To many struggling with their addiction, the journey to long-term sobriety is daunting, and can almost feel like a war of attrition against a person’s own mind. Then, when rehab is over and you’re finally clean, you hit that wonderful moment where you feel like the biggest battle has been won – and from here on out, you’re just defending your own territory.
But then the realization hits home that it’s more like coming home to a home you barely recognize. There’s a reason so many people are “dry drunks”, or continue to be negative and dysfunctional despite being clean – and that’s because early recovery can breed a very nasty form of cynicism. We all have reasons for our addiction – and those who get addicted despite a perfectly happy life develop these worrying reasons over the course of their addiction. It’s just the way things are – addiction breeds and feeds on negative thinking, and regardless of whether it existed before or during your habit, you’ll slip into a cycle of self-loathing and denial, anger and bitterness.
Without an addiction to distract and cover up against these issues, they surface and embitter everything in life. Those who withstand the urge of addiction but can’t get past the consequences of their actions, will stay bitter – and that’s the common hardship of early recovery. However, sobriety – successful, long-term sobriety, and the very concept of being sober – is different in definition from being clean.
Clean involves simply not taking drugs. To be clean, you must stop using – and that’s usually where a residential treatment or some other medical assistance comes into play to help you transition past withdrawal without any complications, and slowly get back into a normal lifestyle. When that “normality” begins to set in, the next stage past being clean takes precedence – achieving sobriety.
Early recovery isn’t necessarily long-term sobriety. Sobriety, to put it as simply as possible, is most helpful when thought of as a form of clarity rather than sharing a synonymous definition with “clean”. To be sober is to be clear about your thoughts, honest about your emotions, and most importantly, realistic and forthcoming about your issues and your efforts towards resolving them.
Someone who is clean is off their drugs,but they can still be an abusive person with serious issues. They can continue to deride others, argue needlessly, pick fights and sling insults. Their negativity continues to bring down those around them, and make their own lives a continuously worsening experience. Achieving sobriety, then, requires having a very strict idea of what that means – to you especially – and why it’s important to move past the idea of recovery as just a way to get clean, but rather a way to improve yourself to a distinct point past the temptation of addiction.
What Is Sobriety?
When defining sobriety for yourself, you must take into consideration that there is some room for improvisation here. It’s not a strict definition. A sober demeanor is more than just the absence of alcohol, or any other intoxication through alcohol – it’s a demeanor that portrays a certain gravity, dignity, and lack of levity. In life, being sober is akin to being realistic, clear, decisive – free from the influence of emotional extremes and in a state of emotional equilibrium.
To be more than just clean – to be truly sober – you need to confront not just the physical addiction itself but the underlying cause, the consequences of addiction, and the person you see in the mirror. You must be clear about yourself, how you feel, and who you are – and that’s the biggest challenge of recovery.
Addiction puts us in a position of denial – not just a form of denial where we excuse or deny the very addiction itself, but a continuous defensive reflex against reality. We cope with increasing pressures, growing magnitudes of pain and shame, through traveling further down the rabbit hole of addiction. While physical dependence and tolerance are one major way in which addiction continuously tightens its grip around people, the denial it breeds is another.
Rehab and detoxification help rid the body and the brain of most of the effects of addiction – the temptation that lingers is in part an issue of the brain’s reprogramming of how you feel pleasure, but it’s also an emotional issue, where this major crutch is ripped out from under a recovering patient, and they’re left struggling in a completely unfamiliar environment, with consequences that were easily forgotten, avoided or pushed away in the past.
You cannot run away from these emotions without drugs. You must face them. Yet many refuse to resolve them, turning bitter, angry, and – while clean – they retain the pain that addiction brought them in the first place. For all intents and purposes, they haven’t beaten their addiction – they bear its weight without any of the emotional benefits of staying clean.
A Major Chance for Change
The first step to emotional sobriety in addiction recovery is recognizing that this is a major opportunity in your life to achieve redemption, and mold out of yourself a person of dignity and high self-esteem. Try your hardest every day to think about your position in life as the beginning of the best days – the hard and rough beginning of what may be the most fruitful arc of your life. Take on new hobbies, meet new people through your programs and meetings, and jump headfirst into school or into the job market with the intention to find new goals and achieve them, whether academic or career-wise.
Pursue your dream as a cook. Do art on the side and turn it into a profitable use of your time. Spend time at the gym, and hit new personal records with weights. Find something that challenges you, but still creates a form of stress relief and self-satisfaction.
Your recovery from addiction is more than just about quitting drugs, it’s about turning your entire life around, about confronting traumas and fixing broken bridges, mending old wounds and burying ancient hatchets. Don’t be afraid to dig deep, unleash feelings you’ve bottled up for years, and unload to the point where you no longer feel that overbearing weight crushing down upon your shoulders.
Otherwise, you’ll never truly have the clarity in life to be “sober” – even though you’ll be clean.