The Momentum of Sobriety, and the Sobriety of Momentum

"You're either growing or you're dying. There ain't no third direction."

My holiday season was great. At least, it was great on paper. I had lots of family time, lots of neighborhood parties and festive work events. I slept-in to the best of this early riser’s ability on many days. I didn’t write much, didn’t record any Untoxicated Podcast episodes, spent almost no time on social media, didn’t promote my SHOUT Sobriety program, had two weeks off from high school soccer coaching and hardly watched the news at all while listening to Christmas music and watching football bowl games. I took some downtime and relaxed. During the first 11 1/2 months of the year, I put in long hours like most Americans, and the rest was well deserved. Perfect, right?


Here’s the problem. All those things I didn’t do are the things that make me feel good. There’s a line from the movie, Tommy Boy, that often pops into my mind. Tommy’s father, and very successful business owner, Tom Sr., says, “You’re either growing or you’re dying. There ain’t no third direction.” I feel a lot of stress to keep going, and sleeping-in before watching college football doesn’t do anything to scratch that itch.


I am three years sober, and the unease I feel after a couple of relaxing weeks of semi-work does not make me want to drink. Not at all. There is literally no temptation, and that’s a huge blessing. But this is exactly the kind of uneasiness that used to make me drink. There is a reason my last drink came in January of 2017. I’m sure I felt just as unproductive coming off the holidays in this same month three years ago. I’m sure that discontentment led to my last, depressing bout of overconsumption – self-medicating stress and disappointment.


The story of my last night of drinking is compelling and tragic in a high-functioning alcoholic sort of way. You can read about it here. The only thing that’s consistent between that night and right now is the nagging feeling of not being or doing or accomplishing enough.


There are as many different reasons people abuse alcohol as there are drinkers. Many can trace their alcohol addiction to trauma, tragedy, abuse and/or neglect. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs, but I’ve been fortunate to live a pretty blessed life. For me, I think the thing I’m experiencing right now, the first week of another January after another restful holiday, is the reason my drinking gradually spun out of control.


There’s an old-fart medication commercial that runs on CNN that says a body in motion stays in motion. I can’t remember which medication that particular commercial is advertising, but that tagline sticks in my head. When we slow down, even for well deserved reasons, it is hard to get the mojo rolling again. Momentum is a real thing, not just in sports, but in life. When I’m writing a lot, interacting with readers, interviewing people for our podcast, working with SHOUT Sobriety members, and generally producing in our society, I feel pretty good.


Is downtime the self-love that I read so much about? Now that I don’t drink, I don’t spend much if any time in self-hatred. But somewhere in between, I can definitely get a powerful case of self-insignificance. I can almost hear my AA friends telling me that it’s an ego problem, and I need to turn it over to God. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I pray a lot, and as far as I can tell, God wants me to get off my ass and get moving again.


I’m jealous of my wife, Sheri. She can sleep for 12 hours straight anytime the opportunity presents itself to her. She prioritizes loving on our kids over any societal definition of productivity. And she can binge watch television, completely guilt free, on the rare occasion that she has a few hours of free time. She is a very hard worker, and does more than her fair share to ensure the health, happiness and success of our family.


But she also knows that what she is doing is enough. I never feel that way. I always feel like I could be doing more.


I’ve had a lot of conversations lately, with my dear friends in the SHOUT Sobriety program, who are trying to survive early recovery, about the dangers of free time. I’m supposed to be helping them stay sober, but these conversations in particular have been remarkably helpful to me. They talk about how idle time leads to temptation. Of course, I’ve heard explanations like this before, but I never really thought it applied to me. I thought I drank because of stress, depression, anxiety and an unquenchable thirst for action. Those things are the opposite of idle time.


But the more conversations we have about the topic, the more I realize how uncomfortable idle time has always made me feel. I am a firm believer that eight hours of sleep, some time for self reflection and some daily veg-out time are necessary to a happy and healthy life. I believe it, I just can’t seem to practice it without feeling guilty. What’s that all about?


