Why Bother Staying Sober?
The question nearly every recovering addict eventually asks.
“Why bother staying sober?”
It’s a question that I used to ask myself and a question that I’ve heard from many fellow recovering addicts. We tend to ask it when our life is at its worst, when sobriety seems to have fixed nothing, and when we’ve run out of hope.
I came into sobriety with a bizarre set of conflicting expectations. There was a part of me that was still denying that I even had a drinking problem. That side of me approached sobriety as nothing more than a way to save a little money and lose a little weight.
But, there was another part of me that thought of myself as a total degenerate alcoholic. That side of me blamed every problem I ever had on my drinking. That side expected my life to do a complete 180 as soon as I quit.
Of course, it’s easy to look back on those days and wonder how I could have held such paradoxical and confusing thoughts. But, I think that one of the hallmarks of an addict is our ability to hold illogical, conflicting thoughts without even realizing it.
I’ve stopped trying to analyze exactly why my brain was always so scattered back then, and I’ve come to accept that it’s probably just what happens when you spend half your waking hours wasted on booze.
The point is that when I quit drinking, I wasn’t even positive about what I wanted out of sobriety. If you had asked me back then, you would have gotten different answers from one minute to the next.
I know one thing for sure though, I was expecting sobriety to improve my life. I thought that if I quit drinking something would get better.
What actually happened when I quit drinking?
On the “pro” side, I immediately started to save money and lose weight. Those two changes provided clear, measurable improvement and a lot of motivation to keep going.
Unfortunately, those pros were far outweighed by the “con” side:
I sunk into a deep depression.
My anxiety began to overwhelm me.
I was bored out of my mind.
Brain fog kept me from thinking clearly.
Every little problem filled me with rage.
As my first year sober moved along, I felt worse and worse, and those feelings translated to real-world problems. My troubles culminated about nine months in, with ending a long-term relationship, quitting my job, and moving in with my parents (well over a decade after I had first moved out).
These days, I can see that those changes were for the best. They were what I needed to get through the moment, and they set me on the path to a far better life.
However, in the moment, I felt like I had hit the lowest point of my life. I asked myself “why stay sober?” I didn’t blame sobriety for my problems, but it sure didn’t feel like it had fixed any of them either.
If I was going to be so miserable no matter what, why not just go back to drinking and accept my life as a drunk?
Talked Out of a Relapse
What would you have done in my situation? After nine months without alcohol, if you were completely depressed, feeling at your lowest, and saw no reason to stay sober, would you be able to talk yourself out of a relapse?
I didn’t think that I could, so I reached out to a few other recovering alcoholics instead. They gave me the support I needed to keep going.
I remember one of them telling me that if I gave in and had a drink, I’d just be adding to my problems. That advice resonated deeply, and I’ve passed it forward many times.
The brutal truth is that even if sobriety doesn’t solve our problems right away, going back to drinking would only add more.
That same person told me about similar experiences they had and how they had gotten through them, and it helped give me the confidence to stay sober even while it felt like my life was falling apart.
I’ve received (and given) a lot of advice about staying sober, but I think that one of the most important recommendations is that you shouldn’t try to tackle your entire recovery on your own. When a recovering addict asks themselves “why bother staying sober,” they are typically dangerously close to a relapse. If they try to think through the question on their own, they will probably end up talking themselves into a drink.
Whenever I started thinking along those lines, that’s when I knew that I had to talk to someone else.
My Reasons for Staying Sober
I’ve been sober for six years now, and my life has improved quite a bit since that rough first year.
The biggest change has been in my mental health. Although quitting alcohol initially seemed to worsen my depression and anxiety, it paved the way for me to work on these problems. After a couple of years sober, I started feeling happier than I ever had in my entire adult life.
I still don’t feel like sobriety fixed all of my problems. Instead, the difference is that I have the time and energy to work on the things that go wrong in life. This includes the big picture issues like mental health, but also the little day-to-day tasks that never got done because I was too drunk.
There’s an edition of this newsletter that I’ve been working on for quite a while, but I don’t know if it’ll ever actually go out. It’s a list of all the benefits I’ve experienced since quitting drinking. The trouble is that there are just too many to list, and there are more and more the longer that I stay sober.
It’s normal that when an addict first gets sober, they don’t always fully understand why they’ve made the decision. There might have been a push or a breaking point, but I wouldn’t expect a newly sober addict to coherently explain everything that they want out of sobriety.
It’s also normal to have times during your sobriety when you just don’t understand why it’s worth continuing. Nearly every recovering addict I’ve ever met has gone through times like this. Those are the times when we most need the support of our fellow addicts, to help us keep going even when it doesn’t make any sense to us.
In the end, it’s worth sticking it out. We never know how great sobriety can truly be until we keep it up and find out for ourselves.
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I love the idea of sharing your "list." It's something people have asked me to do, but I'm not there yet; I sense I need more perspective. Maybe share yours...with some interactive component so others can easily dialogue with you and your list?
How did u get rid of the anxiety? I’m going out of my mind anxious all the time. I can’t meet people, they hangout at bar or drinking