Does anyone really need a good reason to get clean and sober these days?
Surprisingly, the answer was definitely “yes,” for me at least.
I was so stuck in denial that I was not even willing to consider the idea that my life might be a whole lot better if I were to become clean and sober. I wanted to stay stuck right where I was at, living in chaos and fear and misery. So it goes with addiction.
Looking back from where I am at now (having been clean and sober for many years), I can clearly see the benefits of sobriety. There is a definite exchange that you make when you surrender and become sober. You are overlooking a massive amount of fear in order to gain peace and serenity in long term sobriety. And yet this is a huge leap of faith for the alcoholic because there is no guarantee that they will be happy again some day.
That was all I wanted: To be happy. I just wanted to be happy. And I knew that if I got good and drunk that I had a chance at happiness. But I had convinced myself that if I was clean and sober that I would be miserable forever, because that was just how I was wired. I could not explain it, but I truly believed that I would be miserable no matter what happened if I was sober.
From my vantage point today I know there are many reasons that any alcoholic should overcome their fear of sobriety and take the plunge.
Here are a few of those reasons.
The first reason to get clean and sober: Overcoming misery and chaos
When you are stuck in addiction you get used to the misery and the chaos. It becomes a part of who you are. If you abuse alcohol for ten years straight then that is a long time to get used to the chaos.
It becomes so ingrained in us that when you first get sober you will not even appreciate the serenity and contentment that comes along with it. It will actually take you some time to learn to adapt to a “normal” life. This is OK though. The benefit of this transition will come over time. Eventually you will realize that in sobriety you are dealing with a new set of problems, and back in your drinking days you were dealing with a completely different set of problems.
In other words, you still have problems in sobriety. Just because you are living in recovery does not mean that you problems go away completely. But what you have to realize (hint: Practice gratitude) is that your new problems in recovery are much, much better than what your old problems were in active addiction. I used to wonder if I was going to die each night when I was drinking and using drugs. That is a serious problem! In fact, it doesn’t get much worse than wondering on a daily basis if maybe you should kill yourself. That is a very serious problem.
In recovery today, I still have problems at times. But they are not life threatening problems. They are not a big deal. The chaos and misery is long gone. I have stability and contentment in my life today. You might even say that I have achieved peace in my life. At one time I started praying for peace, and I got it. If I care to look around and compare myself to where I have been in the past then I am definitely experiencing an abundance of peace and contentment today.
It is all about perspective.
So the first reason that you should consider sobriety is for the peace of mind. If you think that you are happy while drinking or using drugs then you are most likely deluding yourself. The only way to know for sure though is to sober up for 90 days or so and then look back at your life in addiction. That is the only way that you can gain the necessary perspective. If you continue to self medicate then you will just tell yourself that you are happier drunk than you would be sober, and you will never learn the truth.
In order to learn the benefits of sobriety you must dive in head first. You must push past the fear and embrace recovery. It takes guts.
Second reason to get clean and sober: “Healed people heal people”
This doesn’t sound very exciting when you are drunk but it is an amazing gift when you are living clean and sober.
If you have ever watched the movie “Pay if Forward” then you are familiar with the principle.
What I am talking about is the idea that your life can change the course of history if you can heal yourself of alcoholism. This will alter a million little decisions in the future and if you start working with other people in recovery then it will really start to have a positive ripple effect going forward.
For example, if you become clean and sober and then you help someone else to do the same thing, what will that person go and do? Hopefully they will help someone else to get sober as well and then you can see what a positive chain of events you have created. Now you will not necessarily get to see every result that is created but you will understand that it is happening because you will appreciate how people helped you to get sober. For example, there is someone that spoke to me once at an early AA meeting and he made a real difference for me. This was in a different city and it happened over a decade ago so I will never be able to track that person down. But they made a huge impact on me and what they said has been carried forth through me. I have taken his message on to other people.
