Is Sobriety FOREVER?
I was overwhelmed by imagining an alcohol-free life.
The idea of staying sober “forever” used to terrify me.
During my first year without alcohol, I was obsessed with the question of whether I could really stay sober for the rest of my life. The idea of a life without alcohol struck me as miserable, painful, and above all else, impossible.
As badly as I wanted to stick with sobriety, I just didn’t really believe that I could.
These thoughts are incredibly common among the newly sober, and I’m sure that everyone reading this already knows the typical response: “Take it one day at a time.”
It’s a great piece of advice, but the truth is that it didn’t always work.
There were times when I could stay in the moment and focus on getting through the current day. But, there were other times, when despite my best intentions, I couldn’t help but think of the future.
I truly believe that this is normal for the newly sober. Taking sobriety “one day at a time,” is a great aspiration, but it’s nearly impossible to fight the natural human tendency to worry about our futures.
So, what do we do when, no matter how hard we try, we can’t help but worry about staying sober forever?
I’ve found it helpful to ask myself what is really causing my fear. What is it about sobriety that sounds so terrible and impossible? What—specifically—makes me feel like I can’t stick with it?
The first, and perhaps most obvious answer, is that I was struggling to resist my cravings for alcohol.
During my first few months sober, I was thinking about alcohol constantly. I felt one craving after another, all day long.
To resist those cravings was one of the hardest tasks of my life. At times, they felt utterly overwhelming. To get through them, I used every strategy you can imagine: Visualization techniques, talking to friends, drinking water, eating candy, going for runs, and more. These tools helped, but it was still hard.
When I thought about staying sober for the rest of my life, I imagined that these cravings would eventually wear me down. Even if I could make it through a few days of them, or a few months, I knew that I couldn’t do it forever.
The second reason that I doubted my ability to stay sober was because quitting alcohol had left me feeling more depressed than ever.
I had struggled with depression, on and off, since I was a teenager. I think that my drinking habit did a good job of covering it up, so when I got sober, it felt as if a giant wave of depression hit me all at once.
There were days when the depression was absolutely debilitating. I had panic attacks, I stayed in bed, and I cried for no reason at all.
I was getting through each day, but I didn’t know how much more I could take. I had expected sobriety to make me happier, but instead, I was feeling worse and worse. I worried that my depression would continue to grow until the point where I simply needed a drink.
A third fear that I had was that if I never drank again, I’d never have a social life again.
The reality is that my social life was pretty dead both before and after I got sober.
In my early twenties, I had a great group of friends and went out all the time, despite already being a daily drinker. However, as I continued to drink, my alcoholism became more isolating. I stopped going out and started drinking alone at home more and more often.
Near the end of my twenties, I moved to a new state, then another just a few months later. This double move was the final nail in the coffin. I was drinking too much to make new friends, and I was spending nearly all of my free time alone.
After I quit drinking, things didn’t improve. I was too depressed to go out and meet people. I stayed isolated for another couple of years.
Even though my social life had died long before I got sober, I still ended up telling myself that sobriety was the problem. I thought that if I just went back to drinking, I’d be able to meet new people and rebuild my social life. I worried that if I continued to stay sober, I’d never make a new friend again.
When I worried about staying sober forever, my concerns weren’t remotely trivial. I wasn’t just freaking out because I missed the taste of beer—I was scared because sobriety had disrupted my life with constant cravings, sunk me into a deep depression, and (apparently) prevented me from making new friends.
These are serious problems, and if they had continued, I really don’t know if I could have stuck with sobriety.
The good news, however, is that life has improved drastically since that first year.
The cravings gradually disappeared on their own. These days, I almost never get a craving. Once every year or so, I might get a strange impulse to have a drink, but it goes away almost instantly, and it isn’t remotely difficult for me to resist.
My depression was hard to overcome. I had to start going to therapy, exercising regularly, and working through a ton of pent-up emotions. However, little by little, my mental health improved. Now, the depression is gone and I’m truly in one of the happiest moments of my life.
As for friends, that’s been the hardest part of sobriety for me to get used to. It really is a different experience to make friends without alcohol, especially now that I’m in my thirties and new friendships don’t always come so easily.
Despite that, I have made new friends over the years, and my social life—despite some ups and downs—is far better than it was when I was a drinker. I see friends every day, go out most nights, and regularly meet new people. I plan to devote an entire upcoming newsletter to making friends without alcohol, but for now, I’ll just say that with practice, it’s possible.
My point in all of this is that even though sobriety is forever, it’s not the same kind of sobriety that we go through during the first year or two.
For many of us, sobriety is painfully difficult in the beginning, but it gets better and better as we go. These days, the hard parts of sobriety are a distant memory. Instead of dreading the idea of staying sober forever, I look forward to it.
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