A Struggling Alcoholic Asks: I Can Only Get a Few Days Sober,...

A Struggling Alcoholic Asks: I Can Only Get a Few Days Sober, Then I Relapse. How Can I Move Forward in My Recovery?


Someone recently discovered the forums here at Spiritual River and asked the question:

“How can I achieve sobriety? I seem to only get about 3 or 4 days sober, then I go back to drinking again. How can I break out of this cycle?”

Other people in the forum also chimed in that they have the exact same problem. So let’s take a look at some ideas about how people might move past this stumbling block so that they can achieve meaningful recovery.

Why someone drinks every few days

If you are drinking every few days, there could be a couple of things going on.

One, you may be toying with the idea of recovery, but you have not fully committed to it yet.

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Two, you may be genuinely struggling to stay sober, and you simply lack the support or the knowledge for how to do so.

Three, you may have the knowledge to stay sober, but you have failed to surrender and actually make the decision that you want to embrace recovery.

Four, you might be on the fence, and still be having some good times with your drinking, even though you realize it is probably pointing you toward trouble in the future.

Five, you might simply not be ready to stop yet, possibly because you have not endured enough pain and/or consequences in your life due to your drinking.

But regardless of what the exact situation is, we do know that the following is true:

1) You are here reading this now, so you have at least some interest in being sober.
2) You realize that continuing to drink is not the healthiest path for you.
3) You probably realize that you need some form of help in order to stop. Either support, or new knowledge about how to live sober, or both.

So this helps to show us an action plan to get the chronic relapser the help that they need. In order for the struggling alcoholic to turn their life around, they would effectively need to:

1) Make a firm decision that they want sobriety. This is a decision to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
2) Surrender completely to the idea that they cannot quit on their own, and therefore need some form of support. This is a decision to seek help.
3) Commit to taking daily action to making change happen. This is a decision to take action.
4) Follow through on total abstinence plus a commitment to personal growth. This is not a decision. This is YOU living a new life of recovery; a life of change.

Yes, this process is mirrored by a 12 step program. But while AA leads towards reliance on a higher power, this process pushes you towards independence via personal growth. If AA or NA works for you, I would encourage you to try that as well.

Let’s break these ideas down even further, because they are essential to anyone who recovers from an addiction. These processes are:

1) Decide to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
2) Decide to seek help and/or support.
3) Decide to take action.
4) Follow through with it all.

Note that if you really nail the first one (the decision to abstain from drugs and alcohol), then all the rest should fall into place. If you don’t nail that initial surrender to your disease, you will probably struggle with sobriety regardless.

Decide to abstain from drugs and alcohol

You must surrender completely to the idea that you can no longer drink successfully.

You have to admit to yourself that it is no longer fun to get drunk.

You have to admit that the good times with alcohol are over. That it is no good for you anymore. That you could have a better life without alcohol in it.

This decision to quit drinking has to be absolute. You have to commit to the idea 100 percent. If you do not commit fully, with all of your heart, then you will drink again. Simple as that.

It is a common mistake to believe that this decision is actually not a black and white one. But it is. People who have never been through recovery might believe that they can sort of wiggle into recovery, or that they might just fall into the habit of not drinking every day, see how it goes, maybe think that sobriety is rather nice and decide to keep doing it for a while, dum de dum……

That is not reality. Sobriety is not like that at all. You don’t just ease into it and decide you like it.

No, the decision to stay sober is likely the biggest decision you have ever made in your entire life. Seriously. You have likely never attempted anything of this same intensity before. You have to commit with everything that you’ve got.

Imagine a sheer cliff that is a thousand feet straight up in the air, and you decide you want to climb it. Right now. And you say “I am going to climb this sheer cliff, right now, even if it kills me.” And then you start climbing, with complete abandon, not caring for the fact that you might fall, but only with the singular goal in mind of reaching the summit.

The decision to stay sober must be like that. It must be your singular focus in life. The most important thing.  If you are to overcome the obsession and cravings for alcohol, you are going to need a huge commitment, in the form of a strong decision.

If you do not have this level of focus and determination yet in quitting drinking, I would honestly not bother with going any further with this until you do. It is not worth your time or your effort, and doing so may actually perpetuate your drinking even further. If you have not commit fully to sobriety, you are just playing games (in your own mind).

For example, one game you might be playing is “I will try to quit drinking this week.” (So that I can secretly allow myself to drink guilt-free next week after I fail).

No, if you want to make sobriety work for you, you must imagine that your journey towards total abstinence from alcohol is like climbing that sheer cliff without using any ropes. Yes, it is scary. But you must decide to face the fear and climb the cliff anyway.

It is scary to face life sober (at first). No one is denying that. I was scared as hell when I got sober.

But I was so sick of drinking that I acknowledged my fear of sobriety (terror even) and said “Screw it. I am gonna do it anyway. I am sick of this life, this drunken life, this chaos….I am sick of all of it. I am scared as hell, but I am gonna climb the cliff, even if it kills me.”

Full commitment. No reservation. Decide that you want sobriety, even if it kills you.

That is where your journey starts.

That is how sobriety begins.

With a decision.

Decide to seek help and/or support

So you commit fully to the idea of sobriety. What next?

There are 2 potential needs that you might have in very early recovery. One is that you might need more information about how to live a sober life without driving yourself crazy. So, you may lack knowledge.

The other need is that you may be desperate for emotional support and reassurance from others who have gone through this transition to sobriety before you.

Those are the 2 potential needs: knowledge and emotional support.

Note that you may or may not need either of them. For most people, they probably need a certain amount of both of them.