When I first started interviewing for jobs right out of college, I remember receiving advice about answering questions about my own weaknesses. “I just can’t seem to let go of a problem until it is solved,” I would say when asked about my own shortcomings. Answer a question about my negatives with one of my positives. That’s what I feel like I’m doing here – bragging about how I’m not satisfied unless I’m getting more done than anyone I know. For me, it’s not about money. But I’m just as greedy for impact as others are for cash. I want to help people. I don’t want to be famous, but I want to leave an indelible mark. I want to matter. And when I’m resting, I become increasingly irrelevant.


Often, lately, I choose topics to write about based on a result I want to extract from readers. Sometimes, I write in a certain way that I think will gain me more registrations for SHOUT Sobriety. Other times, I write articles that I think will stir interest in my ebooks. Whatever the goal, when a write with a desired outcome in mind, the results are mediocre at best.


This article is about the uncomfortableness I’m experiencing right now. It’s over a thousand words at this point, and will probably finish around 1,500. It has only taken me ten minutes so far (my fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts), because it is from the heart.


When I write from the heart, people resonate. No goal or desired result – just a whole lot of virtual head nodding.


Here’s what I think is the point. As I’ve said a million times before, sobriety doesn’t fix anything. It mostly feels better than addiction (mostly way better), but the underlying shit that made us drink is still there. For some, it is tragic, awful, abusive memories. But for people like me, it is just a gnawing feeling that something’s not quite right.


If you’re like me, you have two choices. You can drink to make that feeling go temporarily away (and you can, most definitely, drink it away – until it comes raging back 100% stronger and more deadly), or you can acknowledge it and start trying to build momentum again. I choose momentum.


I’m sure some will tell me I need to become more comfortable being idle. Theoretically, I agree. But like I said, I feel like God keeps poking me in the ribs and telling me to keep going. I wish I could have both. I wish I could feel motivated and peacefully relaxed at the same time. Maybe that should be a goal for me. I’ll think about it. I’ll listen eagerly if you share your opinion.


Here’s the one definitive thing I know about the uneasiness of idleness – drinking will never solve the problem. Never. It will only make things worse. If you’re in early sobriety, and facing temptations to drink in the lingering downtimes of the holidays, I hope you’ll trust me.


So I wrote this whole post in about 15 minutes. It happens like that sometimes when the topic is from the heart. I guess I should feel satisfied that the words are flowing, but it just makes me feel pressure to keep writing. Checking this task off my list brings no happiness. It just frees-up some time to get something else done. Do you know what I mean? Do you ever feel this way?


Whether you drank because of trauma, or you drank to medicate uneasiness – no matter how different the reasons – the solution is the same. You need to become an active participant in your sobriety in order to keep your sobriety rolling. For some, that means the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. For others like me, an alternative recovery plan is in order. For others still, all of the above is the correct answer. We have a lot of people in the SHOUT Sobriety program who also attend AA meetings. They get some things they need there, and other things they need in our group. Sitting idly by and hoping for sobriety to stick, however, is not an option. You’ve got to get motivated about your sobriety. I understand. I am over 1,500 words into my understanding.


We’d love to welcome you into our SHOUT Sobriety group, if you are so motivated. Check us out. We are a non-profit that relies on donations from participants and other believers to keep going and be here for the next person who needs us. We ask participants for a $25 per month ongoing, recurring donation to keep the mission alive. For more information, to enroll or to make a donation, please click the button below. I didn’t write this as an enticement to join my program, but if you’re like me, maybe we should be working together.

SHOUT Sobriety

Coming Out Alcoholic
January 10, 2018
The Truth Behind the Perfect Pictures of Sobriety
January 5, 2022
Drinking Alcohol to Relax: The Big Anxious Lie
May 1, 2019
  • Reply
    January 8, 2020 at 5:59 am

    Great post Matt! I’m definitely identify with this.

