I think that 90 days of continuous sobriety is a good barometer of your progress in recovery.
30 days is a bit too short to declare success, because you haven’t really dealt with all of your potential triggers yet, and also because many people who check into rehab may stay for 28 days, which gives them quite a head start on things. In other words, it is not necessarily “cheating” to go to rehab, but you have to realize that the real test begins when you walk out of those doors at rehab.
So getting to 90 days is a decent milestone. It gives you a lot of hope that you can make it to the one year mark and beyond. Three months is a significant chunk of sobriety.
So the question is, how do you do it? How can the struggling alcoholic make it to 90 days sober?
Establishing a baseline in early recovery
One of the most important concepts in early recovery is that you establish a baseline of abstinence. This is really hard to do without going to rehab, at least in my opinion. If you are out in the real world and you are trying to transition to sobriety then you have all sorts of temptations and triggers coming at you every day. It is really hard to make a clean break from your addiction unless you use some sort of disruptive technique.
What do I mean by “disruptive?” Going to jail is disruptive. It has disrupted your life and your patterns. The same is true for checking into inpatient rehab. Or being in the hospital for an extended period.
Many alcoholics have struggled to get started in sobriety because they cannot establish total abstinence. They might try to quit entirely, but then after they start feeling good again they decide that maybe they can control it if they just limit themselves to a few drinks. Obviously this just leads them back into total chaos and misery. The key is to establish a foundation of total abstinence in early recovery. In order to do that you have to do three things:
1) Surrender to your disease.
2) Make a commitment to total abstinence.
3) Take massive action (such as going to rehab).
This begs the question: “How do you just up and surrender to your disease? Can you do it on a total whim?”
Did you hit bottom and surrender fully to your disease?
One of the key concepts in early sobriety is humility. If you have not hit bottom in your addiction then it is not likely that you will be humble enough to learn what you need to know about recovery.
Before you can surrender properly you have to hit bottom.
Once I thought that I had surrendered because I agreed to go to treatment. I checked into an inpatient rehab but I was not really tuned into the message I was hearing there. They wanted me to attend AA meetings every day and follow up with more treatment. I was not having any of that because I was simply not ready to change my life. I had not surrendered because I had not hit bottom yet. I was not miserable enough to embrace change. I still had more drinking to do.
Each person is going to be different in this regard. Every alcoholic has a different threshold for pain and misery in their addiction. Some of us hit bottom pretty quickly, others have to lose everything they have and just about end up dead or in prison before they finally hit their bottom. There is no way to predict when someone is going to be at their bottom and become willing to surrender.
The other side of this coin has to do with fear of recovery. The thing that prevents the alcoholic from getting the help they need is fear. They are afraid to get sober, afraid to go to rehab, afraid to face themselves and reality. This fear is what drives them to keep drinking and self medicating. In order to move past their denial they have to get over this fear. Or rather, it is more accurate to say that they let go of this fear. They have to become so miserable due to their drinking that they feel the fear of recovery but decide to give it a chance anyway. They take the leap of faith that is necessary to ask for help and get sober.
The alcoholic feels like they are jumping out of an airplane when they finally surrender and go check into rehab. It is a total leap of faith. Because they are so scared that they will be even more miserable in sobriety than they were in addiction. Therefore it takes real guts for them to check into rehab. At least if they keep drinking every day they know what to expect. When you give up alcohol and go get professional help you are putting your life and your decisions into someone else’s hands. And that is always going to be scary.
So on the journey to 90 days sober, the first requirement is to hit bottom and surrender. If you are still stuck in denial then you have not done this yet.
The secret shortcut: Go to inpatient rehab
The secret is not actually going to rehab, because you can force someone into treatment in some cases and that will not necessarily produce sobriety.
Likewise, someone who is perfectly willing to go to rehab is not necessarily insured to remain sober forever, just because they wanted to go to treatment.
Nevertheless, this is still the best path for most people who are struggling with alcoholism and want to make a change.
There is no better environment for getting your first 28 days sober. At least when you are in rehab you have removed 99 percent of all triggers from your environment.