When you first get clean and sober, you may not know what you need. It is scary and disorienting just to be sober in the first place.

So one idea is to just plan to seek out some help and support when you first quit drinking, even if you think you may not need it. You can always drift away from such a support system later if it is not a good use of your time.

For the most part, you can get knowledge about how to live sober, and emotional support, from other people in recovery. So where do you find recovering alcoholics? You might find them:

1) In drug rehabs or addiction treatment centers.
2) In AA or NA meetings.
3) In outpatient or group therapy settings.
4) In online recovery forums.
5) In non related communities, such as a church group.

My philosophy is to encourage the newcomer in recovery to seek help and support. I think it is important for very early recovery. You have to learn how to live sober, and you probably need emotional support in order to actually do it.

Again, some people need more support than others. You won’t know what you need until you are spun dry and scrambling to maintain sobriety. Given the danger of relapse, I would encourage people to plan on seeking out some help. Review the five points above to get ideas about where to find that help. If you are still lost I would encourage you to call up local drug rehab centers and start asking questions.

Understand though that deciding to seek help is not the whole solution. In fact, most people who do seek help do not actively use that help and change their life. In essence, they walk up to the cliff face and put their hands on it as if to start climbing, but they don’t actually get off the ground at all.

In order to actually climb the cliff (or get sober), you have to take real action. Help and support is great, but it does not get you to the top by itself.

Decide to take action

There are several decisions that you have to make in early recovery.

The first is to commit fully to recovery. That is the big one. They call that “surrender.”

But the next decision you have to make may be just as important. It is the decision to take action.

If you look at the statistics concerning recovery, it can be a little depressing. Out of everyone who initially tries to get clean and sober, very few make it for any significant length of time. In fact, the vast majority end up relapsing within the first few months of their journey.

The reason this happens is because they do not make the decision to take action. Many, many recovering alcoholics get tripped up and confused by this. They commit to the idea of recovery, and they believe that their life would be much nicer if they were not drinking, and so on some level, they actually do surrender.

But most people do not understand how deep their surrender must go. They do not realize the extreme challenge that is sobriety. They do not understand that climbing the sheer cliff with no ropes would probably be a lot easier than staying sober for the rest of their life.

And so they commit to recovery, but they do not commit to taking action.

There is a quote from AA which is very fitting: “Willing to go to any length.” If the alcoholic is willing to go to any length in order to stay sober, then they have the right idea. If they are NOT willing to do whatever it takes, then that means that they have a reservation. And any reservations will eventually be tested as you go through your life and your recovery.

Almost everyone underestimates the amount of action that they need to take in order to stay sober. For example, when I first got sober, I lived in a treatment center for a period of 20 months. Many of my peers relapsed after only staying for 12 months or fewer.

Think of it this way: most challenges in our lives can be overcome with only a modest effort. We can generally just take small actions in our lives and get decent results. But recovery from alcohol and drugs is not like that at all. If you take small actions, you will fail. If you take a small amount of action, you will relapse.

No, to succeed in recovery, you have to take lots of action. Massive action.

If you go to meetings, go to several every day.

If you go to rehab, stay as long as you can, or find one where you can live there.

If you find your own path in recovery, push yourself hard to make real growth in your life, such that you are continuously making progress.

Once you commit to recovery, you have to then commit to taking massive action in your life. You must make a decision that you are going to go “all in” on this recovery stuff. Because if you only make a modest effort, you will fail.

Follow through with it all

If you are struggling to get more than a few days sober, then you have some decisions to make.

Let us review:

1) You have to decide that you want recovery, that you want to be free from the madness and misery of alcoholism.

2) You must then decide to take massive action and do whatever it takes in order to recover.

Optional: You may also need to ask for help and seek support and knowledge about how to live a sober life.

The key is in the follow through, of course.

In fact, you can actually forget 90 percent of what is written here and just concentrate on the follow through. So few people actually follow through with recovery and succeed with it.

Think about it: Go interview 10 alcoholics who had some clean time but then relapsed, and see what they tell you. Their stories will all have the same common thread in them that they did not follow through.

They probably all had a start in recovery….maybe they were doing some things to help themselves, taking positive action, maybe some were going to meetings, maybe others had started out in rehab, and so on. But the key is that ALL of them will tell you that they did not follow through.

They had a glimpse of what was working….and then they lost it. They floundered. They stopped taking positive action and they relapsed.

You could flounder in one of 2 ways, based on the 2 decisions that you made:

1) You could decide that you really DON’T want to be sober.


2) You could decide that you do not want to take massive action.

If you are very young or not very mature yet in your life or in your struggle with addiction, then it is possible that you might decide you just don’t want to be sober yet.

But this will be rare. For most alcoholics, they have learned that addiction is miserable, and they will know that recovery is the better path. But, they will still struggle to get there. Why?

Because they don’t want to put in the work. They don’t want to commit to massive action.

They are at the base of the huge cliff, looking up, and shaking their head, saying “Yikes. There is no way I can climb this mountain. It is too great a challenge.”

Yes, recovery takes massive action.

Yes, it is a lot of hard work….so much so that most people bail out of the effort and simply return to drinking.

But the process is fairly straightforward, if you really want to be sober and have a better life.

Quite simply, you just need to:

1) Decide you want recovery.
2) Decide you will do anything to get it.
3) Follow through and do it.

That’s it. If you are unclear about anything, then ask for help. Seek help and support that will allow you to achieve your goal of long term sobriety.

The quickest way to do that is to attend an AA meeting or check out the recovery forums.

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