Can I Really Quit Drinking Alcohol, Stop Taking Drugs, and Stay Clean...

Can I Really Quit Drinking Alcohol, Stop Taking Drugs, and Stay Clean and Sober Forever For the Rest of My Life?


Short answer: Yup.

Long answer: (read the rest of this article!)

Someone who is working hard to stay sober here at Spiritual River recently posed the question on the forums:

(She asked herself): “Really? Can you really do this forever? The rest of your life? Not even a champagne toast to whatever at some time?”

It can be discouraging to think of living out the rest of our lives without ever touching another drop of alcohol.

- Approved Treatment Center -


So how do we get past this? How do we overcome this emotional block to happiness in early recovery?

Do we take the traditional wisdom of living one day at a time?

Do we try to do a 30 day trial, and allow ourselves to evaluate our position afterwards and give ourselves full permission to return to drinking if we so choose?

Photo by h. koppdelaney

First of all, realize that you WILL be happy again in your life, even after you quit drinking. It is a function of our denial that we believe we will be miserable forever in sobriety. Not true. You will love your life again if you stick it out. This is proven to be true over and over again for even the most miserable and most depressed alcoholics.

But regardless of what mindset you adopt for your recovery, or how you go about designing your recovery program, you still have to put one foot in front of the other every day and make sobriety work for you.

How exactly do we do that?

My philosophy: little changes don’t help much. We need massive action. Big changes create success in recovery. That is my experience anyway.

So what are some big changes we can make? Here are some suggested actions and strategies (we will look at each one in detail) that have helped me to stay sober thus far:


* Establish a habit of helping others in recovery. Make it automatic.

* Seek a community for support.

* If community support doesn’t do it for you, then you must self motivate and push yourself.

* How do you self-motivate? By pushing for personal growth and holistic health.

* Always have one major, life-changing goal on your plate.

* Replace an unhealthy habit (like smoking cigarettes) with a healthy one (like exercise).

* Replace an expensive habit with one that earns you money.

* Keep making positive changes to maintain momentum.

Establish a habit of helping others in recovery. Make it automatic.

This is an extremely powerful suggestion. If you want to insure that you are successful in your recovery, then you should probably make this into your number one priority.


Because if you are helping other alcoholics or addicts on a regular basis, it will be much less likely for you to relapse.

Our minds are wired to “practice what we preach” (even though some folks do not always do so, our conscious lets us know when we are screwing this up!). So if we are helping others in recovery, we are much more protected from the threat of relapse.

How can you do this? Many different ways, some more direct than others:

1) Work in a drug rehab.

2) Attend 12 step meetings (AA or NA) and become involved with sponsorship.

3) Participate in a recovery forum and give support, advice, and encouragement to others.

4) Join another community, such as a church, and spread the message of recovery to those in need there.

5) Work with troubled youth, either professionally or as a volunteer, and watch for opportunities to spread a message of hope about recovery from addiction and alcoholism.

And so on. If you are recovering, and interacting with other people, then you have an opportunity (at times) to help others to recover from addiction. And doing so is one of the biggest and most powerful opportunities in recovery.

This suggestion is so powerful that I suggest that you make it into a habit. Find a way to help others on a regular basis and you will grow stronger in your recovery.

Seek a community for support.

This goes along with the first suggestion of helping others in recovery.

Finding a community that can help you to recover is another very powerful idea. It is not for everyone, however, and if it does not fit with your personality, do not force it on yourself.

Some people in recovery will tell you that without a recovery community (such as AA or NA), that you will surely relapse and die. Do NOT believe them. There are other paths.

That said, if you do fit in well with a recovery community, it can be very powerful, and very helpful.

I’m not going to list the benefits of being involved in such a community, as they are quite obvious. If you really want to find out for yourself, the only way is to go dive in and immerse yourself in a recovery community.

The 12 step fellowships are a natural starting point, but some people do well in other communities, such as religious groups or self help groups, etc.

My only advice would be this: if you are going to try this path, do not do it in a half-hearted manner. Instead, fully commit to the path and fully immerse yourself in the recovery community. Anything less is just asking for failure.

If you cannot do that, or will not do that, then you must find another path in recovery. And that will almost certainly mean a more self motivated path in recovery where you push yourself to grow.

If community support doesn’t do it for you, then you must self motivate and push yourself.

In a recovery community, you can get help, support, and encouragement from others.

If you attempt to recover on your own, then guess where all the motivation has to come from? It has to come from YOU.

So if you are not naturally a very self motivated person, then you might want to look into joining a community that can help motivate you. There is nothing wrong with either path…it is just a matter of what is a good fit for your personality.

I personally started out attending 12 step meetings every day, and also seeing a sponsor about twice a month. But this path eventually lost momentum for me, and I found myself drifting away from it. I was pushing myself to go back to school, to explore spirituality, to make new connections with positive people in my life, and so on…..all while slowly drifting away from the 12 step fellowship.

I asked myself “What am I getting out of this recovery community, and what could I be doing with the time spent in daily meetings instead?”

