What I wish I’d known – a guest post by Robert

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!

27 thoughts on “What I wish I’d known – a guest post by Robert

Add yours

  1. Day 182 here, On day one I wish I had known how great sobriety was going to be, and what an ass kicking it gives at random times, especially when you least expect it. I wish I had known I was stepping into a LIFE LONG process, not just 100 days, and I would be “cured”.
    I love the post, I got so much out of it, and will be reposting on SoberLearning.
    Thanks Robert and Kristen. Invaluable for someone who still finds a lot of fingertips type days.


    1. I remember regularly hearing at meetings how much better life was sober. In some people, it sounded convincing, though also vague because of course I wasn’t there yet. Sober blogs provided more concrete examples of what that felt like, or maybe writing helped me see all the changes in my own life better. Fingertip type days, well, those truly happen less and less for me, but I think they are also a crucial part of recovery. When they pass, I like to think I take something away to use next time. Thanks for your comment and re-blog. Much appreciated.


  2. I agree with all of this, but especially this: “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.” Especially this.

    On day one of sobriety I wish I’d known….. Huh. I’m not sure. The one thing that continues to amaze me and fill me with gratitude is the way my life feels lived now. It’s not that too small pair of jeans you think will fit one day, Now life is that soft comfy pair that forgive you when you’ve eaten key lime pie AND cookies for dessert. For a week. If I had known the grace I have gained I might have tried to rush it and failed. So in a way I’m glad I didn’t know anything other than I had to be sober to live.


    1. Yeah, I think Robert and you have both done a fine job of describing sober life as a forgiving and comfortable fit. I like what you said about being glad you weren’t tempted to rush the grace. It all came in its own time.


  3. what I wish I’d known: that every time I have needed help, I have found it online in the sober community.

    I mean, EVERY time. this place never lets you down. you never need be alone with this problem. that is pretty damn amazing.


  4. Robert, this fills me with such hope and affirms what I know to be true, which is that recovery is so much more than just not drinking. For me, it’s a series of choices that I make to be true to myself and to not hide anymore. Not drinking is the way I set myself up to succeed because once I drink, all thoughts of wanting to be authentic go out the door. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned!


    1. I too find it helpful/humbling to remember any improvements I feel now are rooted in sobriety. If I drink, I don’t get to keep them. Why would I want to give up what feels authentic and true?


  5. I love listening to the old timers (sorry, but ya are…ha ha) because you distill it down to the simple stuff. I can complicate a toothpick, so reading this is a soothing balm for me. I am currently going squirrely in my brain these days, and just can’t put my finger on it. I have a feeling it’s me trying to play God (again, ugh) and it’s not working the way I (emphasis on “I”) want it. And I have a little spiritual tantrum.

    I can tell in the way that you write that you get this…you are in a serene place and you have unattached yourself to the things that pull many of us down still. So I thank you for that alone.

    “Today, what keeps me sober is not so much fear of drinking as is my total love and embracing of life in recovery.” This sounds simple, but it’s true. I don’t fear drinking again, but sometimes I fear life itself…or more specifically, the *outcome* of life, when I am not letting go and giving it up to a HP.

    I am droning on…excuse me. A reflection of where I am at these days.

    Today may be a two meeting day 🙂

    Blessings and thanks



    1. I’m sorry you’re going through a rough time, Paul. You are tough as they come, so I hope you pull strength from others and find yourself in a place that feels better.


  6. 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.

    Yes, yes, yes.
    That is absolutely the truth for me too. That decision started one night in an AA meeting where i decided to do the radical act of introducing myself and taking newcomer chip. Everything followed from that one moment…i let go of my drinking and decided to try another way. Nothing changed until I made that first decision, and there have been many more since.

    Thank you for writing this..going to go check out your blog!


    1. I remember my first meeting, where I neither introduced myself nor took a 24-hour chip. Because, scaredy cat. Though I’d started the letting go process a week or so before by finally admitting to someone else I couldn’t do it anymore. A little light went on. So grateful. Thanks for the comment, M.


  7. Thanks everyone for their comments. One of the real powers of this type of feedback is knowing how instrumental the online community is in recovery. I have really come to enjoy this form of recovery a great deal.


  8. Bravo = Robert sounds like one awesome guy = and he wrote this so well – the deep wisdom mixed with all the practical was beautifully integrated. 🙂


  9. “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.”

    I loved all of this, but I really loved this line! Robert, thanks so much for sharing your experience, strength and hope. Kristen, thank you for sharing Robert! I will be over to his blog momentarily to start following!


  10. I really enjoyed this post, Robert and Kristen, and I’m so glad it introduced me to your other blog, Robert.

    I guess what I would have most wanted to know, if I could go back and speak to myself then, is that I’m going to end up just fine, that it’s all going to be okay. I’ll end up much stronger and gentler than I’ve ever been. That recovery is going to bring me genuine supportive life-long friends. That one day I’ll back and be able to laugh and joke even about my past. That, like your blog Robert, it truly is a process and not an event. And that it’s okay to eat the jelly beans, or the entire cookie package, if they keep you from not drinking. And that most people don’t care if you drink or not; they’re too busy worrying about themselves — in 3 plus years of sobriety, no one has ever given me crap for not drinking, not even me. My life is fuller, more genuine and healthy, and a lot more serene without alcohol. That in a nutshell, “don’t worry about a thing. every little thing, gonna be alright.”

    I plan to reblog this midweek, K and R. Thanks again for a great post, Christy


  11. 30 years! That seems as unattainable as the 10 years I’ve recently notched up seemed in my first few months/years myself…

    Great words – great wisdom.

    I agree totally the day I find a drink in my hand won’t be because that day I had to have a drink but because over time I’ll have forgotten the importance of my recovery.


    I love that card at the meeting I regularly go to.

    Thanks for post – so inspirational to me today


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