Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a drinker who is considering quitting like a person with 30 years of sobriety who still attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. You mean he’s not fixed yet? He’s still got to attend these damn meetings to keep from drinking? What the sober curious don’t yet understand – what nobody outside the recovery community understands, frankly – is that sobriety is not a cure. Sobriety is a blessed lifestyle. Sobriety is how we humans were designed to function optimally.
Early sobriety is so complex that a guy could make a living writing about all the different components, challenges and associated stigmas. Oh wait, that’s what I’m trying to do. One of the greatest humps to get over for people new to sobriety is the idea that abstinence from a deadly poison is not, in fact, a punishment. Giving our bodies exercise, exposure to nature, connection with other humans, a sense of spirituality, plenty of sleep, intimate relationships, challenges to overcome and healthy food and beverage inputs is the key to happiness. Warping our brain function and destroying our organs is not exactly in the human body user’s manual.
How many of those keys to happiness does alcohol inhibit? Exercise? Check. Exposure to nature? Pretty hard to hear the birdies sing from inside a bar or with your head buried under a pillow the entire next day. Connection with other humans? When you can’t remember the conversation, you’ve got a bad connection. A sense of spirituality? God’s not high on our priority list during those fuck it moments when we decide to go ahead and finish the bottle. Good sleep? Oh hell no! Intimate relationships? It took extended sobriety for me to learn that my drinking had completely destroyed intimacy in my marriage (utility sex isn’t the same thing). Challenges? See the answer above about the fuck it moments. Healthy food? I know when I was drunk, I sure craved and indulged in steamed vegetables at 2am (not!).
Happiness is elusive when alcohol is center stage. Catching a buzz followed by acting like an asshole, then feeling like ass, is not happiness.
So that guy who has been a regular attendee at AA meetings for 30 years – still think he’s not fixed? His sobriety isn’t something he’s trying to earn so he can move on. His sobriety is the foundation of his life. It’s key to his happiness. He doesn’t still attend those meetings because he has to. He’s there 30 years in because there’s no place he’d rather be. When you understand that, you’ve got a chance at recovery.
I don’t go to AA meetings, so that’s not where I find happiness. But just like the 30 year guy who enjoys going to meetings, I find happiness in celebrating my sobriety. Why does celebration have to be inextricably linked to booze? Parties with free-flowing alcohol are not the only way to celebrate. Why do we think champagne is required for offering a toast? I want to see someone raise a shrimp cocktail or quesadilla in honor of the birthday girl or to cheer the newlyweds. Why does it always have to be booze? I know the answer – it doesn’t. Celebration doesn’t have to involve alcohol at all.
Except for one thing. The stigma. That thing is strong, and it is as interwoven into our culture and society as deodorant and birthday cake. You wouldn’t dream of going to your nephew’s bar mitzvah in your bathing suit, and you couldn’t imagine a Super Bowl party without a cooler full of beer. Celebration equals alcohol. It’s an equation we are taught as young children as we tag along with our parents to neighborhood parties and family celebrations.
So there you find yourself – newly sober and certain your decision is a life sentence of misery. And now, you are reading my yammering on about sobriety being a celebratory lifestyle. Maybe you could buy what I’m selling, except everything in your life has always pointed in the opposite direction. Even your early years of drinking make an unbreakable connection between alcohol and carefree happiness. Even your own memories betray this notion of happiness in permanent sobriety. Sobriety is something to which you have to commit because you screwed up and crossed the invisible line that separates joyous partying from troubled drinking. And there is no going back – you get it. You’ve learned that moderation can’t be re-learned once you’ve crossed that line. Fine. FINE! Sobriety it is. But you don’t have to like it. In fact, liking it seems utterly impossible.
I thought so. I’m sure that dude sitting on a folding chair in a church basement never imagined he’d still be sitting there willingly, eagerly, 30 years laters.
So how do you bridge that gap? How do you get from the very normal, popular, and societally mandated perception of sobriety being a punishment, to living the sober dream like I am? How is it possible for your thinking to change so drastically?
One word. Persistence.
Nothing in sobriety is easy, and nothing happens quickly, either. You have to want it. You have to work for it. You have to scrounge-up patience that most of us high-functioning drinkers don’t know exists. You have to make excruciating effort until the effort becomes no effort at all. Just like anything worth achieving in life, practice makes perfect. Celebrating sobriety is blessing beyond description, but I had to earn it. Not one step in the process came easy. The work is what makes the accomplishment so meaningful. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
And the work involved can be different for each individual recovery warrior. For some, working the twelve steps feels right. For others, understanding neuro-science and adopting a pro-recovery nutrition plan is the effort worth undertaking. Still others prioritize athletic endeavors in a social setting to form connection and achieve goals. Your mint chocolate chip ice cream is another girl’s banana cream pudding and my blueberry pie. Variety is what makes the world go ‘round. It’s also what makes recovery so diabolically complex, and permanent sobriety so elusive. But with persistence, any of us can get there. We’ve just got to put our heads down, believe in the goal and make it happen, no matter what society or our friends might think.
I’m learning new lessons about persistence. I want to make my mission to end the stigma associated with alcoholism my life’s work. That’s hard, because there’s not a lot of money in fighting the billion dollar alcoholic beverage industry, and my kids keep insisting on eating and wearing clothes that fit. I’ve faced challenges before, and I’ve probably had more rejection and failure in my life than wins. I’ve learned to evaluate my chance for success, and cut my losses and change direction. I’ve worked for companies being spun off, companies going through bankruptcy and I’ve closed a small business myself. I can read the writing on the wall. Failure is not a dirty word in my vernacular.
But this time it’s different. I want this like I’ve never wanted anything before in my life. I want to be part of the solution to the epidemic of alcoholism. I want to write books, interact with people in early sobriety, help kids understand drinking is not their unavoidable destiny, and help marriages survive the ravages of recovery. It’s all I want to do, and I think of the first 46 years of my life as necessary delivering me to this spot at this time with this mission. All of the pain had a purpose. Now, I’ve just got to figure it out. I’ve got to be persistent.
And so do you. If you want to leave the pain of alcohol behind, you’ve got to want sobriety like nothing before in your life. You’ve got to see that the human body wasn’t designed to drink moderately. You’ve got to be more persistent about stepping into your sober future than you’ve ever been about anything. Alcohol addiction is a beast – whether you want to stop finishing the bottle of wine each night, or you have let booze destroy your life in every way. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve fallen. Your bottom is where you stop digging and start climbing. And if you are ready to climb – really, really ready to work for your freedom – you’ve got to want it like nothing else. You’ve got to be more persistent than you thought possible.
You’ve got to be jealous of the guy with 30 years of drinking bad coffee from styrofoam cups and listening to people like you whine about what led to their most recent day one. Don’t pity him. Envy him. When you can do that, you just might be ready.
When you’re ready, I want to help you find the freedom that has changed my life. Check out our SHOUT Sobriety program for people in early recovery. Our approach is different from traditional methods of recovery. We address brain chemistry, recovery nutrition and encourage people to recover out loud. We are a donation-based program, and ask our participants to make a $25 per month recurring donation to support our mission. It’s nothing, really, compared to how much alcohol has cost all of us. It feels great to be part of the solution, and to leave the problem behind. If you’d like more information, to enroll or to make a donation, click the button below.