I have told many people that “it is easy to stay sober in rehab.” That’s the whole point! They make it easy to be sober for 28 days (or however long you stay). They keep the environment controlled so that there are no drugs or alcohol in the facility. You simply stay put for 28 days and it is a cinch to remain sober.
Now obviously it takes a little more than that, as anyone can walk out of rehab in most situations and go get loaded if they really want to. So what prevents people from doing that by the dozens while they are in treatment? What is the secret to helping people to remain sober while in rehab?
There is no secret, really. The treatment center will normally have a medical detox where they help to ease people through their withdrawals. Then you are in a group setting with other people who are trying to sober up with you. Of course a few people will leave rehab early and many of them do probably go relapse, so it is not a perfect system. But on the whole it is still very easy to stay sober in rehab. I have known many hard core alcoholics who had no problem making it through 28 days in a facility.
I was obsessed with the idea that I wanted to stop drinking at some point without using treatment or AA. I did not want to have to go to rehab and I did not want to have to go to AA meetings. At the time I was seeing a counselor who was trying to help me to work towards sobriety. And he basically told me that I was not being realistic.
This frustrated me a great deal. I thought to myself “this isn’t fair! Why are there to methods of sobriety that don’t involve rehab or AA?” I was angry about it.
But today I can look back at that moment and realize that there was something underneath the anger (there always is, by the way, because anger is a secondary emotion). So what was underneath that frustration and anger at the fact that I was being forced into rehab and AA if I was to get sober?
It was fear. Always fear. I was afraid of going to rehab and I was afraid of AA meetings. I was afraid of facing anxiety, of facing reality. I was afraid of facing myself in recovery, of having to honestly look at myself and my life. I was simply afraid of everything.
Why do we resist so much when someone tells us: “Look, you are an alcoholic and in order to get better you need to go to this rehab and then go to these meetings every day.” We resist this solution because we don’t like the idea that we are not in control of our lives, that we are not making the decisions. Someone else is telling us what to do and we don’t like it. Or perhaps we have massive fear and anxiety about these sort of social situations that exist within rehab and AA. So we resist the solution and keep ourselves stuck.
How to dedicate your entire life to recovery (and why you need to)
The key to living sober is to dive head first into the recovery process.
You must embrace the solution. But this is also a question of intensity. You have to try harder than anything you have ever done in the past. You cannot make a modest effort and succeed in sobriety. You have to go all out in your effort. You have to take a leap of faith.
When I finally went to rehab for a third time it was because I surrendered completely. And I said to myself “I am going to dedicate my entire life to sobriety this time. Whatever is required on this journey, I will do it. Whatever form of treatment they recommend to me, no matter how extreme, I will embrace it.”
So they suggested that I go to long term rehab and I agreed with this. So I ended up living in treatment for over 20 months continuous.
Now you might think that this would be a sure fire way to get 90 days sober. Yet out of all of my peers in long term treatment with me, I would say that about half of them failed to reach 90 days sober. Just being in long term rehab did not really insure sobriety (in transitional housing you have a lot more freedom than in traditional 28 day programs, which is dangerous in the sense that it can expose you to triggers and urges, etc.) Nevertheless, long term treatment was the exact thing that I needed at that point in my life. For one thing, my entire environment before rehab was filled with drugs and alcohol at nearly every turn. I worked in a bad environment and all of my friends used drugs and alcohol as well. There were no real positive influences in my life where I spent any time at all. My life was 100 percent about drugs and alcohol.
So for me to try to transition into a sober life from this by simply attending a few AA meetings was not realistic. I could not just change a few pieces of my routine (or of my life) and expect to escape from alcoholism. I needed a major overhaul. I had to change everything, as they say. And so checking into long term rehab was the thing that allowed me to do this.
Now does this mean that everyone should go to long term treatment? Definitely not. It was just what I needed at the time. But many people who go to long term rehab also fail to stay sober. It is not a cure by any means, nor are the success rates much different than 28 day programs. So do not feel like you have to pursue long term treatment just because that is what worked for me. The fact is that most people probably do not need this long term solution, they just need a 28 day program that they follow up on when they leave treatment.