Not only is this helpful and the right thing to do, but it is also exciting. In recovery, you can actually get excited about helping other people to overcome addiction. If for no other reason, you should get sober because this can have a powerful effect on the rest of the world. Your example and your message about recovery could potentially affect thousands of others in the long run. Or it could simply change the course of your life and bring much more happiness and joy to others who are close to you. Either goal is well worth it!
Third reason to get clean and sober: Maximize lifespan and overall happiness
It can be difficult to get accurate statistics on this, but some estimate that the average alcoholic will die approximately 20 years younger than someone who stays on the straight and narrow. This is also complicated by the fact that many alcoholics also pick up the nicotine habit as well, which obviously has a negative effect on lifespan. But the bottom line is that alcoholics die much younger than sober people (generally speaking).
I am pretty sure that most rational people do not want to die and they do not want to be miserable. Alcoholics have a double whammy in this area because if they are drinking then they are usually pretty miserable and they also tend to die younger. So a good reason to get sober is to avoid both of these negative effects.
In order to maximize happiness you cannot be going to extremes in life. Being alcoholic is an extreme. You are drinking every single day in order to try to produce happiness. It obviously doesn’t work, but we are so stuck in denial that we cannot see the truth (that we would be happier sober).
So what is happiness in recovery? A balanced lifestyle is the key to long term happiness in sobriety, but it takes months or even years for most people in recovery to achieve that ideal.
No matter, it is still a worthy goal, and one that everyone should be working towards. There is no excuse not to pursue a more balanced lifestyle.
We need to realize that most of our unhappiness in life stems from the extremes. When something gets out of control or becomes overwhelming, that is when it has a negative impact. My father used to quote this doctor that he knew in the military that always said “Moderation is the key…..all things in moderation.” Of course the irony here is that we cannot moderate our alcohol or drug intake, we have to go to the extreme in order to overcome that particular problem. But that is the exception that proves the rule. Most everything else in recovery is an exercise in balance and moderation. Of course if any alcoholic actually could moderate their drinking, there would be no problem at all! But we can’t, so we should no longer try, hence abstinence based recovery.
If you want to be happy in life then you can’t do it with drugs and alcohol as part of the equation. They will keep telling you the lie that they can make you happy, when in fact you will be miserable most of the time. If you doubt this and are still in denial then I would challenge you to prove it to yourself: Start keeping a journal. Make it a happiness journal. Write down every single day how happy you are with your life. Every day. After a few months you should have a good idea of whether or not you are deluding yourself. I can look back at my own alcoholism and realize that I would have been writing down every day how miserable I was, and this might have been a wake up call. Certainly in recovery when I started keeping a journal it helped me to see how much happier I had become in recovery.
Of course your happiness is not actually worth much unless you also learn to appreciate it! This is counter intuitive. We believe that we only need to be happy in life. But we don’t–we need to be happy and we need to be grateful. Without the gratitude piece, we are just spoiled with any happiness that comes our way, and it can actually lead us to misery (when we inevitably experience a downturn).
Fourth reason to get clean and sober: You have important work to do!
You were not meant to sit in front of a television and drink all the time. There is more to life than this, and you have much more potential than that.
If all you do in recovery is to work with other recovering alcoholics and addicts, then that is more than enough. In fact that is a huge deal (see above about how powerful it becomes when healed people start to heal people).
Recovery is all about action. You can’t just take a few suggestions and be lazy about how you implement them. This strategy doesn’t work in recovery. If you take that sort of lazy approach then you will relapse for sure.
The key is that you have to take massive action in early recovery. This is the only way that you will be able to break free from your old patterns of living.
Addiction and recovery both have a momentum all their own. If you are stuck in addiction then there is a certain amount of inertia that keeps you stuck in active addiction. You are trapped. You fall into the same trap every single day. It is hard to get out.
The same thing is true of someone who has ten years in sobriety. They are in a pattern of sobriety and they have become used to living sober. So it is natural for them to continue to live sober. Could they still relapse? Sure they could. But it would take a lot of key things happening (and a poor reaction to those things) on their part in order for them to actually relapse. It would be a long and involved process, in other words. They would not just pick up a drink one day and suddenly get drunk. A relapse takes time to build up before the person actually drinks.
