The Key to Living Sober

The Key to Living Sober



* Decision and initial action

* Transition and allowing time to find purpose

* Achieving balance in the real world

* Reducing dependency on external support

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* Continuous growth and learning

Decision and initial action

I have already written before about living sober but I wanted to revisit the idea and add any new insights that I have come across. Of course I am constantly watching the process of sobriety unfold all around me, both in myself and in others, and I am always looking to learn from these observations.

The newcomer in recovery who just got sober yesterday is overwhelmed with the prospect of living a sober life and being happy without drugs and alcohol. This is a monumental task for the newly recovering alcoholic and so it is traditionally proposed as a “day at a time” process for them. I have no problem with this idea and I think that simplicity is needed at this stage. Trying to incorporate holistic growth at this point is a distraction. What is needed instead that I continuously harp on is massive action.

The newcomer in recovery must make a decision and follow it up with massive action. This is the start of any successful recovery, and anyone who does not incorporate both of these elements is destined to relapse quickly.

If you want to enjoy a full life in sobriety then you have to pay your dues just like any other alcoholic. This means putting in the necessary action early on it in order to build a foundation in early recovery. If you relapse at 30 days sober, or 2 weeks sober, or at 9 months sober, then you did not take enough action. You have to put in enough effort in order to maintain sobriety. It is hard work, and most will underestimate the task at first. That is why most addicts have to try multiple times before they “get” recovery. Go overboard with initial action in early recovery and you will get good results.

Photo by fast eddie 42

Transition and allowing time to find purpose

It would be nice if we could just stop drinking on Tuesday and then have a rich, full, and meaningful life before the weekend. It does not work that way. It did not happen that fast for me, and I seriously doubt that it can happen that fast for others.

What becomes necessary in early recovery is the idea of transition. We hear the promises of sobriety and we know that if we keep pushing ourselves to grow then we can achieve these things in our lives. This will be true whether we work a 12 step program, or whether we follow a more holistic approach to recovery. Either way we have to go through a transitional period where we have to learn how to live in recovery.

This is a learning period and so it will naturally involve some struggle for people. I can remember being particularly frustrated after being a few months sober, and wondering if things would get better, or if I might return to drinking eventually. I stuck it out, though, and eventually found my path to long term sobriety.

The key is that I stuck it out. Anyone can reach this crossroads in their recovery and feel despair….the key is that we need to stick it out. We can do that in a number of different ways, using a variety of different coping mechanisms and support systems. I have friends in recovery, supportive family, and a holistic approach to recovery (for example, exercise is a huge outlet for me). Other people might have different strategies for recovery. Whatever works for you is great. But I think we all go through some struggle in early recovery, and we simply have to stick it out through this tough time.  It is difficult.  Deal with it as best you can.

I would urge people to seek support during the tough times but your individual support mechanisms might vary. Do what works for you. If you don’t know what that is, then it is your responsibility to find that out. There is no excuse for relapse. Don’t allow yourself the luxury of an easy excuse. Force yourself to find solutions that can keep you sober through the tough times.

“Early recovery” can drag on for years. It does not necessarily have to though. For me, I was pretty slow to adopt a mindset of personal, holistic growth, simply because traditional recovery seemed to discourage this. The emphasis was always on spiritual growth and staying somewhat fixed in our usual social roles. We were supposed to have resentments, etc. These would be a huge stumbling block for us, etc. So I sort of got stuck in the mindset that I needed to fit into this traditional recovery role for the first few years.

But I also had to allow myself time to transition, and time to find my real purpose in life. And I think this might be true for everyone.

It is fine to take direction in early recovery. Your life probably depends on it, in fact. But eventually, you have to find your own path. You discover your own path to recovery and you make it your own. If you have not yet done this, then my thought is that you are probably still “in transition.” Transition to what? To living your best life in recovery.

Achieving balance in the real world

Early recovery demands focus and massive action. I personally lived in long term rehab for the first 20 months of my recovery. This led to genuine focus on both recovery related strategies, as well as on personal growth and holistic strategies (such as education and exercise).

I immersed myself in recovery during the first few months. This is fine for a while, and even encouraged. But eventually you need to seek balance. Recovery is about living life. If all you did was attend nonstop 12 step meetings, then this would not be much of a life. And that is where balance comes in.

Photo by James Jordan

If you seek personal and holistic growth, balance becomes sort of a non issue, and takes care of itself. For example, if you genuinely care about yourself and raise your self esteem in recovery, then this will help to dictate many of your actions throughout the day. You will eat healthy meals, naturally be drawn to exercise frequently, and get good rest. Balance is achieved not through careful planning, but simply through caring for your self as best you can. This will naturally extend beyond the physical as well to include your emotional balance, your spiritual life, and your relationships with others too.

Over time, the massive action and the extreme focus you had in early recovery will be replaced by a more balanced, holistic approach. This is not to be seen as a bad thing (as it sometimes is in traditional recovery circles) but instead as a testament to your personal growth.

Reducing dependency on external support

In early recovery, external support is clearly an asset. It helps the newcomer to stay sober during a rough period.

In long term sobriety, dependency on external support becomes a liability. If you have to get to a meeting every single day in order to stay sober, then what kind of recovery is that? If you study the structure and habits of old time AA, you will see that they did not over-do their meeting attendance like it is so frequently pushed these days. They advocated for a real internal change through doing the footwork, then working with other alcoholics. Compared to the over-emphasis on constant meeting attendance and parroted AA-speak that passes for AA today, this is pretty darn good advice. In other words, get into action, fast. Help others and start actually living this way of life, instead of just yammering on about it all day at countless meetings. Recovery is not about recovery….it’s about living life.

Anyone who is experiencing holistic growth in recovery will naturally reduce their dependence on external support. This will happen automatically as they achieve more balance in their life, and start to do more actual living and experiencing of things. Early recovery is laser focused, while long term recovery is about living life. If you have a few years sober, and are still dependent on daily meetings in order to maintain good peace of mind, then what is the problem? Find what works for you outside of meetings and make this into reality. Maybe this is meditation, or maybe it is helping other alcoholics, or maybe it is exercise, and so on. But if you can’t make it through a couple days without going to an AA meeting and dumping all your problems, then you are doing something wrong.

This is not to say that you should not go to meetings in long term recovery….only that you should not depend on meetings in long term recovery. If you are dependent then you have more footwork to do. Start working the program, or start pursuing holistic growth in your life. Find a path and grow along it.

Photo by Christopher_S_Harrison

Continuous growth and learning

One of the greatest hurdles in long term sobriety is complacency. This can even be a problem for those who have just a year or two of sobriety. If you get comfortable, the risk of relapse runs a bit higher. If you are not pushing yourself to learn and to grow in recovery, then you are treading on thin ice.

This is why I constantly push for holistic growth. That way you have several options to keep yourself engaged with. You can grow socially, emotionally, spiritually. You can work on your fitness. Exercise more. Improve your diet and nutrition. All in the name of personal growth and increasing your self esteem.

If you build up genuine self esteem, it becomes very difficult to relapse. Success breeds success in recovery. Push yourself to grow in many different areas of your life. Challenge yourself to do more. Challenge yourself to help more people. The rewards from this cycle of growth and of reaching out to others are tremendous. It is what living sober is all about.


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