Most of us think of sobriety and we think of the dictionary definition, the act of not drinking. While this definition is often enough for persons who are not in recovery, it is nowhere close to spanning the depth and scope of the word and its meaning to those in recovery.
As a recovering alcoholic or addict, sobriety means so much more than not drinking. While those meanings will change depending on you, your motivation, and where you are in your recovery, sobriety is a complex and multi-faceted concept revolving around you and how you live your life.
Sobriety means finding peace with yourself, with life and its ups and downs, developing the discipline to remain sober, and abstinence. Understanding that and the motivations behind it can be valuable in helping you to develop your own sobriety.
At its most basic level, sobriety is the seemingly simple act of not drinking. Most people in recovery start here, fighting the residual effects of withdrawal, working hard towards abstinence, and fighting subconscious and conscious motivations to drink. This is where you will likely be immediately after rehab, and it is where you are most vulnerable to relapse. However, you will eventually find that simply not drinking is not enough of a motivation or a reward for most people to maintain sobriety – and therefore it is not enough.
Recovery is much more than making sure that you never use a substance again. It’s about finding motivation, accepting life, and moving forward so that you no longer need intoxication to be happy.
Motivation for a Better Life
Almost everyone goes into a drug and alcohol rehab with a goal or a motivation. Sometimes that motivation is family, sometimes it’s your career, your personal goals, the realization that you are hurting yourself, sometimes a lover or partner, and sometimes it’s something unique to yourself. Whatever that is, sobriety is about finding it and continuing to celebrate motivations as a reason to avoid drowning everything out with a substance. This often involves a multi-step process that often has less to do with not using and more to do with not using to solve problems or to drown life out.
This means creating and maintaining focus and engagement with life. The goal of abstinence and sobriety is to celebrate life without drinking, and it is a permanent state that you will have to remain in for the rest of your life. You need to create goals, to commit yourself to your health, your plans, and your belief in yourself.
Because addictive habits violate who you are and who you want to be, finding personal motivation to achieve sobriety, to achieve goals in your life, and to continuously move forward, take care of yourself, and improve your health will put you in a state of mind where you can maintain your recovery.
Feeling vs. Numbing
Perhaps the most crucial element of finding and maintaining sobriety through personal life motivation is learning to feel. Studies show that many struggling with addiction turn to alcohol or drugs because they are stressed, have difficulty coping with emotions, and are essentially self-medicating. While you may use alcohol for a different reason, those with addiction often use alcohol to numb away emotional pain.
Using alcohol, you numb your way away from problems, so that they don’t matter. Without alcohol, you must learn to accept life, to face it on its own terms, and to take the good with the bad. This means essentially learning to deal with stress in recovery. This can be painful, but is eventually more rewarding and satisfying, because both the good and the bad mean more.
Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior, suggests that once you can accept what life has to offer and enjoy it to the best of your ability, accepting that there will be pain – you can develop a mindset where you no longer need alcohol to cope.
Developing Personal Integrity
Sobriety is about being accountable for yourself, deciding when you will and will not drink, and holding yourself to a very high standard. Over time, this develops into a sense of personal integrity which gives you the fortitude to continue your recovery, moving well past not drinking and into a state of mind where you know that drinking is wrong for you and therefore you won’t do it.
Personal integrity means being true to yourself, respecting yourself enough not to relapse, and being accountable for yourself – not for anyone else, no matter how much you love them. This kind of personal discipline is difficult, and may be difficult to comprehend for someone struggling with alcohol or just out of rehab, especially if you have self-esteem issues, but it is one of the eventual goals of sobriety.
Making Peace with Yourself
Trusting yourself not to drink, developing personal integrity, and working towards your health and personal improvement all require one thing. You must respect and love yourself. This is often difficult for those with addiction or recovering from addiction, who face social stigma and misconceptions, often resulting in low self-esteem and even internalized self-hatred – which in turn worsens the addiction by making you feel hopeless, like you shouldn’t even try, and like you are worthless.
“One valuable lesson I have learned since becoming sober is that love begins from within. If we first love ourselves, then we can give love to others. We hold carrying amounts of love (or compassion) for every person, place or thing we interact with each day.” – Amy C., a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery.
Getting over these barriers is crucial to long-term recovery. You have to accept yourself as you are, make peace with your mistakes, and realize that you can do better, you can improve, and you have the strength to do it. If you don’t think that you are worth it, your efforts, alone and with your therapist, should be focused on building your sense of self-value.
Recovering from an addiction is very much about facing vulnerability, accepting that you can’t always be strong, accepting that people won’t always see you in the most positive light, and that sometimes you will need help.
Once you recognize that your state of mind, your sobriety, and your peace are vulnerable, you can take steps to protect them. You can choose which people to allow into your life. You can decide to take part in activities that build you up. You can make choices for your mental and physical health. You can say no to situations that will tear you down, and you can work to protect yourself and your sobriety.
Sharing Your Wisdom
Recovering can be an immensely powerful thing and many people in recovery immediately want to reach out to help others. Unfortunately, doing so too soon can be harmful to you and your sobriety. Glennon Doyle calls this the concept of “sharing from your scars”.
When you share publicly, with a large audience, you open yourself up to criticism, feedback, and multiple interpretations. If your recovery is fresh and still painful, it can be difficult to offer the things you have learned in a way that is both helpful and easy to process. If something still hurts, putting it out for the world to see will hurt. Most of us have been taught that sharing is healing, but that does often depend on the audience.
In early recovery, you should share with a close circle of trusted people, those who can commit time and energy to helping you heal. Your therapists, close family, close friends, and your sobriety group. They will help you to heal and to move forward, because they care and they can dedicate the energy to it.
When you are healed, and your sobriety is something that you understand and work towards for multiple, diverse reasons, you can share it with everyone. Only here can you share wisdom that can help others, rather than creating a cry for help.
Sobriety is a multi-faceted idea that involves working towards respecting, loving, and taking care of yourself. Once you achieve that life balance and self-awareness, while taking steps to protect yourself and improve your life, you won’t have any reason to use alcohol to self-medicate.
Good luck working towards your sobriety.