As the person predominately responsible for the content of this site, I try hard to stay in the royal “we” when it comes to the content of this site. But since this is a new year and people are trying to better themselves, I thought I’d break that fourth wall and speak about something that’s near and dear to my heart: staying sober.
How I got sober is one of those things I’ll keep to myself. If you’re interested because you or someone you know needs to know how to stop substance abuse, I’m happy to answer that question privately. It’s not for me to say how you get sober. It looks different for a good many of us. The person who first brought my problem to my attention got sober by just stopping drinking one day; some might say she “white-knuckled” it. I know people who have gone to rehab, some who use programs like Hazelden, others who find the rooms of Alcoholic Anonymous to their liking. What matters isn’t how you get sober; it’s that you stay that way.
I’m also not an expert on sobriety and recovery. All I can tell you is what worked for me, and how it continues to work. Because once you get there and you stay there, you must protect it. I’ve discovered life is a precious gift, and I’m prepared to protect the one I’ve got with everything I have. So, if any of this helps, I’m glad. Take what works for you, leave the rest.
The first thing I’ll tell you is that my recovery is mine and mine alone. It doesn’t belong to my parents, my family, my classmates, my industry compatriots, my former coworkers, ex-lovers, current lovers, other addicts: it’s mine. Which means I get to decide what it looks like. I can’t care about what that looks like for you. Your opinion of me is none of my business, and I don’t care anyway.
Contrary to all that, I’m not a special snowflake. I’ve spoken to hundreds of other addicts over the course of my recovery, and someone somewhere has either thought what I’m thinking, done what I’ve done, been through what I’m going through, or has a story like mine. Even if none of that is true, we’re all addicts, we’ve all seen what Hell looks like, and we don’t want to go back.
I also like to stay close to other people who’ve recovered. That might sound counterproductive, but one of the funniest things about getting clean and sober is that there’s nobody better to help someone get there than someone who’s been there. As messy as that can look sometimes, we’re the ones who understand each other best. I have friends who drink socially, but all my party buddies are gone. Which is okay by me.
I also don’t find comfort in revisiting things I used to do when I got drunk. I don’t go to bars, I don’t like sporting events where the primary focus is drinking, and I don’t do things like New Year’s Eve events with champagne toasts. When I first got sober, this used to make me so uncomfortable because I was concerned about having to explain myself to people, but the longer I’ve stayed sober it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s still weird for me to go out to dinner late at night because I used business dinners as an excuse to drink excessively, but that will get easier in time. Or it won’t. Either way, I still go out to dinner, just a little earlier.
I’ve also learned a few tricks that help me stay comfortable in situations where alcohol is present. Unless it’s a sit-down dinner, I bring a Venti tea or soy latte from Starbucks with me. If I can’t, I order a sparkling water with two wedges of lime and I keep it in my hand always. If I put it down, I go get a new one. I turn my wine glass upside-down immediately at a restaurant, and I tell the waiter that I don’t drink the minute they ask so they don’t keep asking. I also leave the minute I don’t feel comfortable. I used to have all sorts of excuses made up, but now I just say that I must leave, and I remove myself quickly.
My home is a sober home. There has never been alcohol in my apartment, and my intention is to keep it that way. In recovery, your home is your sanctuary, so it should remain a drama-free zone. That also means keeping other toxic substances out of my house, and recently it’s also included toxic people. In my experience, it’s harder to stay sober with emotional people using you as a life raft or a dumping ground. I was homeless when I first got sober, and it took me almost a year to find a permanent place to live. I’ve been in the same place for years now. I’m grateful for my home, and I am super careful about who gets to come in here.
Actually, about that toxic people thing? That’s important for a few reasons. One, you’ll shed quite a few people when you get sober, and you should expect to do so. Let them go with love. Their path is different than yours, and wish them well. There are unknown, countless other people who are better suited to support your new direction waiting for you on the other side. Second, the most important relationship you will ever have in life is with yourself. If you crave your own company more than the company of others, you will be amazed at the instant upgrade in quality of the people in your life. Life is too short for toxic people, and they will take you out of your sobriety in a minute if you’re not careful.
I work on my recovery daily, and that’s not always “perfect.” Additionally, I see a therapist. I don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to staying sober, and neither should you. If you have mental health issues in addition to addiction, see someone about them, and do it quickly.
That also means staying on top of what’s working and what’s not. Don’t feel comfortable at your rehab? Start asking questions. Feel uncomfortable in a recovery meeting? Find a new one. I don’t make apologies for doing what I need to do to stay sober.
I don’t take it for granted. Getting sober was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. The detox symptoms were no joke, and the destruction it caused my life, my finances, and my relationships cannot be underestimated. That said, it doesn’t matter how much time I have sober, it doesn’t mean that if I’m not diligent about staying recovered that I couldn’t be right there again with even MORE to lose this time. I’ve seen people with 20+ years relapse, and people with my amount of sobriety (5-10 years) are the ones who evidently relapse the most. It’s when things are going well that people tend to get seduced by the idea of celebrating with a glass of wine, and that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take. People say that you pick up where you left off, but I don’t think that’s true. From what I’ve seen, you pick up where you would be if you’d kept drinking, which is even worse. I don’t want to know what that’s like, so I stay away from it.
Finally, I focus on the joy. There are days that suck, there are times that are hard, but that’s just life in general. What I’ve encountered through the years is the dreams I get to see come true, the surprises that continually astound me, and the blessings of everyday life without the beast on my back. You can’t see the forest for the trees when you’re under the influence, and when you come out from under, you get to set a course through a beautiful world. I’m more curious about the future than I am about the past, and so I’ll do everything I can to give myself the best shot possible. That means not picking up the drink, a drug, any controlled substance, or behavior that would lead me in that direction. My sobriety is the most important thing to me; nothing else in this big, beautiful life I’m building can happen without it. That’s how I stay sober.