime I went through a number of identities. That’s because I didn’t know who I was until I got sober. I knew I was relinquished, and I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I tried to craft all kinds of personas to quell how I was feeling on the inside – which was ashamed and shy and confused. I organized parties, I was social and outgoing and drunk, and I thought my personality was that of a total extrovert who liked noise and chaos. It turned out that I love people, but I’m not so much into chaos. It turned out, too, that I am not who I thought I was after I discovered more about my biological origins. That gave me a big pause, and I was happy to rebuild myself into the new life that I was creating sober.

But imagine if I limited myself and resigned myself to this gregarious party guy who was, frankly, so exhausting! I wouldn’t be authentic to myself and to anybody else around me.

This is why, when I started to rediscover my roots and when I started to recover, I was very careful not to make any proclamations about who I was and how the rest of my life was going to go. Many of us, in recovery, find out all kinds of truths about ourselves and some of those truths need to be examined and processed. The hard ones about trauma and the good ones about discovering aspects of ourselves we didn’t know we were capable of. For example, I thought I was helpful before, but now I know that it gives me true joy to be of service to someone who needs help and support. And I continue to learn those proverbial new tricks. I think unwillingness to learn and to explore is a little bit like giving up on life. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re alive and every day is wonderful in its challenges and beauty.

I think it’s okay to move beyond your old self if it’s no longer serving you. Especially the self that’s rooted in trauma and addiction—I don’t believe there’s one person on this planet who is happy and addicted to a drug at the same time. It’s only with sobriety and clarity that we can gain an insight into who we really are and be pleasantly surprised if we turn out to be way outside the box that we’ve put ourselves into.

 

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