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Sobriety Won't Always Be So Hard
This is what I wish I had understood when I first quit drinking.
There was a self-sabotaging thought that frequently ran through my head when I first quit drinking: “If it’s this hard to get through just a few days, how will I ever manage to stick with sobriety for the rest of my life?”
It’s a sentiment that I’ve heard echoed many times from other recovering addicts. It’s also a very dangerous line of thinking, which can put our sobriety at serious risk.
Early sobriety—especially the first few weeks—was without question extremely hard for me. Some days truly felt impossible, and even all these years later, I’m still sometimes amazed that I made it through them.
I sure tried hard to find excuses to go back to drinking. I told myself that if sobriety was this hard, I’d never last in the long run, so I might as well just go back to drinking. Why torture myself with the painful withdrawal symptoms, relentless cravings, and overwhelming depression, when I knew that eventually, I was going to relapse anyway?
When newly sober addicts start to go down this path, the standard response is to take sobriety one day at a time. This is great advice.
Worrying about remaining sober for years, or even just weeks or months, is almost always going to feel overwhelming for someone who just entered recovery. It’s much easier to narrow our focus down to the present.
I used to tell myself that I could always go back to drinking tomorrow, but that I’d at least make it through the day. It’s the perfect strategy for an alcoholic because my addiction had trained me to be a master procrastinator. I was used to putting off getting sober. Now, I was flipping the script and putting off my relapse.
So, as I said, taking sobriety one day at a time was great advice, and it got me through a lot of tough moments. However, I have to admit that as much as I love this tool, it has its limits too.
The truth is that no matter how hard I tried to stay in the present, I couldn’t help myself from sometimes letting my thoughts drift into the future.
I’m no master of meditation and mindfulness. Honestly, I’ve never been great at controlling my thoughts. Sometimes, the harder that I tried to think about getting through the current day, the more I’d end up thinking about staying sober for years.
Taking life one day at a time was great advice when I could follow it, but I’d often end up worrying about the future anyway.
Well, I’m happy to say that my fears and anxieties about long-term sobriety didn’t come true. For anyone who has recently quit drinking and is wondering whether they have what it takes to stick with sobriety, I want to share one simple truth: Sobriety gets easier as you go along.
Of course, the first days, weeks, and even months are going to be tough. Addictions are powerful and take an incredible effort to overcome.
However, not every day of sobriety is going to feel as rough as those early days. In my experience, eventually, sobriety becomes downright easy. I’ll share with you an incredibly abbreviated timeline of what I experienced when I got sober:
The first week was the hardest. I was fighting acute physical withdrawal, powerful cravings, and the hardest mental battle of my life.
After a week without alcohol, I was still having a rough go of things, but the physical symptoms were already dissipating.
After a month, the physical symptoms were essentially gone, and sobriety was mostly a psychological fight.
After a year, I started to find my way in sobriety. My second year sober was when my mental health finally felt better, and it’s continued to improve since then.
I’m not going to claim that every day sober has been better than the last. I think we all know that would be a lie.
Even without alcohol, my life still has the usual ups and downs. Sometimes things go drastically wrong. That’s just part of life.
However, generally speaking, sobriety has gotten easier and easier over the years. These days, even when I have trouble with other parts of my life, my sobriety still feels secure.
Staying sober is not a constant, day-to-day struggle. I don’t even remember the last time I had a craving, and it no longer feels like I’m missing something by not drinking each night. Sobriety truly is easy the vast majority of the time.
Today, I’m well over five years sober. If sobriety had remained as tough as it was that first week—if every day was a battle—I don’t think I possibly would have made it this long. But, I’m living proof that it doesn’t stay so difficult.
Sure, when you’re starting out, it’s normal for every day to be hard. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t stick with sobriety in the long run. In fact, if you can get through the brutal early days of sobriety, the easy later days should be a breeze. Getting through your hundredth week sober is nothing compared to getting through your first.
Early sobriety is simply not representative of what life in recovery can eventually become. After five and a half years sober, those painful days are just a tiny blip in my memory.
I went through a few weeks of incredibly hard days, and about a year of on-and-off tough times. In contrast, I’ve now been through over four years of (mostly) feeling great.
What’s best is that the hard part of sobriety is like a “one-time fee.” You have to get through it at the beginning, but as long as you stick with sobriety, you’ll never have to do it again.
When I think of what my sober life has been like, it isn’t the struggle to quit that comes to mind. Instead, it’s the sheer joy that I’ve found in my life now that I’ve escaped the grasp of my addiction. It wasn’t easy for me to get here, but it was worth the effort.
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