My answer was that (for me) recovery did not come from sitting in a meeting every day. My recovery was a function of my personal growth, and I realized that I had to supply the guts and the gumption to make those tough changes in my life.

Group support was not the answer for me, but it might work well for you. The key is that it is YOUR responsibility to figure out what works for you in recovery. KEY POINT: You can not neglect this responsibility and shift the blame on to others, while making excuses such as “AA is just not for me” or “I don’t believe in God so AA or Church cannot help me” and so on.

Those might be legitimate concerns for you but if they become your excuse for inaction then it is still up to YOU to go find a path in recovery that works for you. For example, there are programs for overcoming addiction and alcoholism that are based on running marathons and doing triathlons. There are programs based on religion. There are programs based on

You don’t necessarily have to find a community but you probably do need to find a purpose.

And if you cannot find that purpose and that inner drive to push yourself to grow and to do great things, then it is likely that you will revert back to drinking or drugging at some point.

Either find a community for support and direction, or provide the direction and the enthusiasm yourself. Either way, you have to get passionate and excited about recovery if it is going to work for you.

How do you self-motivate? By pushing for personal growth and holistic health.

If you are in recovery, and all you do is sit in meetings every day, your recovery is not going to be very good. In fact, you will probably relapse unless you take some sort of action.

Now whether you are in some sort of recovery community or not, you are going to have to–at some point–force yourself to get motivated. Maybe you will skate through meetings for a while and feel pretty good and things will go OK. But at some point, you may stagnate, and you won’t really be making much growth, or progress, and your recovery will become vulnerable.

Complacency can happen both in and out of AA. Complacency does not discriminate. You can get lazy regardless of what recovery program you are following.

And it is when you stop growing that relapse becomes possible again.

If you are pushing yourself to grow in recovery, relapse is not very likely to occur.

So what is the key? The key is to keep pushing yourself to grow. So how do you do this?

My opinion is that you should start with the negatives in your life, and eliminate them. Why? Most bang for the buck. Your efforts will go further if you eliminate the bad stuff at first, believe it or not.

So if you are still using drugs or alcohol, then that is your starting point. You must establish sobriety.

Next, you might consider other bad habits, such as smoking cigarettes or excessive gambling.

Maybe you are unhealthy physically, and could benefit greatly from better nutrition and regular exercise.

You get the idea….if you have obvious problems in your life, they need to be fixed in recovery.

Every single one of these changes is an opportunity for growth. Every change that you successfully make is a cause for celebration.

My suggestion is to make one major change at a time, so as not to overwhelm yourself. After you establish each positive change, take a moment to lock it down, create a new habit, then reflect on it a bit. Then, move on to the next challenge.

This is the path of holistic growth. The guiding principle is to always move towards greater health for yourself.

Quit drugs and alcohol? Yes. Cigarettes? Gotta lose ’em.

Exercise? Eventually! You gotta move your body if you want to be healthy.

Nutrition? Sure. How can that not be beneficial to your overall health and recovery?

Notice the progress there. You don’t get sober and then work on nutrition during your first 30 days sober. This is the wrong approach. No, you start with sobriety as your baseline. Establish that first. Then, start adding in positive changes as you go along.

Many addicts and alcoholics quit smoking cigarettes eventually, but it rarely happens during their first year of recovery.

This stuff takes time.

One change at a time, always towards greater health.

Healthy living is your moral standard in this case. Healthy living is the yardstick by which we make choices in recovery. If it hurts you or your health, why would you do it? Recovery is about healthy living. It goes beyond just avoiding drugs and alcohol.

Seek healthy living, try to make healthy choices for yourself, and start taking on challenges that lead you toward greater health in your life. As you achieve these goals, you will naturally build REAL self esteem.

This is the path of holistic growth in recovery.

Always have one major, life-changing goal on your plate.

What is your current goal?

Right now, today, what is the big goal that you are striving for?

If you do not have a life-changing goal in your life right now, then you should get one.

I suggest that you keep it simple, and only have one major goal in your life at a time. Anything more than that, and you risk spreading yourself too thin, and getting overwhelmed.

Key point: In recovery, you have plenty of time. Sobriety stretches out before you, with countless opportunities for change. When I look back at my first decade in recovery, I am amazed at how much I could have accomplished, but I am also amazed by how much I did accomplish. Ten years is a long time. You can achieve a LOT in ten years.

So take your time, but have a big goal. Something really big, that will change your whole life.

This is the kind of living that makes recovery worthwhile. Set a big goal for yourself, then strive for it. Put a lot of energy and effort into it. Know that you have plenty of time in recovery to achieve great things.

It is amazing how much time and energy we have when are not self medicating every day. You have lots of time. What are you going to do with it? What are you going to create in your life? What are you going to build?

At one point, someone in my recovery suggested that I go back to college. I was in my first or second year of sobriety and I thought: “I wonder if I really have time for all that? To go finish my degree?”

Looking back, this is insane! I could have finished dozens of degrees with all the time and mental energy I have in recovery.