When I was in early recovery I watched other people in the program of AA. I watched a lot of people who were new to recovery because at the time I was living in rehab. I also got to see a lot of people come into detox and short term residential treatment as well. So I watched and observed and tried to figure out what was truly important in recovery and what was not.
Because, to be honest, the amount of suggestions that you get in early recovery is quite overwhelming. There is just too much information to try to process and apply in your life. You cannot possibly do it all and apply all of the ideas at one time. Therefore you have to prioritize certain ideas and test them out for your own recovery. You must pick and choose. You get so much advice in early sobriety that you could not possibly follow all of it.
I was searching for the ultimate truth about recovery at the time. I wanted to know the secret. Some of my peers in recovery seemed to be so dedicated, so spiritual, so enthusiastic about being sober–and yet they would relapse. What was the secret of success? I wanted to be like these more confident people in recovery, yet the results they were getting (relapse) was not what I really wanted. I wanted to insure sobriety for myself. I wanted to take the right advice and apply the actions in my life that would make a real difference.
In the end I have come to learn a great deal about the “secret” of recovery. I know longer believe that certain actions or advice is necessarily superior to others. There are many paths to recovery and there is no secret information that will keep someone sober.
This is because it is all about the application. It is about process. There are no secrets. There is no “best advice” for every person in recovery.
It is actually simple to stay sober. We all know this, deep down. There is no magic secret technique that we need for sobriety. We just need to not drink. How simple is that? And we need to start rebuilding our lives, one day at a time, and take positive action. If we are consistent in this method (not drinking, taking positive action) then we build a new life for ourselves that is worth living again. This is recovery. It really is not any more complicated than that. Yet we all want for it to be more complicated, because we are hoping that there is some secret knowledge that will allow us to stay sober without having to do any hard work. We want the magic shortcut. But it doesn’t exist.
Recovery is all about the application of advice. The advice itself is trivial. “Don’t drink and go to AA meetings.” That is a solution in 7 words, and it is a complete solution at that. Anyone who dedicates their life to that solution will do just fine. Does this mean that you have to go to AA? Not necessarily. You just need to take positive action on a consistent basis without drinking. Going to AA is one framework for doing that. There are other paths if you care to seek them out. But they are not secret paths, they are just difficult paths. Every path in recovery is both difficult and rewarding. I suppose there are also paths that are easy and NOT rewarding. Those paths lead to relapse.
Beyond 90 days of continuous sobriety
Getting to 90 days sober is a significant milestone, but it is definitely not the endgame. When I look back at the 90 day point after over 13 years of continuous sobriety, it is like I was just getting started back then. I had hardly learned to crawl at 90 days!
But recovery is not a sprint, as they say, it is a marathon. Take it nice and slow because there is no need to rush. There is nothing to “get to” so just drop the feeling that you think you have to get a certain amount of clean time in order to start….what? Enjoying life? Enjoying sobriety? Feeling like you will never relapse no matter what?
You can enjoy recovery at 30 days sober just as you can at 30 years sober. And no matter how long you may have been sober, you are never fully protected from the threat of relapse. I know a guy who had 18 years sober in AA and he decided to go out and drink. Just like that! Of course, this relapse had been slowly building for a long time, but it still happened. He failed to prevent it due to complacency. And sometimes we believe that if we just stay sober long enough that suddenly our sobriety will become permanent somehow. This is not the case. We must always be vigilant against the disease.
And that is why they recommend that you take it slow and steady. Because you don’t get to stop. You don’t get to prop your feet up after 90 days sober and say “OK, that’s it! I am sober now, and will be forever!”
It doesn’t work like that. You get to 90 days sober and you then you figure out how you can grow and improve your life some more. Then you get to 5 years sober and you do the same thing again: figure out how to improve your life and be a better person. After 3 decades in recovery, hopefully you have figured out that if you want to overcome complacency, you have to keep improving yourself and working towards a healthier “you.”
If you want to reach 90 days sober then you need to embrace these concepts. Surrender, ask for help, take massive action and go to rehab. Then follow that up with lots more action. Dedicate your life to recovery. And realize that 90 days is just the beginning, that you need to embrace a process of personal growth for the rest of your life. Then, start living it!
Have you reached 90 days sober yet? Are you setting that as a new goal for yourself? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!