Living with Yourself and Staying Sane in Sobriety

Living with Yourself and Staying Sane in Sobriety


Anyone can, in fact, get clean and sober. The challenge is not in stopping drinking, the challenge is in staying stopped.

It has been said that the problem with the alcoholic is not giving them alcohol, the problem is in what happens when you finally all of the booze away–that is when the real problems begin. The reason for this is because the alcoholic does not know how to stay sane in sobriety. They don’t know how to deal with life and face reality without using the crutch that is alcohol. They have relied on alcohol for far too long to be their solution for everything, and when they finally sober up they have no “tools in their toolbox” for facing the world and solving problems.

Therefore, if you are someone who is attempting to sober up and find some sanity in recovery, then you are going to need to relearn the tools of how to live a sane life.

Going to AA is one way to go about doing this, but in order to get the full benefit of doing so you have to do a lot more than just show up to the meetings every day and try to absorb everything via osmosis. Instead, you have to actually work through the steps and seek out the concepts that can help you to live in the real world and solve real problems that you have.

We all show up to recovery with a set of problems and issues, most of which we were covering up with our drug or alcohol use.

In order to live a sane life in recovery, we are going to have to carefully analyze our lives and then figure out what those hang ups are and make an attempt to fix or correct them. Without doing this sort of work then we are just giving ourselves excuses to relapse down the road.

For example, when I first got clean and sober I noticed that my brain was running a particular script in which it would almost latch on to any drama that was happening in my life and attempt to make me out to be the victim of that drama. I wondered at this and was curious: Why was my brain doing this? What was the motive for my own brain to try to latch on to this drama that was not even directly about me in some cases? And when the injustice actually did involve me directly, my brain get even more excited about the situation, because then it knew that I was a true victim in this case.

What was going on? Why was my brain doing this in early sobriety?

After talking with people and going over this with my therapist and counselor, I realized that my brain was doing something known as “rationalizing and justifying.” It was looking for an excuse to drink alcohol and relapse over.

But why? Why would my brain do this in early recovery?

The reason is because my brain had been programmed to do this for several years in a row while I had been stuck in active addiction. During my disease, that was what my brain’s job was–to figure out how to make it okay in my mind that I was abusing drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. It had to have an excuse in order to justify my ridiculous behavior.

Normal people did not drink a half gallon of vodka in one weekend. Normal people did not self medicate with every single drug that they could get their hands on. Normal people did not abuse chemicals on a regular basis just because they could.

Only someone who had been done wrong, treated badly, or been dealt an unfair hand would have reason to self medicate in this way, right? That was the story that my brain told itself, and so that was what my brain had trained itself to do. It was constantly searching for excuses to justify heavy drinking or drug use. That was how it was programmed.

So when I finally got clean and sober, and I was at a 28 day rehab program and I had full intentions of making it work this time, my brain was still trying to justify a relapse, even if that wasn’t in my conscious plans at the time. I had no intention of relapsing, but my brain did not know that, so it just went on making new justifications and rationalizations every day in case it needed the excuse to do so.

How did I fix this? How did I find my sanity again, now that I knew what the problem was?

I took a number of steps. And honestly, I don’t think that the steps that I took lined up perfectly with those that are laid out in other recovery programs, so let me explain exactly how I got my sanity back in this case.

First, I made a decision. This is echoed in the 12 steps of AA as the 3rd step in which they “make a decision to turn their will and their life over…”

The decision that I made, however, was this: Any time that I noticed my brain engaging in rationalization or justification, any time that I noticed that my brain was trying to make excuses to justify a drink or a drug, I would recognize this as victim mentality and I would tell myself “NO! You are stronger than that today. You are not a victim and you do not have to self medicate today.”

In other words, I made an agreement with myself that when I noticed “disease thinking” happening in my own mind, that I would shut it down immediately and redirect myself.

That was step one for me, to make this firm decision that I was not going to tolerate those thoughts which could justify and rationalize relapse.

I knew that if I shut this line of thinking down every time, consistently, that it would eventually retrain my brain to stop going there. It would rewire my thought process completely. And that is what happened eventually. I honestly do not think it even took that long, though this was over 16 years ago now, so I am not sure if it was one week or one month of effort.

Second of all, I knew based on the advice that I was getting that I had to use gratitude if I was to overcome this sort of victim role thinking pattern.

So I started doing “gratitude training.” Every night I would say a few prayers, and I re-framed all of those prayers in terms of gratitude. I also experimented with writing out a few gratitude lists on a daily basis. I was training my brain to ignore the victim mentality and attempt to empower itself instead. Looking for the strength in each situation rather than how the world had mistreated me. Gratitude was a big part of that I think.

So the key to finding your sanity is to actively watch your own mind so that you can diagnose the problem.

You might have to meditate in order to do that, to see what is really going on up there, to learn how to watch your thoughts as an observer.

Once you see what kind of “disease thinking” is happening in your own mind, you can ask for advice and feedback from therapists, AA peers, or your sponsor in order to make a plan to fix that thinking.

This is how I restored myself to sanity, and I think that it can work for you too. Good luck!