The same is true of recovery. It is a process. In order to adopt that process in your life you have to overcome a great deal of inertia. Addiction is a pattern. You are trying to break free from that pattern. This requires a great deal of effort. This is why I say that recovery requires “massive action.” If you try to get sober but all you do is to take a few suggestions, maybe go to one or two meetings each week, then you are not going to make it. That is not the sort of intensity that can overcome an addiction. It takes more than that. You have to push harder. Breaking into sobriety requires a lot of sustained energy.
In order to get on this path properly you need to surrender first. Think about it:
If you have not really hit bottom and surrendered to your addiction, then any effort that you make at getting sober is going to be half hearted. Your heart will not really be in it, because you have not fully given up that old lifestyle yet. You still want to drink or use drugs. Deep down, you have not surrendered yet. How can you possibly remain clean and sober this way if you don’t even want to change? You can’t.
Contrast this with someone who has finally hit bottom and fully surrendered to their disease. This person is ready to do the work. And this is the important point because there is a lot of work involved in becoming clean and sober. You have to take suggestions every single day. You have to take positive action every single day. You have to work for it, you have to push yourself. It is not easy and it takes real guts. Most people will not push this hard until they realize that they are fighting for their life. This is why so many alcoholics have to lose nearly everything and hit bottom before they become willing to change. Surrender is what drives recovery. You don’t surrender when things are going well. You surrender when the chaos and misery has become overwhelming.
Final reason to get clean and sober: You deserve to have a healthy and happy life
You deserve a happy and healthy life. Why not? Everyone on the planet is just doing the best that they can. Haven’t you suffered enough with your addiction? How much misery is too much to endure?
Every alcoholic should embrace recovery and experience the benefits of long term sobriety. Your life will get better and better if you are sober and actively working any sort of recovery program.
Most recovery programs are based on the assumption of personal growth. They might use religion to do this, or they might use 12 steps, or they might use behavioral techniques. But in the end every recovery program is about personal growth. The idea is that you get clean and sober and then you take action. What actions are you taking? Positive actions. Why are you taking them?
Why would we take positive action in recovery? What is the point? Why not just get sober and sit around and do nothing? Why do we need a program at all? Why do we need direction?
Think about what it means to be alcoholic. Your default mode in life is to drink every day. That is your default mode of operation. That is what every alcoholic will return to if they are not careful.
So in order to overcome that default (of drinking every day), the alcoholic has to do something. They have to take action. They have to work hard at relapse prevention. And what does relapse prevention actually consist of?
Some people think that relapse prevention is nothing more than a list of tips and tricks for how to maintain sobriety. That can be helpful, but it is not the most accurate way to describe sobriety.
Instead, relapse prevention (done right) is actually an exercise in personal growth. You have to push yourself to keep making progress in your life if you want to insure continued recovery.
If you are living clean and sober and your life starts to get worse and worse, what do you think will happen eventually? If things get really bad then you will relapse. I would not blame you a bit for drinking if things are truly getting bad in your life. This is what alcoholics do. They drink when things get bad. Why would we deny this simple truth?
So the key is to not let things get bad. Sure, I realize that life will always have ups and downs. But there are a whole lot of people that relapse because they have overwhelming excuses to do so. So you might say that relapse prevention consists of two parts:
1) Building up your internal strength in recovery so that you do not relapse. Being strong in recovery.
2) Actively sculpting your life to remove excuses for relapse. Changing your life situation so that you have far less stress, misery, and chaos.
I know many people in AA who put almost no effort at all into #2. Their lives are still a mess and they still have all sorts of drama and stress going on. Yet they go to AA every day and they put in all of these effort so that they can handle all of the chaos without drinking.
Part of relapse prevention (and living a balanced lifestyle) is in realizing that you can put in the work to change your life situation as well. Give yourself less excuses to relapse, and this will make your recovery stronger as a result.
What do you think is a good reason to get sober? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!