One of the unfortunate misunderstandings surrounding sobriety is that to be sober is to be happy – or that being sober is automatically better than being high. Or, worst of all, that you’ll stop ever missing the high.
Almost everyone who has been addicted to a drug can tell you that they still sometimes miss and crave the feeling of being high. They can also tell you that being high – and still being addicted – is not worth it.
And that is what sobriety offers – the ability to make that distinction, and to live a life knowing full and well that you will occasionally continue to crave something you can never have.
How can a person be confident in a life like that? It takes practice, determination, consistency – and fun. Most importantly, you need to have several reasons to actively enjoy and cherish not being addicted. If your sober life worse than the life you had when addicted, why continue to stay sober?
Understand What Addiction Is
Addiction starts as a choice, and it takes several choices (and commitments) to start on the path of recovery. But fundamentally, addiction is not something anyone chooses. It develops and progresses into a disease that can be treated and overcome with the help of professionals and the loving support of family and friends, as well as no shortage of discipline and hard work.
This is because, like many chronic illnesses, addiction can be recurring. When a person takes an addictive drug (a drug that can develop a physical dependence on its effects), their brain reacts very positively to that drug. Most drugs elicit a powerful reaction in the brain, releasing and amplifying a number of brain chemicals responsible for making us feel happy, or relaxed, or motivated. Meanwhile, these drugs have a direct effect on the part of the brain responsible for making us feel good for the things we do: the reward pathway, which ties into things like satiating hunger, seeking out sex, and accomplishing a difficult task.
One instance of drug use isn’t enough to make someone addicted, but it does give the brain a little taste of what it feels like to feel really, really good – better than ever before. Some people get hooked to that feeling faster than others, but with consistent use, drugs eventually elicit a response that changes the way the brain works.
Focus on Long Term
Breaking that change takes a very long time. By some estimates, it takes several months for the brain to finish recovering from long-term drug use – and even after that, there are permanent changes in the brain that cannot be reversed. Many people continue to crave a drug long after they’ve quit, despite decades of sobriety. Some people still think about getting high whenever they’re faced with extreme stress, despite years of building a sober life and staving off the urge to use.
Be Open to Help
There are stages and times in the recovery process when personal willpower just isn’t enough to stay sober. Most people who get treated for addiction actually relapse within the first year after treatment. It’s normal to struggle, it’s normal to crave – and it’s normal to need help. But you have to seek help. If you commit to sobriety, you’re also responsible for staying sober, even if that means relying on the support of others to make it through a trying and difficult time.
Outside of treatment, the struggle to stay sober continues, but it is easier. Early recovery is beset with strong cravings, post-acute withdrawal symptoms, and fresh reminders of days past. It’s the months and years after recovery where you begin to rely more on yourself, especially in the way of forging a new and healthy life for yourself. But no matter how long you’ve been sober, don’t ever feel too proud or ashamed to ask for help. It’s through the support of friends and family that most people make it through decades of sobriety, despite heart-rending struggles and tearful moments of weakness.
Always Work on Yourself
You can’t lose the motivation to stay sober. The key to that is consistently seeking out things to accomplish. Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself – realistic, concrete goals that you truly aim to accomplish, not hopes and dreams that rely on a combination of skill and luck. Mold your sober life into everything you wanted it to be before you got addicted – but over time, one step at a time.
Take an aspect of your life – your career, for example – and consider what you want to do and what you can do. Consider heading back to school for a degree you’re genuinely interested in, with the help of loved ones, or the state. Make a commitment to your new job to go above and beyond in your given position and aim above your current paygrade.
Seek out new hobbies and abilities. Read more. Widen your political perspective and hear from all sides of the spectrum. Save up to travel someday and strike up conversations with people from all over the world through the Internet. Join communities online and locally to speak about sobriety and the difficulties and challenges that lay ahead, as well as the ones you’ve already conquered. Make new friends. Improve yourself, little by little, day by day.
One day, you’ll look back and see the progress you’ve made mentally and physically, thanks to a new lease on life through sobriety. Sobriety itself wasn’t the key here, though. You were. You are. You can take control of your life – if you endeavor to stay sober.
Foster and Nurture Healthy Relationships
More than anything else, it’s important in sobriety to learn to rely on the love and compassion of others as well as your own convictions. You’re responsible for yourself, but you’re also responsible for others around you. Similarly, they’re responsible for you to a degree.
Healthy relationships are give and give – finding ways to live with your family and create bonds where you’re both there for each other is important in recovery. If you’re ready to seek out a partner, it’s crucial to find that same quality – a relationship where you both give onto each other, and benefit from truly being together.
It takes time to build relationships like that, partially because it takes time to rebuild the trust that is often lost when you begin to struggle with addiction. But every second spent rekindling old relationships and fostering new ones is worth it, even if the relationship ends in ruins. There’s a message to be learned from every encounter, if you think long enough on it.
No matter how long it takes for you to build confidence in your sober life, the start of each journey is always the same – you have to be willing to take the first step and get help.