First off, if the sound of staying sober long-term sounds like a death sentence, I feel you. I too, once thought that life without a drink sounded impossible, if not downright dreary. What about the weddings, New Year’s Eve, 4th of July barbeques, and all the rest of it?
But to be honest, by the time I was truly ready to get sober, those things weren’t fun anymore. My drinking had taken a decidedly dark, messy turn and no matter how much I tried to fool myself, it wasn’t just mimosas with girlfriends at Sunday brunch. Instead, it was fistfights and regrets, hating myself in the morning, and a cascade of relentless chaos.
If you’re in that sort of place, drinking might need to be ruled out completely. You might already be in the early days of recovery, noticing that some people seem to stick around forever, while others careen from one relapse to the next. So here is our advice—free for the taking!—on how to stay sober long-term.
Get Plugged In
Arguably, the most essential of advice. Anything we do in community we do better. That’s why there are churches, running groups, book clubs, and knitting circles. Being surrounded by peers with the same goals who can walk shoulder to shoulder with you can keep you connected and sustain you long after you would have given up on your own. As the old African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Read more in our article on life after treatment.
Create Sober Infrastructure
This means finding or creating the systems that can teach you how to stay sober. For millions, it’s the 12-step communities of AA, NA, and the like. These groups offer the stability, experience, wisdom, and guidance that are essential in learning the tools to stay sober. Plus, they help A LOT with tip 1.
Clean Up Your Messes
It’s tough to want to stay sober, (or even conscious, LOL) when the sting of painful memories, shame, regret, and ruined relationships pervade your thoughts. Much of the essential work done to remain sober involves looking at why we needed to drink/use/check out in the first place. If your every waking thought is painful, it’s pretty tough to stay on board the sober train.
Thankfully, one way we can find peace in our lives is to clean up the past. The pains of our previous actions don’t torment in quite the same ways when we have done our utmost to set things right. Now, we’ll admit, this isn’t always as simple as it sounds, and getting guidance is critical—this is where your sober infrastructure (point 2) will come in handy. Be it from a 12-step process, a sober living community, a counselor, or your therapist, get some guidance on how to do this right.
Find Something to Believe in
No matter who you are or where you are, things are going to get hard at some point. They are going to get messy. You will wrestle your demons in the mud and hopefully come out swinging. For all of us, after sobering up – life will continue. And that means trials, travails, and heart-searing disappointment. It will also (hopefully) mean joy, excitement, wonder, and play.
Through the ups and downs, having something bigger to tie your wagon to can offer you grace and steadiness. This is probably why, throughout the ages, people everywhere have found something to pray to. It doesn’t have to be a big ol’ God, per se, but perhaps just an ally in the ether so the universe seems less hostile and disorganized. It makes life feel more merciful and can lend some meaning to your days. It can help when you’re down on your luck and need some gas in your tank that you can’t quite find elsewhere. Give it a try. There is no getting it wrong and there are a thousand ways in.
Make it Part of Your Life
This final suggestion isn’t totally unrelated to the others before it. But a great tip for staying sober long-term is to make sober living part of the way you go through your days. Having regular meetings, contact with other sober people, a spiritual practice of some sort, and a home in sober circles will take you far. It’s easy to drift out the side door, but if at least a few of your good friends are plugged in and also sober, it’s a lot easier to stay in the room. If you are involved and accountable, the drift becomes harder. These little tethers can sometimes sustain us through drier periods when sober living has lost its luster, or life got so busy it took a backseat.
Wherever you are, good luck on your journey. Living sober, it turns out, isn’t a prison sentence, but a big wide door that leads to a thousand possibilities. It’s the world of the possible, and if you stick around, I’d bet my life that you can find some joy, meaning, and damn good days.