Look at it this way: You are in recovery now, time is going to pass by anyway, so where are you going to be in your life five years from now? You have an opportunity to grow as a person, to educate yourself, to get into shape, to volunteer, to build a business, to learn new skills, to help others in recovery, and so on. You can coast through recovery, or you can take action and create something awesome in your life.

I suggest that you get busy. Set a goal (a big one!) and then start pushing yourself towards it.

What else are you going to do? Watch TV?


(And which path do you think is more supportive of a solid recovery from addiction?)

Replace an unhealthy habit (like smoking cigarettes) with a healthy one (like exercise).

This is like a 2 for 1 bonus, and can make a huge difference in your recovery.

It is like 1 plus 1 equals 4, rather than just 1 plus 1 equals 2.

Let me give you an example.

It took a long time for me to admit to myself that smoking cigarettes was actually stressing me out. I knew it was unhealthy, of course, but I wanted to believe that smoking relaxed me.

This is a powerful illusion and nearly every smoker suffers from its spell. The fact is that when you smoke cigarettes every day, your body craves the nicotine and starts going into withdrawal in less than an hour from smoking your last cigarette. So as a smoker, you light up another cig, and believe that it is “relaxing you.”

No. What is happening is that you just relieved the withdrawal symptoms that were setting in and producing real anxiety.

In fact, being a smoker means that you are actually more stressed out, because you have anxiety about if you will be able to smoke when you start to experience cravings and discomfort. And this keeps happening every single day, over and over again, as you are constantly anticipating your next smoke break.

So what happened for me was that I started to exercise on a regular basis, and I eventually was able to quit smoking cigarettes. It was hard, it took me several years to do it, and it was so tough that I would not wish this experience on anyone. In some ways I think it was even harder than getting clean and sober.

But look at the payoff. Not only did I get rid of a nasty and worthless habit that produced constant anxiety for me, I replaced that habit with an extremely healthy habit that also relaxed me: running.

Yes, running is soothing, calming, and meditative. Maybe if you are out of shape you will disagree, and I don’t blame you for doing so. I was there once too.

But after a year or so of running on a regular basis (and not smoking), I was able to find complete peace and serenity by running out the door and enjoying the open road. Silence, scenery, and a pure endorphin rush had replaced the artificial and deadly habit of smoking.

In terms of recovery, it does not get much better than that.

Trade a bad habit for a good one.

Trade a stressful behavior for a calming and soothing one.

Trade an unhealthy habit for one that increases your health.

Yes, it takes a lot of work. But the payoff for a change like this is insanely high. The amount of value that is added to a person’s life from an exchange like that could not even be listed in dollar amounts. We are talking about adding years to your life, not to mention the money saved from dropping the bad habit, and so on.

Find a bad habit (your worst one, preferably) and replace it with a good habit.

It might be from smoking to exercise.

It might be from gambling to savings and investing.

It might be from gluttony to nutritional eating.

It might be from anger to meditation.

And so on…

This is the path of maximum holistic growth in recovery. Trade out the bad for the good. Your life will get better rapidly that way.

Replace an expensive habit with one that earns you money.

This is really more of an advanced recovery technique, because it does not directly affect your abstinence from drugs and alcohol. But it can still make a huge difference in your life, relieve tons of stress, and help you to be a lot happier overall in your long term recovery.

The idea is this: take a habit that you have that costs you money, and replace it with a new one that earns you money.

For example, instead of hanging out at the bar every night (wasting money on booze), get a part time job delivering pizzas in the evenings. Not only do you save money from not drinking, but now you earn extra cash as well.

Another example: Quit smoking cigarettes (with an average annual cost of around $2,500) and start a exercising instead (long term reduction in health care costs). This is a little less direct, but the cost savings over your lifetime will be enormous.

Another example: I quit playing video games, sold the stuff on eBay, and started a profitable side business with my spare time. Not only is running the business fun, exciting, and intellectually stimulating, but it also brings in quite a bit of extra money.

It is one thing to cut out an expensive habit. It is another thing to start one that earns you money. I suggest you do both. Get creative in long term recovery and find ways to improve your life (much like in these examples).

Keep making positive changes to maintain momentum.

What is the biggest killer in long term recovery?

What is the greatest danger in terms of relapse?


It is complacency that threatens to take away your sobriety in the long run.

The only way to overcome complacency is to consistently push yourself to learn and grow in your recovery.

On the other hand, if you push yourself too much, too hard, you run the risk of burning out.

Of course you do not want to sit around all day watching television and just hitting a few 12 step meetings each week. If you are barely making any real growth in your life then you are in danger of losing your recovery.

It is OK to pause for reflection. It is OK to practice some acceptance, and to relax at times. But never stay idle for too long. Always have your next big goal in the back of your mind, your next big project for yourself that you will implement to drastically improve your life.

You do not want to get “stuck in a rut” in your recovery. Therefore, you want to maintain at least a little pressure on yourself to keep growing and changing. If you find yourself bored and just coasting through life without any challenges, then you know it is time to seek that next growth experience.

Recovery can work for you if you are willing to put in the effort. You can maintain sobriety for the long run if you dedicate yourself to personal growth. Implement the strategies here and start reaping the rewards.

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