The thought of being 30 years sober makes me feel a little giddy, dizzy even. How does one stay sober that long? Does it have to involve meetings? Is relapse still a threat? Do you even still think about being sober anymore?
Robert, who blogs at the wonderful, wisdom-filled Process Not An Event, shares candidly about his recovery process and some of the most important things he’s learned in nearly three decades of sobriety.
This August I will be sober for 30 years. In 1984, three months after I was released from the detox unit, only one other person from my cohort of 20 remained sober. I have often asked: Why Me? Why have I stayed sober and others have not?
I know sobriety has nothing to do with who drank the most or who had the most dysfunctional childhood or arrests or job losses. When I reflect back on my first recovery meetings, the old timer drunk-a-logs and their long-term sobriety held little meaning for me. I wanted to hear how people put together just a couple of weeks or months of sobriety.
Over the years, below is some of what I have learned and wished I had heard at my first recovery meetings:
- It’s not that I can’t drink today, rather I don’t have to drink today. If I want to live life on life’s terms, then I don’t need to anesthetize myself to simply exist in a passive world.
- AA meetings, sponsors, reading the Big Book and all of those practices ultimately are not the reason I stayed sober. Making a decision to live in recovery and not in active addiction is the reason. Until I made that decision, all of the recovery tools were pretty useless.
- Making that decision led me to explore a diversity of recovery tools. In my first year of sobriety, I attended over 300 meetings. From years 10 – 15, I don’t recall attending any AA meetings. Today I go to about 4 AA meetings each month. I don’t know if I will go to more or fewer meetings in the future. Ditto on reading the Big Book. But I do read something or listen to a podcast or engage with some other recovery based material on a daily basis. I have not had an official AA sponsor in about 25 years, but I have honest and self-searching dialogue with others about recovery on a regular basis. I also share my experience, strength and hope of recovery with anyone. In essence, on a daily basis I remember that I am a recovering alcoholic.
- I very truly believe that both recovery and relapse are processes and not events. When I was first sober, I was warned that the sky was going to fall, that alcohol was “cunning, baffling and powerful” – which it is. One dude who was perhaps the most unhappy several-year sober person I had ever met had a line that “each day I am sober, I am one day closer to my next drunk.” Based on my experience, I completely reject that notion. A healthy fear of “slippery places” is good, particularly in early recovery, but it’s not going to keep me sober. I am either on the recovery road or the relapse road in the same way I can either travel north or south. I can’t get south by going north, nor will I relapse if I am going in the direction of recovery.
- Today, what keeps me sober is not so much fear of drinking as is my total love and embracing of life in recovery. I have learned over the years that my very existence today is the complete antithesis of my life when practicing my addiction. Today, I am a role model for my step-children – that’s not a label I use but one given by my wife and children. I am able to play a leadership role in my career. I enjoy working with students, especially those who struggle to live into their true selves. I don’t say this out of grandiosity, but out of humility in what recovery offers. Without question, all of that is out the door with the first drink.
- Recovery is about living life on life’s terms, and not the dictates of what others think I should be doing.
- I often end my shares at AA meetings with “I have not a complaint in the world today.” A bunch of years ago I decided I was going to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were, and live life fully in recovery.
These are the most important things I have learned about recovery.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known on Day 1 of your recovery? Please feel free to share in the comments. And check out Robert’s blog if it’s new to you. I find myself going back again and again. Thanks for the great post, Robert!