    Lack of momentum leads me to feeling pretty worthless, that feeling of worthlessness historically led me to drink, ultimately turning into a snowball of regrets and more self-loathing, and I’d let the snowball suck me in and carry me away.

    I too wish I could be less restless with idle time, but being busy is just my personality type and that’s okay. I’m me and I need to keep moving and avoid prolonged idle periods like the holiday break. God made me this way for reason, so it’s all good.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 8, 2020 at 6:19 am

      I’m glad this resonates, Eddie. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Reply
    January 8, 2020 at 6:46 am

    One of the goals in yoga is to
    create stillness in action. So, I LOVE the goal of feeling motivated and peacefully relaxed at the time. Exactly! Yes! Cultivating the seemingly opposite at the same time. Good stuff.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 8, 2020 at 6:58 am

      Thanks Catherine! Maybe I need to get serious about looking into yoga or meditation this year.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2020 at 7:27 am

    I know that exact feeling – my go to is the gym. I work out for at least an hour and that leaves me feeling satisfied like I have accomplished my goal, my body has physically tired itself out in a positive way – “peacefully relaxed” – I listen to music while I work out so I get that mood lift. It gives me the gift of physical health that I can enjoy even that hour is complete – I feel good about myself all the time because I am taking care of ME. It is a win/win. All because of that ONE hour that I choose to spend on ME and my sobriety. The first week was difficult but once it became habit, now you cannot stop me from taking my hour to go to the gym (or to take a walk or to stretch or whatever is available that day to take care of myself)
    Choosing to move my body in a healthy way takes away my nervous energy and calms that restless spirit inside of me. It works!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 8, 2020 at 7:34 am

      I love that you understand, Justine, and I love your solution! Thank you.

  • Reply
    Brian Stafford
    January 8, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Hey Matt: Great post, and some excellent responses already. As my yoga and spirituality reminds me, “Less doing, more being.” It ain’t easy. You’re on the right track. Keep going. Thanks for all you do.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 8, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Early in my career, I worked in an industrial sales office as a junior sales manager. The bosses would call down from their top floor corner offices and ask for reports on this or that. I would waste hours a week accumulating the data they wanted. It was very frustrating because I thought of my primary purpose as a doer, while they we just report reading thinkers. I made the company money, and they just spent it.

      Breaking away from my pride in constantly doing is really hard. But your yoga instructor is right. Gotta keep working on it. Thanks for reminding me of that story, Brian!

  • Reply
    January 8, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    Great point from that yoga instructor. Reminders of something I heard not too long ago. We’re supposed to be human BEINGS not human DOINGS.

    I get that mixed up way too often. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 8, 2020 at 6:28 pm

      Well said, Eddie!

  • Reply
    Anne Katharine Scott
    January 8, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Nod, nod, nod Matt – not just about idle time but about writing from the heart 🙂

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 8, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      I thought of you while these words poured out of me, Anne. I thought of my circle. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your continued support!

  • Reply
    January 11, 2020 at 12:31 am

    The yogic scriptures of Hinduism indicate that the highest form of self love is actually self discipline. The state of yoga (not the practice) is described as achieving a deep rooted happiness that is sourced within your own being and ultimately sustainable. In order to achieve this, it is said that action is key. Only once you achieve it, is tranquility the recommendation. As such, keep going. I admire your momentum and hope to emulate it. My struggles with addiction have always prevented this and to me, the ability to take constant action is a sign of healing, not the opposite.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 11, 2020 at 6:56 am

      What an interesting and most appreciated perspective. Thank you!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2023 at 2:15 pm

    HI Matt, this one really hits home…even in recovery I still feel like I am not doing enough, need to do more and that I don’t really deserve to have any down time. My two week retreat, reading your book and others was a big breakthrough for me although lots of my family and friends told me I was just being “selfish” one more time. Maybe, however, looking back, it was some of the most productive time in my life and yes, it was about me, so that I can be a better person to all those that I love! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      September 30, 2023 at 9:14 am

      I love this reflection. Keep going!

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